DEMO28 Audrey Rochette – Playing Worlds

February 2023

In the summer and fall of 2022, artist and master’s student Audrey Rochette [student member, UQAM] took part in two research projects that were the subject of intensive residencies. Her experience, at the crossroads of dance, movement analysis, media arts and robotics, led her to create an artificial ecosystem as part of her thesis-creation Playing Worlds, and to participate in the DESSAIM research project on the expressiveness of robotic swarms. The interdependence between individuals in a system is the convergent point of these two research projects; her practice is engaged in a research on the qualitative expression of collective and hybrid organizations involving the living and the non-living.

Audrey Rochette’s Research-creation – Playing Worlds

On the interdependence of living and non-living individuals

(Residency in July and September 2022 at UQAM’s Dance Department)

Playing Worlds is an artificial ecosystem in the form of an interactive and performative installation, where the interdependent dynamics between living and non-living individuals of an ecology are reproduced and augmented. In a heterogeneous scenography of natural and manufactured objects, movement sensors (ultrasounds, IMU’s, infrared) are disseminated. These produce sound mediations when the five performers who evolve in this environment approach or manipulate them. These mediations then become agents in the rhizome of the work and intervene in the retroactive loops by motivating, accompanying or transforming the individual and collective projects. They also affect their sensations and their relation to the world, each individual being at the same time reconfiguring and reconfigured in this context. The sonic fabric composed of technological mediations and analogous sounds produced by the interactions of the material then bears witness to the activity of the system in real time, and this in turn influences the performative actions.

The five performers with diverse practices (media art, sound art, performance) evolve in an open system of improvisation based on the holistic listening of this audible environment. By regularly renewing a macro-like attention to this sonic fabric, their sensations and actions are conditioned by this more passive global listening that takes state of the dynamic phrasings of the world. They then become aware of the state of the system and position themselves in relation to it. This type of listening is at the heart of the approach: it is through it that the artist attempts to create conditions of access to the world that allow this artificial ecosystem to rely on resonant relationships, in the sense that Hartmut Rosa (2018) understands it in his definition of resonance according to which two entities in a relationship “respond to each other while speaking in their own voices, in other words that resound in return” (Rosa, p.191). Performers are thus being prompted to alternate between self and other and between feeling and acting in a holistic perspective. This approach is a proposed alternative to the anthropocentrism of relationships to inhabited environments; experienced in this miniature ecosystem, it offers, despite its artificial nature, a very real experience for the individuals who experience it. In this multifaceted and horizontal system, feedback loops are perpetually created, forming the web of interdependence linking individuals to the system. The performance becomes a vivarium from which unpremeditated interactions and behaviors emerge that are specific to the ecology of the moment. This is where Playing Worlds connects to the DESSAIM project, and it is precisely this point of interest that conditions Audrey Rochette’s contribution to this research-creation project on robotic swarms.


  • Performers : Élise Bergeron, Dominic Jasmin, Mathilde Loslier-Pellerin, Audrey Rochette, Alice Sanz ;
  • Digital Lutherie of the device co-produced with artificial : Alexandre Burton, with the help of Samuel St-Aubin ;
  • Mentor and mechanical integration : Stéphane Gladyszewski ;
  • Artefactual traces : Maude Arès ;
  • Research direction: Nicole Harbonnier (UQAM) et Alexandre St-Onge (Université Laval) ;
  • Video editing Playing Worlds : Audrey Rochette, images captured by Philippe Poirier.
  • Banner image for this DEMO Playing Worlds : Philippe Poirier ;


(Residency in October 2022 at the Agora Hydro-Québec du Cœur des sciences de l’UQAM HEXAGRAM)

DESSAIM is a research-creation aiming at mobilizing and understanding the expressivity of different robotic swarms. In the performative space constituting the playground, the behaviors of three types of robotic swarms are deployed according to their movement potential, through different dynamic qualities and spatial configurations.

A swarm, is a group of self-organized robots evolving together in a non-hierarchical system. Their trajectories and decisions are derived from localized information (specific to each individual in the group) as well as decentralized and distributed communication among all of them about their positioning in real time. Hamann (2018) explains how the self-organization of a robotic swarm connects the micro (the individuals) and the macro (the common task):

All robots act based on local perception while the swarm is supposed to complete a task that is defined on the macroscopic level. The idea of self-organization explains exactly this relation between micro and macro and gives an answer to the question how macro-structures can be generated based on micro-interactions only. (Hamann, 2018, p.16).

