As new media artists are given access to fulldome spaces, the possibilities for what they will create is endless. Ginger Leigh, professionally known as Synthestruct, is a prime example of the creative potential that can be realized when institutions allow artists the opportunity to explore these spaces as new artistic mediums. Not only does Leigh create visually stunning fulldome productions, she also programs the audio and explores new means of interfacing with these systems using up and coming technologies. Her most recent production, VISCERALITY, was performed live as part of Otronicon, a celebration of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) at the Orlando Science Center, and featured many examples of cutting edge artistic development. VISCERALITY was the first live fulldome show presented at the Orlando Science Center and was also the first fulldome performance to implement the use of Mi.Mu Gloves to control both the audio and visual elements of the show at the same time. In this artist highlight Ginger Leigh discusses her process and experiences in working in the fulldome medium and creating VISCERALITY.
What is your background and how did you first get started creating content for fulldome?
I have an interest in so many different areas (sound, visuals, data, coding, science). When I was a little girl I loved merging sound and visuals, making up music videos in my head for songs that would come on the radio. I always loved bridging different sensory experiences and could never settle on one thing that I wanted to focus on, so I learned to find creative ways of merging and exploring different things that I love at the same time. After college, I started up an industrial/electronic club night in Orlando called Destruktion and immersed myself in DJing (locally and at bigger festivals and events), organizing themed club events, and working with bands doing graphic design for several years. DJing is essentially manipulating sound in real-time to orchestrate a shared experience. I loved this aspect of it, but I wanted to explore new and different ways in which these shared experiences could be created.
The first dome performance I created was a 30 minute live audiovisual piece called Soniforms, which visualized physical sound vibrations as patterns of light reflected off the surface of water in motion. This visualization of physical sound vibrations, called “cymatics”, is an area I’d been working with for years, exploring different aesthetics that could be created from different frequencies and complex sounds, as well as different liquid mediums, sources of light, etc. The motivation to turn these studies into a live fulldome performance came about when Derek Demeter at the Buehler Planetarium invited me to be the first artist to present work as part of their new Dome Designers series in 2015. I spent several months exploring, recording, and assembling sounds for the soundtrack, based on the visual patterns that the sound’s physical vibrations produced. I continued working with cymatics, but also turned my focus towards working more with data and sensors, and creating interactive and generative works. A number of the projects and interactive experiences I’ve developed are centered around exploring ways of connecting with sound or data through these multimodal experiences.
I was invited to do an artist residency at the Society for Arts and Technology [SAT] in Montreal last year, and developed a full dome audiovisual performance Interference, which was a hybrid of live cymatics and real-time generative visuals that further explored patterns in wave interactions. Creating this performance at SAT allowed me to experiment with spatializing sound in the dome and other live performance techniques I had not previously had the opportunity to explore in depth. Interference was first presented live at SAT’s IX Symposium last May, and the following month I presented several live shows of Interference on the dome at SONAR Festival in Barcelona.
You recently performed the audio/visual experience VISCERALITY at the Orlando Science Center as part of Otronicon. Can you discuss what Otronicon is and how that collaboration initially came to fruition?
Otronicon is a celebration of interactive technology in all its forms and functions, which happens annually at Orlando Science Center. They recruit a host of partners to demonstrate how their technology impacts how we live, learn, work and play. Otronicon is like a tech expo meets arts festival - partners from industries as diverse as education, military, medical, gaming and the arts come together to connect with thousands of visitors over four days. Orlando Science Center created Otronicon as a way to educate people of all ages about the connections between STEM education and exciting hi tech careers.
Orlando Science Center was looking for an opportunity to create a world premiere event as part of Otronicon, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with them over the past several years to bring new interactive experiences to some of their shows and special events. VISCERALITY explores new methods of orchestrating audiovisual experiences in real-time, using sensor-enabled gloves to communicate gestures that control all of the live elements presented on the dome. This merging of technology, interaction, and creativity fit perfectly with Otronicon, and was a natural evolution in our relationship.
What were some of the challenges and successes you faced in preparing your production for the science center?
Developing every aspect of the performance (audio, visuals, and communication pipeline between each element) can be an interesting challenge, because sometimes I’m in the mindset to work on sound, and sometimes I’m in the mindset to work on visuals...and other times, I’m working on both in parallel at the same time. It’s like a little web I get wrapped up in because I’m thinking of everything as a ‘whole’ while also developing and thinking about all of the individual parts. I actually really enjoy these moments, and being able to completely immerse myself in every aspect of this creative process. I fully embrace and seek out projects that challenge me from different sides, and give me the opportunity to learn new things, and experiment.
For VISCERALITY, doing 19 live shows over 4 days - with so many variables all working together - every show has the potential for something (or many things!) to not go as planned. I always like to prepare for anything that could possibly go wrong, so I developed each scene to be flexible. If I ever ran into a situation where something wasn’t working quite right, I could navigate around the problem, and just go a different direction with that particular scene. Over all of the performances, though, there were only a few small, quirky issues that came up, and these never had any major impact on the performance.