Working For the Weekend: With Kiran Bhumber

By Jennie Orton

kiran-headshot-1-fVANCOUVER — At the New Forms Festival this year there was an installation that, in very simple terms, turned a swing set into a self propelled bit of sorcery like you always kind of dreamed of when you were a kid on the rickety death trap your dad put up in the back yard. The project was called Pendula and it was an immersive audio-visual installation featuring projections and swings as instruments. The relationship between movement and music was the imaginative brain child of Kiran Bhumber (in collaboration with video artist Nancy Lee). Bhumber took the discipline of exploring movement as an instrument to last week’s Sensored and Synthesized, an interactive music performance at Western Front. Using vocal techniques, haptic feedback, sensors, and electronics, performer Marguerite Witvoet will wear a reactive body suit which responds to touch with musical output; the result is a free form ever evolving musical performance that displays Bhumber’s continued life work of reactive musicality and memory & movement. We talked to Bhumber about her work and how the idea of movement has evolved during the process,

BeatRoute: Can you tell us about the magic of the reactive body suit? How does it work and what was it like to put such a thing together?

Kiran Bhumber
: The bodysuit is touch reactive, meaning, based on where and how you touch the suit, you will generate musical outputs.

The current version uses parallel tracks of resistive and conductive fabric for each sensor on localized areas of the bodysuit. Simultaneously touching the two tracks (with a metal thimble or a highly conductive finger) completes a circuit, and the resulting voltage depends upon how far along the resistive fabric you touch. From there, we’re able to use the voltage values and map them into sound parameters.
It’s been an amazing experience working with my former professor Bob Pritchard on this project. We have both learnt a lot about the human form, fabrics, and how different types of performers embody their performative characters in the suit.

BR: What was it about the relationship between movement and sound that first made you want to explore it?

KB: From a young age, I was obsessed with synthesis techniques and electronic music while also being trained as a classical musician. My compositional styles reflected both of these passions when I started to experiment with live-processing of acoustic instruments. During this time, I was trying to figure out a way I could shape both types of sounds (acoustic and computer generated) into a more traditional performance setting.

When I first discovered interactive music performance, I realized that I could use a performer’s gestures to embody both of these sounds simultaneously, and, in this way, the performer becomes two dimensional: Performing physically with their instrument, and using their ancillary gestures to trigger and manipulate electronically generated music.

Members of the crowd during New Forms Festival 2016. Photo: Timothy Nguyen

Members of the crowd during New Forms Festival 2016.
Photo: Timothy Nguyen

BR: Let’s talk about Pendula. What is it about and how was the New Forms experience?

KB: Pendula is an immersive audio-visual swing-set installation and musical performance made in collaboration with Nancy Lee. We have surround-sound and projections (four speakers & projections). The participants create their own aural and visual environment through their individualized swinging motions. We also developed the swings to be performed as a musical instrument. The Pendula ensemble performance took place during our installation premiere and It consisted of myself on clarinet, Clara Schandler(also known as Sidewalk Cellist) on cello, Nancy Lee on swings, and Neelamjit Dhillon on tabla.

Nancy Lee and I actually met during New Forms 2014 when we were both volunteering. While we were painting, we were brainstorming what type of new media art we would like to showcase at NFF. This is when the idea of Pendula actually came about.

Having Pendula a part of NFF 2016 was very surreal for us, because it felt like we had completed a full circle. It was such a great experience installing the work in an indoor, enclosed environment (our first installation was outdoors for the Vancouver International Jazz Festival), watching attendees enjoy themselves, and hang out with their friends on the swings. We received really great feedback from festival-goers and are open to future invitations to install the work!

BR: What have you found most surprising about your exploration into human movement?

KB: I think what I have found most surprising about my exploration into human movement is that it doesn’t matter how many times you have installed and observed individuals during a particular installation that you have created, the next time, you will find that there is an interaction that someone makes that you do not expect. This makes you go back to the drawing board to see how you can further refine your design to take into account these interactions.

BR: What are some undercurrents in your work that give it its pulse?

KB: I think my work comes from my love of both music and science, particularly with the sensorial and perceptual relationships we have with sound. I’m fascinated with how we can use these properties to inform our interaction design choices within multimedia works.

Follow Kiran Bhumber’s work on her website.

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