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Dancing in the quantum world

Posted on July 27, 2012

web ds 3

Imagine dancing in a nightclub and your movements controlling not only the sound but also a range of stunning, bright visual effects surrounding you. This is the experience that a groundbreaking interactive experiment will be giving dancers this summer.

The person behind the idea is the appropriately named Dr Glowacki. The project was developed at the University of Bristol with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

web-ds-3Combining an array of 3D cameras and innovative computer software, “danceroom Spectroscopy” (dS) creates sounds and images from people’s movements. The cameras capture these movements and feed them into a computer where a programme, custom-built by Dr Glowacki’s team, interprets them as energy fields.

The computer is linked to five projectors, resulting in people’s real-time energy fields being projected in 360 degrees on to the sides of the interior of the dome in which the project takes place.

Meanwhile thousands of colourful interactive particles react to the force of the dancer’s energy fields. These particles represent the billions of tiny particles that exist all around us, but are normally too small for our eyes to see.

Project leader Dr David Glowacki says: “dS is part interactive art installation, part immersive science experience, part large-scale video game, and part musical instrument.

“Our inspiration has been the mysterious world of nano-quantum mechanics and our aim has been to provide an impression of how everyday motion has an impact on the invisible nano-world of atoms and molecules that are always around us but we don’t think about. ”

The energy of the dancers’ movements creates forces that warp the particle motion. This produces a visual effect similar to a pebble being dropped into a pool of water, except in this case the dancer is the pebble and gets to watch as their own movement creates complex waves and ripples.

There’s also a sonic component to the experiment: as you move within the space, your energy field causes the particles to slosh about and vibrate. The vibrations are analysed by a computer and sent to a musician who uses software programmed to respond to the different types of vibration in pre-set ways. This turns them into sounds, transforming people’s energy into electronic beats and soundscapes.

web-ds-4The event is taking place on August 4–5 in a giant 21-metre, 360-degree dome on the forecourt of Weymouth Pavilion in Dorset as part of the Cultural Olympiad.

As the number of people taking part increases and they all move in unison, the results become more dramatic. The capabilities of dS will also be shown off during Hidden Fields, a choreographed performance by a troupe of five specially trained dancers.

Says Dr Glowacki: “As well as encouraging people to think about how they interact with the world at a molecular level, our work is showing how tricks from physics and molecular dynamics can be used to monitor and measure the energy of crowds in real-time.

“This could lead to interesting applications, such as the development of ‘dynamic logos’ that change in response to crowd movements, or novel educational tools and new approaches to physiotherapy. I’m currently setting up a spin-out company to explore the possibilities.”

See, hear and experience Hidden Fields and dS in Weymouth as part of the Cultural Olympiad. Hidden Fields will show on August 5 (7pm, £4) and dS will run as an interactive installation on August 4 in (3–5pm, free).

For more information, visit the dS project website.

Photographs courtesy of Paul Blakemore

Nicola Rayner was editor of Dance Today from 2010 to 2015. She has written for a number of publications including The Guardian, The Independent and Time Out Buenos Aires, where she cut her teeth as a dance journalist working on the tango section. Today she continues to dance everything from ballroom to breakdance, with varying degrees of success. Her debut novel, The Girl Before You, was published last year in paperback, ebook and audiobook.

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