Metamorphosis: Audiencing Atmospheres: Transforming Perceptions of Place in a Gesture-Driven Ambisonic Environment.

Lead Research Organisation: Queen Mary, University of London
Department Name: Drama


This project seeks to produce a new, atmospheric experience of immersive performance involving the motion-capture of participants' gestures as a means of altering the parameters of recorded or synthesised sound across different locations.

Metamorphosis: Audiencing Atmosphere (M:AA) proposes a collaboration between world-class researchers in affect, audience studies, atmosphere and social interaction at QMUL with one of the leading immersive theatre companies in the UK: RIFT ('horribly and impressively intense'; 'exhilarating'; 'beautiful; 'gorgeously expressive'; press reviews for STYX, July 2015). This combination of skills, expertise and insight with access to cutting-edge motion-capture and ambisonic technology equip this collaborative team to push the envelope of sensory, immersive, audience driven performance experience. The planned performance outcome will be compelling, powerful and unlike any work yet seen in the UK. The collaborative process, audience reception and impact will yield data and insights into affect, sound, audience creativity and responsivity, atmospherics, and the parameters of this new technology for creative arts work that will break new ground.

Metamorphosis: Audiencing Atmospheres seeks to take advantage of motion capture, ambisound decoding and data sonification technologies to create new interactive immersive performances across remote locations. This will support London-based theatre company RIFT in the development of narrative, spatial and atmospheric aesthetics for new immersive performances. The project seeks to uncover new possibilities for interaction that make use of gestural responses between participants. Much recent inquiry concerned with gesture in the performing arts and elsewhere assumes intersubjective knowledge based around mirroring, whether cognitive, corporeal or neurological (pace mirror-neurons), informing an empathic, relational account of experience. By contrast, this project looks to capitalize on aesthetic and ecological accounts of human experience that premise subjects' co-presence as it occurs within sensory plenum, such as sound. If both gestural and sound production are, in some degree an action on and within the ambient medium of air, by what technological and aesthetic means might they be brought into correspondence? More specifically, how can we use a participant's gestures in response to ambisonic movement in one location to generate an atmospheric condition in another, and to generate a feedback loop in which they are affected in turn.

Immersive experience in performance has to date tended towards an all-consuming engagement with representation for which the cinematic mise-en-scene remains a lode-stone. By contrast, this project seeks to create and experiment within a sensory plenum, which, whilst equally complete, is less concerned with direct access to a scene or setting. The development and accessibility of digital audio-technologies have led to sound-design and sound-scapes being widespread across differing scales of theatrical production. Arguably however, these tend, primarily, to seek to produce auditory experiences that again draw on the cinematic mise-en-scene - sound is used to make an appeal to the actions and events of an imagined elsewhere. However, sound also has the capacity to draw audiences into a rich, sensory engagement with their immediate situation, as electronic dance music demonstrates. From Lee 'Scratch' Perry to dubstep to Chris Watson, artists have used bass frequencies to engage not only the ear, but also the viscera of audiences. New digital technologies can allow the production of infrasonic frequencies, too low to be heard, but 'loud' enough to be felt. Sound can be used to afford an atmospheric, aesthetic sense of place, as well as its representation.

Planned Impact

Metamorphosis: Audiencing Atmospheres (M:AA) will have immediate benefits to those directly participating in its research, but the project team will share them with a wider set of constituencies:
1. RIFT theatre company will receive direct benefit from the project via: a) the enhancement of their creative process in M:AA's development of new aesthetic experiences in the creation of a gesture-driven ambisonic environment (GAE); b) support in the creation of an immersive performance linking sound and gesture in participatory engagements with place and narrative; c) a framework for developing aesthetic atmospheres in collaboration with audiences; d) a process for drawing remote locations and activities together in a virtual space, and designing a responsive atmospheric aesthetic; e) a longitudinal relationship with audiences, that both supports and feeds into the creative process, but also offers insight into qualitative experience, supporting future development and works; f) the enhancement and development of skills amongst their creative team, including sound designer Thomas Wilson and writers Annie Jenkins and Rebecca Lenkiewicz, through access to technical materials and specialist and academic knowledge otherwise be foreclosed to this scale of artistic production.

2. QMUL researchers will gain access to a 'real world' context within which their research will be embedded. By directly bringing academic expertise and knowledge to bear on a creative process, there will be a clear articulation of 'impact' and critical and empirical thinking will be made accessible to artists in an MSME context, and to audiences. The project will highlight the significance of the co-creative artistic and academic processes in marketing and publicity associated with RIFT's performance Void facillitated by M:AA, and in the longitudinal study of audience experience supporting it. HCI and Theatre and Performance researchers will access qualitative and quantitative data concerning one-to-one audience interactions with aesthetic atmospheres, and gain insight into audience experience of spatial location, and its dynamic and sensory construction in displaced perceptual feedback of sound and movement.

3. Audiences will gain a means of productive agency in interaction with an immersive, atmospheric environment, and an embodied, creative relationship with others elsewhere. They will have an opportunity to be involved in the creative process through a 'Scratch' methodology of curated responses to work-in-progress, and be engaged in a longitudinal survey of experiences leading up to, and following the GAE's testing in RIFT's performance Void at the 2018 Vault Festival.

4. Theatre companies, producers and creative industries organisations will benefit from access to the creative toolkit that M:AA will develop and make available for future R&D. M:AA will host a public sharing to demonstrate the GAE and the atmospheric and interactive environment produced for RIFT's Void, as well as sharing the audience feedback process. QMUL Drama will offer the GAE as a research and development platform allowing MSME theatre and creative industries companies to explore the use of sound and motion capture technologies in the production of immersive experiences.

5. The development of the GAE and its use in RIFT's Void, together with the work with audiences that will support them will be of benefit to a number of different areas of academic research interest, including: affective atmospheres, intermedial performance, immersive theatre, and participatory performance, audiences, sound studies, augmented reality, human computer interaction, interaction psychology, and embodied cognition. Details of the public sharing will be circulated on academic networks, the project's process and findings will be shared in the joint paper written by Welton (PI) and Healey (CI). Details of M:AA's audience research method will be available in ebook form on QMUL Drama's webpages.


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