Science and art have long been doing a merry dance with each other. We even have practices like BioArt, which uses living tissues, cells, bacteria, and genes and manipulates and transforms them by adding synthesized or other genetic material. But now science has gone deeper than tissues and cells, into the quantum level with Danceroom Spectroscopy (dS).
dS is an interactive installation which allows human beings and the quantum world to interact with one another. It was developed by scientist David Glowacki, a UK-based Milwaukean who works at Bristol University, with the help of Lee J. Malcolm, a musician and electronica artist, and artist/technologist Phillip Tew. But before you have visions of blue-skinned Doctor Manhattan-style giants commanding the fabric of space-time at will, know that these interactions are with computer simulated models of atomic particles projected onto a screen. As the project’s website explains: “dS transforms humans into energy fields and lets them interact with the quantum nano-world”.
Either individually or as a group, people can stand before the screen and throw themselves around. These movements are captured on 3D imaging cameras and, via custom software created in good old openFrameworks, they warp the virtual forcefield, changing the patterns, permutations, and colors on screen, all conducted in real time. But it’s not just visuals. By using complicated scientific trickery (something called a Fourier transform), these interactions are also translated into sound.
The great thing about this audiovisual quantum disco is the complexity of the interactions. Any number of people can be doing all kinds of different things, but it’s when people are working in unison that it gets interesting. “The patterns generated by dS will be most interesting when amplified by collective, coherent action,” it says on the project’s page at the University of Bristol website. It also mentions the profound implications it might have for live musical performances where the DJ/VJ can use a new input—the crowd—as another variable that affects the visuals and sound in a “digital feedback loop,” where crowd participation goes beyond just appreciation and contributes to a kind of collaborative dynamic performance piece.
As Glowacki explains in the video above:
The idea is to use physics, mixed classical and quantum mechanics, and what we do is we let people walk through the forcefield. As people walk through a room they warp the forcefield that the particles feel, so the particles dynamically respond to their motion and then when the particles collide with each other or with the walls, they generate notes, so crowds of people can generate their own soundscapes and visual scapes.