Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet
Technology and Art
By Mike Gould
One of my great passions is the intersection of technology with art. I use lasers in my creative endeavors, but there are a lot of other interesting things going out there in this realm. Below are a few current examples:
Michigan Marching Band Alight
Once again, the University of Michigan Athletics Department/Marching Band powerhouse pulled off an amazing half-time show at their annual night game. You may recall that I was involved in last year’s laser show in the Big House, so I have kind of a unique viewpoint on the whole business. And from my perspective, they totally rocked.
Each band member and cheerleader wore or carried a light-up object that turned the field into a big display screen. The band’s marching was integrated into the abstract displays, creating a fantastic effect in the darkened stadium.
People as Pixels
I didn’t have any involvement in this (alas), but from my research, I learned that the wonderful display on the field was done with light-up devices provided by Pixmob, a company that integrates LEDs, under remote computer control, into wearable objects. The lights in these are controlled by infrared lights: modulated IR floodlights called “WASHs” tell the multi-color LEDs which color to switch to and when, so large-scale displays are possible. Each wearer of an object (hat, bracelet, balloon, pendant, whatever) becomes a dot in a larger picture, much like a TV screen is made up of individual pixels. [Geek-Speak: pixel is short for picture element, a tiny dot on an LED television, a much larger set of LEDs in the case of a PixMob display.]
As a Macintosh computer user, I was delighted to learn that a MacBook Pro is involved in some of the PixMob technology. They also use the lighting industry-standard DMX protocol to communicate with their WASH lamps. There is a more complete description of this on their website, URL below. PixMob have been doing this sort of thing since 2010: Sochi Olympics, Super Bowl 2014, and the like. They are based out of Montreal.
Remotely-piloted drones are all over the news these days. Not the big honking Predators and such that the military are using, but the small quadcopters that can fly, hover, and carry reconnaissance video cameras all at the same time. And as with any other emerging technology, tech-savvy artists glom onto these and start making cool artworks, re-contextualizing and bending the engineering involved to serve their muses.
There is a great example of this online involving quadrotors bearing mirrors that reflect spotlights in an intriguingly choreographed fashion, URL below.
Another great example is the use of drones interacting with human dancers; in this case a Japanese troupe called Eleven Play perform with a trio of drones wearing pyramid hats. This video is cool because it also has lasers in it. (Or so the page says; looks like video projection to me, but it is still maximally cool.)
An Austrian-based troupe uses drones outside for art. Ars Electronica Futurelab have works involving what they call “spaxels”: 49 LED-equipped drones flying in formation.
Cirque du Soleil
And it should come as no surprise that the Avant-performance group Cirque du Soleil are getting into the act. They have a brilliant video on YouTube that features drones built into lampshades. The drones are under computer control, so very precise movements are possible. I fully expect to see the Blue Man Group introduce something similar soon. They are already doing cool things with light-up costumes using electro-luminescent wire and black lights.
Closer to home, Detroit just hosted a city-wide art festival of light called DLECTRICITY. 35 artists lit up various buildings up and down Woodward, and neighboring areas. This is part of a world-wide phenomenon called Nuit Blanche. This was started in Paris in 2001, although the origins go back all the way back to an event in Helsinki in 1989. The idea is to turn a city into one big art gallery, using light as a common medium.
This is the second year Detroit has done this; the last was in 2012. I tried to get into the first festival, but was rejected. I had better luck this year - I was honored to be invited to take part, lighting up the front of the Majestic Theater with my laser projectors.
There were many cool displays of lit art, mostly video projector-based. A massive bike parade featured more than 1000 bicycles decorated with all manners of LEDs, EL wire and other photon emitters.
DTE Energy hosts this, appropriately enough. 150,000 people came to downtown Detroit for the two nights of the event, proving once again that the arts are a great way to promote civic engagement. A lot of small businesses made a lot of money those nights.
Ann Arbor has our own, smaller event every April. There is a parade called FestiFools on the Sunday closest to April 1st in the Main Street area. Consisting of wonderful hand-carried sculptures, the parade has spun off a successful nighttime event the Friday before, which involves light up sculptures, music, and dancing. We have been there the last two years, laser-painting buildings downtown.
Dancing Drones: http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/blog/watch-this-flying-quadrotor-light-show-spectacular-artist-qa http://www.fastcodesign.com/3030910/watch-this-japanese-dance-troupe-performs-with-drones
Cirque du Soleil: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6C8OJsHfmpI
Laser art at DLECTRICITY: http://mikegouldlaserartist.com
FestiFools, FoolMoon: http://festifools.org
[Call out in a box?] News flash: I will be speaking about Brewster, my laser-in-a-beer-keg, at Ignite 9, a tech-oriented lecture series somewhat like a small-scale TED talk. 7:00 pm, November 7th, Blau auditorium, UM Ross School of Business. Everyone gets five minutes and 20 slides to speak on what they are passionate about. Tickets are free, but get them early because they go fast. I believe there will be 10 speakers.
Mike Gould is waiting for the technology to get cheap enough for his Birds of a Feather swarming art work, was a mouse wrangler for the U of M for 20 years, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Digital Photography mega-mall, builds laser display devices, performs with the Illuminatus 3.0 Laser Lightshow, and welcomes comments addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.