UNITY is an interactive installation created by Alberto Bonanni and presented as part of the MA Digital Direction’s final show at the Royal College of Art in London in 2020.
The project is an attempt to give life to the inherently invisible energy and electricity that we feel in clubs, raves, or other collective experiences of music featuring repetitive beats and transcendence-like experiences. Within the rave culture, such energy is often described as the overall vibration that results from each participant’s contribution with dance, moves and expression of affective states. According to situated cognition psychology, what generates is a feedback loop of ‘positive vibrations’, where the way people surrounding us respond to music influences the way we move ourselves, and vice versa, we can influence them with our moves and music acts as a catalyst to provide the overall rhythm. Party lovers call this loop ‘vibe‘.
I looked at the others around me and I could see in their eyes the very peace and warmth that I was feeling. Their gestures and the way they danced only amplified this‘vibe’ and continued it through the night, and I wondered if we were all living in a dream…P.M. West (1996), on hyperreal.org
Keep the vibe alive!
UNITY consists in three rear projection screens applied onto a metal structure (each 2m by 1m). Each screen displays a animated avatar: the screen in the middle presents motion capture data, captured with a depth camera attached to the frame and rendered in real time with a particle system that responds to velocity. In other words, the higher the velocity, the brighter the particles. The two avatars on the sides display recordings of previous users, rendered with slightly different particle systems, presenting kinetic responses (dance moves) and relative velocity.
Near the structure, a TV screen displays velocity data captured from the user, along with the visualization of the music frequencies. Through a custom algorithm based on the Laban Weight paper (1947), tracking the aggregate of velocity data from each user’s movement, motion data can be wrapped up and sent to a sphere, affecting its size accordingly. The sphere will therefore respond to the effort – translated into velocity data – of each user’s movement, indicating the movement intensity and engagement with the music.
The comparison between the sphere’s size and music frequencies – seen below as circular waves – showcases the synchronization of our movement to music frequencies and dynamics.
Every user will be recorded while dancing with two other participants, recorded just before and rendered on the screens. With this method, UNITY tries to recreate a clubbing environment, where our movement and our emotional state are inevitably influenced by both the music itself and the people around us, again converging in the so-called vibe of the night.
Ultimately, UNITY is an ambitious attempt to visualise and analyse a mood. Maria Witek, a fellow researcher in music cognition, psychology and neuroscience at the University of Birmingham, who was interviewed during the project research, argued: “[…] The ecstasy-like feeling that we encounter in those moments at the club or festivals is so hard to analyse and explore because of its transcendence, out-of-body nature. […] Once we try and reflect upon it, we inevitably exit such state and loose our grasp on it.”
Music and repetition analysis was developed by due TSN1 & Ostalgia (from the pugliese team Equipe Fatale). They produced a acid-techno track that perfectly facilitates the syncronization of bodies through an repetitive tempo, an arousing BPM range 125-130 and a serialized syncopation. Thanks to their track, we were able to simulate a clubbing environment and therefore elicit the feeling of dancing and synchronizing with other people around us.
For the development of the project, please visit UNITY (Process Video).
Music: TSN1 & Ostalgia
Technical support: Thomas Deacon
Research support: Maria Witek