The residency at the Agora Hydro-Québec du Cœur des sciences – HEXAGRAM in October 2022 mobilized three types of swarming robots with different scales: Cogniflies (drones), Dingos (orange wheeled bases equipped with a Gen3lite articulated arm from Kinova), and Zooïds (small non-articulated robots with wheels).

To divert the functionality of robotic artifacts in order to increase, contextualize or transform their expressivity, the team works from recycled and recovered materials while questioning in this process the relationship of the human in interaction with each of these swarms.

The programming implemented in this collaborative system manifests emerging behaviors in the swarm, and these are more or less legible to the external observer. By focusing on the expressiveness of robotic swarms through the creation of an artistic work, the DESSAIM project implements the dynamic, spatial and temporal qualities that allow us to construct meaning and understand these emerging behaviors.

This residency allowed the artistic and engineering team to explore the expressive elements of each of the swarms, whether through manual control, centralized programming, or the implementation of codes that produce emergent behaviors. It also enabled the search for scenographic devices, highlighting the expressiveness of each swarm, and to make sound experiments stemming from the robots and their behaviors, through contact or electromagnetic microphones.

Audrey’s strong interest in the interdependence between individuals and the system in which they are embedded, through her own research-creation project Playing Worlds, as well as her experience in the field of robotics, choreography and movement analysis, brought her attention and contribution to the DESSAIM project towards the research of emerging programming. Thus, in addition to participating in the reflections and explorations of the artistic team, Audrey worked in collaboration with Rafaël Gomez-Braga, a master’s student at ÉTS responsible for the operation of the Zooïds, in order to make an inventory of all the centralized and emerging behaviors that make up the current bank of movements. This work base allowed them to analyze the expressiveness of existing behaviors and offered the artistic team a lexicon of movements to carry out scenographic and sound explorations from this material. Because the Zooids are small, they allow the observer to perceive swarming behaviors in a bird’s-eye or low-angle view. Research on the Zooids, in this regard, captures the essence of a behavior, and the effects of its translation into other robotic swarms. From the collected bank, Audrey has been researching the meaning of swarms in general, finding mathematical formulas from several fields of practice about group behaviors, which will be tested in the next steps of the work.

Thank you to the partners of the DESSAIM project: ÉTS, the Dance Department of UQAM, Elektra, Casteliers and the Hexagram Network.


  • The DESSAIM research-creation is led by co-researchers David St-Onge, Associate Professor at the École de technologie supérieure and Hélène Duval, Associate Professor at the dance department of UQAM.
  • Video editing DESSAIM : Philippe Poirier, images captured by Maxime Pelletier-Huot.
  • Members of the art team : Marcelle Hudon (puppeteer), Danielle Lecourtois (choreograph), Geneviève Dussault (researcher, UQAM), Audrey Rochette (choreograph, MA Dance UQAM), Magali Babin (sound artist, DEPA, UQAM).
  • Engineering team members : Giovanni Beltrame (Prof. Polytechnique), Vivek Shankar, Yann Bouthellier (Polytechnique); Jean Mazerolle, Ali Imran, Rafael Gomes, Matthis Di Giacomo (ETS).


Audrey Rochette is an interdisciplinary choreographer with a strong interest in the dialogue between bodies and technology, the relationship to otherness and ecosystemic issues. Her work has been presented at Tangente and La Chapelle – Scènes Contemporaines (Montreal), at Dance Matters (Toronto) and at Festivaleke (Charleroi, Belgium). As a performer, she has danced for many choreographers and artists, including the company kondition pluriel, which works at the intersection of media arts and performance.
Currently a Master’s student in dance at the Université du Québec à Montréal, Audrey is involved in various academic research projects in Montreal and abroad, notably with Nicole Harbonnier and Geneviève Dussault in Observation – Analysis of Movement (OAM), with Hélène Duval and David St-Onge in a research project on the expressivity of robotic swarms, as well as in the automated robotic learning project “Machine Movement Lab” led by Petra Gemeinboeck. She is currently working on the creation of Diorama, an interactive and performative installation that explores the ethics of the relationship between the living and the non-living in an artificial ecosystem composed of material, technological and organic individuals.

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