Equal parts science and art converge to create Pendula

Participatory installation open to the public at Vancouver International Jazz Festival

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      When two individuals come together to create a piece of art, the results can be extraordinary. This fact has never been truer for Kiran Bhumber and Nancy Lee’s Pendula, a participatory installation that the two women created by combining their contrasting yet complimentary specialties.

      The installation, an amalgamation of four speakers, four projectors, three swings, and a whole lot of wiring and computer programming, allows participants to generate individualized musical and visual projections that change depending on how the user moves on the swing. 

      “We have a couple of gyroscopes on the swings, and accelerometer sensors, which are attached to an Arduino board that sends data into my computer, which I then translate into the changing parameters of the music and visuals,” said Bhumber in a joint telephone interview with Lee.

      Bhumber, a graduate of UBC’s School of Music, has worked on a number of interdisciplinary projects in the past involving engineering students, computer scientists, and other musicians.

      The two first met at an electronic music event in 2013, where Lee, a VJ, filmmaker and new media artist, had designed an installation using eight swings that “intended to explore party-goers’ negotiations of social boundaries within the space”.

      “I was always really outdoorsy and tomboyish; I built tree forts, rope ladders, and I started using Vancouver parks as public art installation spaces. I’d hang swings in different areas, and that developed into something where I would build swings in indoor spaces,” said Lee of her early projects.

      The duo met again at a new media festival in 2014, and began collaborating in October of that year. 

      Bhumber’s experience as a composer, performer, and programmer meant that she knew her way around sensor technology and coding, and after hearing of Lee’s idea to create an installation whereby visual projections were controlled by the movement of swings, Bhumber knew instantly how she would go about coding an interface that would send signals to Lee’s software.

      “The musical aspect was something that I wanted to incorporate into the project. For me, this was like taking all the tools and experience that I’ve learned to put them together with Nancy,” said Bhumber.

      The project debuted at Playland on June 6 on a slightly smaller scale, with fewer swings and no musical component, but Lee said it was well received by the individuals who chose to participate.

      “We had people from all walks of life coming through—some people asked about the computer programs, others were just looking at it. We had some families come through too,” she said, adding that it was interesting to observe different people having very different experiences with the piece.

      Pendula will also be on display at this year’s Vancouver International Jazz Festival. This time around, the installation will be set up in full, complete with live instrumental performances by musicians Neelamjit Dhillon and Clara Shandler. The visuals will come from video recorded by Lee: video clips taken in various locations around the world, including Vancouver and parts of Asia. 

      “That’s the cool thing about this project: we can use different visuals and different sounds in different spaces,” said Lee. 

      Bhumber added that “It’s kind of like a convergence of different skill sets: woodworking, electronics, artistic skills, video manipulation, music and sound production, elements of design, and software programming to translate all the data.”

      The artists are open to invitations to having their installation at upcoming events, and are interested in attending music and multimedia festivals. For now, you can check out Pendula at the Jazz Festival between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. on June 20 and 21, outside the Vancouver Art Gallery. For more information, visit www.swingwithpendula.com.