Anne Cleary and Denis Connolly (Cleary Connolly) of the School of Looking are artists dedicated to exploring visual perception and seeking to examine how we interact with the world around us. With the help of Target3D, they launched a magical Christmas experience in Cork, Ireland.
The Music Box is an art project powered by motion capture. Talented musicians from the Cork Youth Orchestra are at the centre of this project, which builds on research by psychophysicist Dr Gunnar Johansson. Johansson’s experiment focused on distilling the human form to dots - revealing that we can still identify motions accurately with surprisingly little stimuli. Cleary Connolly set out to introduce music into the equation, supported by Sample Studios, a studio group based in Cork.
Such a project entails having the musicians’ movements recorded as they play classical pieces from Dvorak. Their motion capture data is then played alongside the music, but separate from the performer, with dots on the hands, arms, head and torso moving in time.
Anne recalls an enduring desire to work on such a project. She explains,
“The lyrical movements of musicians has been an evolving theme in our work for many years. We have dreamed of composing a full orchestra entirely made of dots to make these movements visible to others.”
There are various ways to do this. Motion capture is as much an art as it is a science. Anne contacted us at Target3D and spoke to Ricardo, one of our Sales Managers, to explore the options. Anne and Denis had experience with mocap, but some specific requirements to work around for the project.
Anne says, “We’ve been playing around with mocap for quite a few years, using Kinect at one stage, but as independent artists it’s rare for us to have the budget to invest in a full mocap set up. In addition, we move around for our work, so we need something lightweight and portable. To complicate things further, the movements of musicians are very subtle, focused on arms, hands, often fingers, so we need a suit that had the possibility of tracking these small movements.”
Another factor was time. The team needed a solution quickly and the pandemic had impacted manufacturing and supplies to distributors. After reviewing the requirements of the project, Ric recommended a Noitom Perception Neuron 3 Suit with additional gloves. This is an inertial motion capture suit, meaning that rather than cameras being required to keep track of markers, it uses eighteen internal sensors. It’s also extremely compact as the world's smallest IMU sensor-based, full-body motion capture system.
The Noitom suit tracks movement using accelerometers and gyroscopes and relates all of this information back to a receiver. The data can then be transmitted into Noitom’s Axis program, which keeps this data and allows it to be exported into different formats. This is where the fun begins. As designed by Cleary Connolly, the musicians’ movements are replicated in the form of glowing dots. Every movement is captured in time to the music, producing a set of dancing lights. The performer cannot be seen but the fluidity of their motions shines through even with only a small amount of data.
The Music Box is exhibiting at The Lord Mayor’s Pavilion in Fitzgerald Park, with the dot orchestra lighting up its windows and filling the air with music. Anne believes that this fusion of motion and music will speak to spectators more than motion alone. Denis tells Ellie O’Byrne of Tripe and Drisheen,
“...for the public it was hard to get into it, so I think the music connection gave it an extra dimension. A conductor is always silent, but a conductor’s movements induce music.”
It was tempting for them to transform the project into something more elaborate than the dancing dots. With the capability of modern technology it’s easy to get carried away, introducing unnecessary complexity. This project instead thrives in its simplicity, and the accuracy of the sensors helps to drive this.
On working with Target3D, Anne had this to say:
“When I got in touch with Target 3D, Ricardo was really helpful and advised us well, suggesting the Perception Neuron 3 Body Kit and the gloves, and doing his best to help us negotiate the additional delays in sourcing the equipment caused by the pandemic. Target3D were also very generous with time and support, advising our London based collaborator Levan Tozashvili in the use of the suit and the software, and trouble shooting with him when he encountered difficulties.
The suit turned out to be ideal for our purposes, easy to use and to calibrate, and the software intuitive and accessible, for those with a minimum of literacy in mocap technology. We would love to see 5 finger gloves become available however, as this would give us even more options on tracking the subtle movements of musicians, a pianist for example, so we will be watching out for that in the future.“
The Music Box will be performing throughout the holiday season from 9th December 2022 to 21st January 2023.
Images courtesy of Cleary-Connolly.