danceroom Spectroscopy (dS) is a brand new, genre-defying phenomena that has been described as part dance show, part interactive art installation, part immersive science experience, part large-scale video game, and part musical instrument. dS has its origins in the research of Dr. David R. Glowacki, a chemical physicist at the University of Bristol. Glowacki's PhD used laser spectroscopy experiments to probe molecular dynamics. Glowacki could only watch for so long as people's eyes glazed over when he explained his research. Lo and behold: danceroom Spectroscopy was born!
Chemists and physicists understand the behavior of the atomic and molecular world in terms of 'energy landscapes', which are maps of the energy fields acting on an atom. Using his expertise writing mathematical computer code, Glowacki set out to create an immersive audiovisual experience that shows hows 'energy landscapes' affect atomic motion.
And what about spectroscopy? Spectroscopy is the use of light to obtain information about matter. It's amongst the most commonly used techniques we have for obtaining information about the invisible world, and has revolutionized many fields of science. Spectroscopy often uses some complicated mathematics that people find hard to visualize, but easy to hear in dS!
So how does the dS system work?
By combining 3d cameras and bespoke software run on a state-of-the-art supercomputer, dS uses rigorous physics to generate sounds and images from people’s movements (for those in the know, dS uses a flavor of quantum dynamics based on so-called "path integrals"). THIS IS AN IMPORTANT POINT: Nothing is pre-recorded with dS – all the graphics and sounds (including those in the video) are generative, created in real-time from the movement of the dancers' energy fields within the space.
How does it work? dS starts by carefully mapping a space using an array of 3d imaging cameras. The dancer’s movements are captured by these 3d cameras and fed into a supercomputer, where software interprets them as energy fields. In real-time, their energy fields (or energy ‘avatars’) are projected onto a giant screen. Moving fluidly within the energy fields are thousands of projected interactive atoms. These represent the billions of tiny atoms that are always around us, but normally too small for our eyes to see. The real trick is this: whereas simulated atoms normally only 'feel' one another, dS allows them to also 'feel' the dancers as external energy fields.
As dancers move within the space, dS enables them to use their ‘energy fields’ to interact with the atoms - catching, pushing, sharing and dancing with them. The effect is similar to a pebble dropped into a pool of water – only the pebble gets to watch itself and the complex ripples and waves it creates.
There’s also a sonic component: as you move within the space, your energy field causes the particles to slosh, vibrate, cluster, and collide. This dynamic behavior is analyzed by the supercomputer, packaged into convenient data structures, and sent to an electronica musician’s computer. The musician then applies an array of musical tricks to sonify the dynamics data, feeding the emergent sounds back to participants within the space, letting them literally hear how their energy fields interact with a real-time atomic simulation.
dS launched in spring 2011, and its development was facilitated by a series of workshops and a large-scale public exhibition that summer. It was recently featured as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad in a 360° projection dome. It has also spawned Hidden Fields, the world's first ever perfomance where dancers use their energy fields to sculpt the dynamics of the quantum world. Hidden Fields' London premier will be at the Barbican arts Centre in November 2012.
Collaborators include: Phil Tew, Joseph Hyde, Tom Mitchell, Lee J Malcolm, Jacob Parish, Nathan Hughes, Laura Kriefman, Lisa May Thomas, Isabelle Cressy, Kathleen Downie, Emma Harrie, Kerry Trevaskis, and several members of the public that danced around with us at the Olympics!
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