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Futuristic dance routine opens door for new digital art movement

The motion-tracking system, GAMS, is uniquely placed to transform the creativity of movement-based artists and designers across the world. Dr Steve Gibson has played a vital role in future-proofing the system and enabling artists to engage physically with digital. During extensive testing, a dance-based company used the technology to develop a major choreographed production, harnessing the possibilities of movement and technology operating in harmony. GAMS is now ready to enter the commercial market, heralding an exciting new era of digitally-inspired art.

In recent years, using physical movements to dictate the behaviour of digital systems has gained some momentum, but an innovative new platform means users will now dance to an altogether different tune – quite literally. Dr Gibson is Associate Professor in Innovative Digital Media at Northumbria University and has led research on ‘Using motion-tracking for total control of media by expert users’. His focus has been on the development of GAMS (Gesture and Media System), which allows artists to ‘map’ a space with a dynamic combination sound, light and moving images, using their bodies in the process.

Its aim is to create an interactive experience that urges physical activity from the user, while rejecting the usual passive relationship we have with digital. The project extended Dr Gibson’s previous work with GAMS, by trialling one of only two new beta versions. This time it provided faster cameras and a function which delivered the user’s exact spatial coordinates to the data-mapping software.

As the trialling progressed, there were several functionality issues, which were identified by Dr Gibson, and addressed by Conroy Badger from Moment Research (GAMS manufacturer). Much of the research was carried out by testing the system at public events in Northumbria and TEI (Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interactions), Stockholm.

Most significantly, the progression of the product has involved a ground-breaking collaboration with Northern Dance, which has yielded a unique new production – ‘Ephemera’. During this extraordinary digital and theatrical amalgamation, performers – including Northern School of Contemporary Dance trained dancer, Maxine Fell – control all media with their own motion, thus developing the core mission to integrate art with technology.

As of August 2018, GAMS was moved to Northern Dance’s studios in Newcastle, where ‘Ephemera’ is emerging as the company’s most significant work. It is due to be completed in 2019, after which it will be performed in various local venues, including a possible performance at the Sage. International performances are likely to follow thereafter.

Meanwhile, Dr Gibson’s technical work on GAMS has resulted in ten upgrades and, consequently, GAMS is out of the testing stage, with a commercial release imminent. The manufacturers now have a system that is ready to launch as the only affordable option on the market – impossible without Dr Gibson’s improvements.

The availability of the system will have a wide-ranging impact, offering artists a way to express themselves, which is at once theatrically traditional and embracing of the digital age. This physical interaction is certain to introduce compelling new perspectives on digital art, while also changing our wider views on what digital engagement means.


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