New ‘Encounters’ Series Launches at Discovery with Multi-Sensory Collaboration

What if you could see music or hear a sculpture?

A new series, Discovery Encounters, kicks off at the Discovery Building with the debut of a collaborative exhibit created by a musician and local artist exploring that very question.

Through an art exhibit called (((clang))), Madison artist Andrée Valley and WID researcher, musician and composer Nathaniel Bartlett have crafted an interactive experience that meshes the visual with the acoustical and spatial.

The public is invited to a free reception that opens the exhibit on Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The exhibit will remain on display for at least three months.

Installed in the southeast corner of the Discovery Building, the demo consists of two hanging aluminum sculptures centered in a motion-sensored space. The goal, the duo explains, is to create a unique experience in which Valley’s sculptures and the public’s interactions with them prompt Bartlett’s recorded sounds, commissioned specifically for this exhibit. In one instant, a viewer may lift a hand to cue a mellow marimba tone, while in another instant, the slightest spin of the hanging sculptures may trigger a metallic clanging sound.

“The way you might walk up to a physical sculpture and look at it from a couple of different angles and distances — that’s the same effect I want to achieve, but with music,” says Bartlett, who’s partnered with Professor of Composition Stephen Dembski in the UW–Madison School of Music and Professor of Computer Sciences and WID researcher Michael Ferris. The group has created VIDI, a musical environment driven by 3D motion and expressive actions to power the “voice” of (((clang))). “I want people to hear and experience this soundscape, and they can go up and interact with, move and explore something that takes them to another type of mental place than where they are in the normal course of the day.”

With the support of the Puffin Foundation, the collaboration draws on Valley’s colorful, abstract hanging sculptures that intentionally lack orientation.

“When I build my pieces, my consideration isn’t to depict something realistically, but to play with the tempo, shape, form and color to achieve a feeling of chaos,” Valley says.

She adds that there are similarities between the artistic and scientific process.

“If you look deeper, there are parallels in the process of expressing an idea — I hope the end result reflects my excitement with this collaboration.”

Jennifer Eagleton, associate director of partnership programs at WID, who worked with the Town Center to bring the exhibit to the Building, says the project typifies the institute’s mission to support creativity at the interface of disciplines and engage the public’s imagination.

Partnering with WID, Laura Heisler, director of programming for the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), is eager to launch the new Discovery Encounters series with this transdisciplinary exhibit.

“Like all programs at Discovery, Encounters is meant to attract and engage people of all backgrounds in celebrating science and learning,” says Heisler. “Encounters exhibits will be diverse and change every few months. As with (((clang))), we want them to prompt people to stop, take a mental detour from their regular routines and experience the essential connections among the sciences, arts and humanities that spark creativity, advance discovery and enrich our lives.”

Marianne English and Janet Kelly