robotcowboy: 10 Years of Wearable Computer Rock

Wilcox, Dan

Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression

This paper covers the technical and aesthetic development of robotcowboy, the author’s ongoing human-computer wearable performance project. Conceived as an idiosyncratic manifesto on the embodiment of computational sound, the original robotcowboy system was built in 2006-2007 using a belt-mounted industrial wearable computer running GNU/Linux and Pure Data, external USB audio/MIDI interfaces, HID gamepads, and guitar. Influenced by roadworthy analog gear, chief system requirements were mobility, plug-and-play, reliability, and low cost. From 2007 to 2011, this first iteration "Cabled Madness" melded rock music with realtime algorithmic composition and revolved around cyborg human/system tension, aspects of improvisation, audience feedback, and an inherent capability of failure. The second iteration "Onward to Mars" explored storytelling from 2012-2015 through the one-way journey of the first human on Mars with the computing system adapted into a self-contained spacesuit backpack. Now 10 years on, a new robotcowboy 2.0 system powers a third iteration with only an iPhone and PdParty, the author’s open-source iOS application which runs Pure Data patches and provides full duplex stereo audio, MIDI, HID game controller support, and Open Sound Control communication. The future is bright, do you have room to wiggle?