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first performed on May 12, 2011
EMPAC at Rensselaer, Troy, NY
performed 0 times in 2011


Michael Todd (Lead Programmer), Ben Kato (Lighting Designer), Jody Elff (Sound Designer), Jeremy X Halpern (Executive Producer)

New York, NY,


“The Ascent” is a transcendent journey that allows individual audience members to levitate over 30 feet into the air through overwhelming fields of sound and light via the power of their own focus and meditation.

“The Ascent” is fully automated, and is driven by custom software and hardware. A single rider is strapped into a safety harness, and wears a headband embedded with an EEG brain-wave sensor and wireless transmitter. As the rider begins to focus, the custom show-control system monitors the rider’s brain state. The power of the rider’s calm and focus triggers custom software that dynamically controls rigging automation, sound and lighting.

This visceral experience is designed for the general public, and guests sign up or wait in line to ride. There is also an observation deck for audience to vicariously participate in the experience.

Mental gauntlet meets hero’s journey, “The Ascent” is structured like a game, presenting increasing levels of difficulty as the rider ascends. As the rider’s concentration begins to lift her into the air, a storm of sound and light conspires to distract her from reaching her goal: levitating into “transcendence” and “winning” by unleashing a climactic, firework-filled grand-prize explosion, immortalizing the rider in an ephemeral blinding moment of super-human glory.

Thematic inspirations for “The Ascent” are derived from Renaissance imagery such as Leonardo DaVinci’s Last Supper, combined with 1960s era futurism the likes of Stanley Kubrick’s canonical film 2001. In part a response to the mythic and futuristic qualities of the interface (mind-controlled flight), I deliberately evoke the sacred and the secular, a feeling of mysterious spiritual mysticism coupled with futurism. Electricity is also an important theme since the main interface of the experience, the EEG reader, is responding to electrical currents emanating from the rider’s head. The human body is a walking, thinking, power conductor; “The Ascent” symbolically amplifies this power both sonically and visually.

Part theater, part interactive installation, part iconic spiritual simulation; “The Ascent” blurs the lines between ambition and surrender. The result is a playfully spectacular, mind-altering take not only on the intersections between humans and machines, but also, transcendence and technology.