I have been awarded this unique residency to realise a project that revolves around creating an immersive, interactive digital murmuration.

Project aim

I have been awarded this unique residency to realise a project that revolves around creating an immersive, interactive digital murmuration.

About the project

My name is Dan Arnold and I am an artist based in Falmouth, Cornwall, UK. The residency that I have been awarded will take a place this September in Denver, CO with beta-arts:

"MORPHOS is a one of a kind fulldome artist in residence program that provides workshops and individual support for artists who want to take their work to the immersive level. Our goal is to expose and train artists in full immersion production for a growing need of fulldome art. This year, we are excited to be hosting MORPHOS in a metro area that is quickly leading the way in dome art – Denver, Colorado. Denver offers a triplicity of domes – Denver’s Gates Planetarium, Fort Collin’s Digital Dome, and Boulder’s 8k Fiske Planetarium. Come join us for an experience of a lifetime."

This is a massive opportunity to widen knowledge about this emerging technology and to push it further. The support, training and access to equipment is valued at $22500, further details can be found here. I need to raise approximately £5000 to realise this opportunity. This money is needed for travel, accommodation and my contribution to participate. I am working with a technical collaborator who has offered his time for free in exchange for travel and accommodation, this total also covers him.

Below is a summary of the project proposal that has been accepted:

A digital interactive murmuration of light

Experiencing a murmuration of starlings, or finding yourself in a huge shoal of baitfish or a cloud of phosphorescence is a life affecting experience. A film or documentation of these phenomena is not the same as experiencing it. Instead of trying to document this phenomena and presenting it to an audience I want to use this opportunity to create a digital version of the experience: it is not a representation of nature, it would be an example of digital phenomena that would only exist within the dome – a transient experience, a murmuration of light.

Experiencing a murmuration, or other example of emergent phenomena, is unique to each person who witnesses it, a moment between the individual’s senses and the environment they are in – I want this to also be the case for people entering the dome: they are not entering the space to look at a piece of work, they are entering the space to experience it, to experience something that only exists in that moment and within the dome.

I want to create a purely digital collection of individuals, of pixels of light, using an algorithm, or set of rules. I want to create digital hotspots inside the dome that, when an audience member stands in one these spots, the murmuration reacts to them and reels away in the same way a natural murmuration would react to a predator. As more audience members entered the space the more animated the flock of light would become, the shape ever-changing and emerging. If the audience became completely still, or lay down in a designated area, the murmuration would calm down and eventually return to what would appear to be a solid shape: each individual ‘pixel’ settling into a floating solid circle. Within the landscape of the dome’s surface there would also be a change of scale allowing the murmuration to appear to retreat, and to fly forwards. If possible I would like to further enhance this illusion by suspending transparent projection surfaces within the dome allowing the murmuration of light to swoop across the space and not just around the dome’s walls? Maybe this could be done with smoke or water screens? A soundscape could also be developed, working with the light, it’s intensity rising and falling as the murmuration changes – each individual assigned a note. Each individual digital being will be a simple uniform shape: a circle or simply a pixel.

These decentralised, self-organised, yet emergent systems can be found throughout the natural world from the bacterial world to the avian world and the overall concept is being increasingly used in the artificial world, for example in swarm robotics or creating infrastructures for wireless technology. I really believe in this idea and I’m really excited at the possibilities of this emerging technology.

The aim of the final presentation will be to transport the audience into a space that ceases to have scale or form; the murmuration of light and sound would interact with them and surround them, transporting them into a piece of transient digital natural phenomena. A piece of light sculpture, an installation that could only exist in the dome. A digital piece of nature.

This project is also a potential tool to engage audiences with natural phenomena, to highlight an often declining natural world, to highlight the interconnected web.

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