Understanding the patterns and rules that govern how the world functions at a molecular scale drives research in chemistry. In particular, spectroscopy – the use of light to obtain information about matter – is a fundamental tool for studying the behaviour and structure of quantum mechanical systems. By combining 3d imaging with state-of-the-art computing and rigorous classical/quantum mechanics, Dr David Glowacki from the University of Bristol and an interdisciplinary team of collaborators have developed an interactive art project which lets people literally step into the invisible quantum world. danceroom Spectroscopy (dS) transforms human movement into energy waves that warp molecular forcefields, generating real-time soundscapes and visual landscapes. The music and images from movement are analysed into their characteristic “energy spectrum”, which is then fed back to the crowd as sounds and visuals, becoming more complex and exciting the more people get involved.
The objectives of dS are:
- To develop innovative and robust technology and software that permits a crowd to experience its collective energy spectrum in the form of music and visuals.
- To engage members of the public at a variety of different events and provide enjoyable experiences which encourage engagement with the science behind this project.
To build new relationships between University researchers, arts and cultural organisations, and individual artists/performers
dS blurs the boundaries between installation art, a large-scale video game, performance and participation. As such, it has been able to target a variety of audiences, from visitors to exhibitions and workshops at Bristol's Arnolfini (the UK’s largest modern art gallery outside of London) to festival goers at Shambala – a family-friendly arts and music festival. Its cross-disciplinary nature offers an introduction to complex chemistry and physics for people who are traditionally hard to reach – from teenagers who perceive themselves as too cool to like science to clubbers and festival goers, as well as adults interested in art.
Since March 2011, dS has been directly experienced by approximately 5,000 participants at events such as the exhibition at the Arnolfini, the Shambala festival, the University’s Changing Perspectives event and a presentation at a TEDx Bristol event. Events have not been limited to the UK: dS was part of the SONAR Arts Festival in Barcelona and has been invited to participate in the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas (USA) in March 2012 – amongst the biggest interactive digital arts festivals in the world. Further events are planned, including the 2012 Bristol Harbourside festival, and as part of the cultural Olympiad in Weymouth (UK) where the 2012 Olympics sailing events will take place. Measuring impact at these events has primarily been through attendance figures; however the included wordle was assembled by asking approximately 450 attendees at the Arnolfini in August 2011 to describe their impressions.
In addition, there have been opportunities for indirect exposure to dS via media outlets. Dr Glowacki has conducted radio interviews for both BBC Radio Bristol and Monocle-24, a London-based radio station. It has featured in Physics World and Chemistry World – the flagship publications of the UK Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Chemistry, respectively, with a combined readership of over 150,000. dS videos on YouTube and Vimeo have over 3,000 views and a project website has been set up (http://danceroom-spec.com/) to collate publicity and feedback, as well as providing information about forthcoming events.
The impact is not solely on the members of the public who engage with the dS exhibition, but also with arts institutions and cultural organisations via links to the Bristol Pervasive Media Studio and the Arnolfini. dS development was facilitated by a series of workshops with choreographer Laura Kriefman, musician Joseph Hyde, and a number of dancers from both the UK and abroad. The workshops facilitated a new dialogue exploring how concepts from physics overlap with principles in dance. Dr Glowacki is currently working with these collaborators to create a piece of dS-based performance theatre that will debut this summer.
dS is unique insofar as it seeks to create a truly interactive and symbiotic experience that immerses participants in the frontiers between art and the science of spectroscopy. It is profoundly interdisciplinary – merging physics, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, music, art, and dance. dS also provides a fresh take on modern video game technology. Nearly all modern gaming and social networking uses the machine as the hub for interaction. In a multiplayer game, players might be in the same room but interact with the screen or console; with Facebook, people know what their friends are doing, but only if they are plugged into the technology. dS encourages a significant degree of lateral human interaction, using video game technology as a creative vehicle for people to explore aspects of human-human interaction. This is a radically different use of this sort of technology that makes it less alienating. In addition, current digital technology such as iPods offers people increasingly individualised experiences. dS, relying as it does on forms of collective motion, thus represents a meaningful response to trends in which individual musical experiences are increasingly atomised.
The original scope of the dS project was to engage with a variety of public audiences, primarily locally. However, the success of the exhibition and the interest it has generated has led to many invitations, within the UK and abroad. In particular, participation in the cultural Olympiad will introduce dS to a new type of audience – visitors to Weymouth (including international visitors) who have come to see the Olympics. Sustainability is also not limited to participation in future events. Over the next 6 months, Dr Glowacki and co-developer Phil Tew are working on turning dS into a user-friendly, open-source software release for download and use by non-specialists. This will directly benefit artists and musicians (for performance pieces and interactive music generation), science and art museums (for making exhibitions), and festivals and cultural settings. It can also be used by other researchers working in the field of spectroscopy to help engage and inspire people – increasing their sensitivity to the invisible microscopic world surrounding them.