If you're at the EMP Sky Church for Decibel Festival, which is happening now through Sept. 28, you will notice a five-sided, 4'x4' object behind the sound booth. That's the dBcube, produced by Microsoft and enhanced by artwork created by Stimulant, specially for Decibel. Within its clear acrylic laminate surfaces sit five CPUs, five projectors, and four Kinects. When people dance in front of the dBcube's panels, it creates kinetic geometric shapes and fizzy explosions of light in conjunction with their movements. The general idea is to have dancers on every side of the Cube and generate connections with strangers through this new artform. It's a merger of art and technology converging to bridge the physical and virtual worlds.
In the video above, Microsoft senior director Michael Megalli says that “you can imagine so many possibilities that the Cube can open up.” I asked Josh Santangelo, technical director at Stimulant, what those might be. "The debut of the Cube is about interactive artwork, and the Decibel piece expresses Stimulant’s passion for music and dance, but that’s only one possible expression. Other artists will likely come up with wildly different experiences. For example, dBcube responds to audio played in a venue, but the hardware includes eight speakers that we’re not even using. Another artist might use the sound system to produce sound rather than react to it.
"Aside from artwork, the structure lends itself to the creation of illusions of the interior. I imagine a museum context where artifacts are shown within the virtual center of the volume, where various details are highlighted as you walk around it. We don’t quite have sci-fi holographic tabletop displays yet, but the Cube could create something similar using current technology."
- Dave Segal
- The dBcube, Wednesday night at the Sky Church.
Is there a plan to mass produce the Cube and sell it to clubs? Does Stimulant see this product as having long-term viability? "Currently the Cube is a one-off piece meant to inspire creative technologists to do things with Microsoft technologies," Santangelo noted. "While more might be produced, I can’t really speak to Microsoft’s plans. Clubs are not really the best fit for something in this form factor, as it requires quite a bit of space, and every square foot in a club represents income. It only works in EMP because the venue is so large."
When asked if the Cube’s visuals could be altered, or will it always have the same repertoire of graphic possibilities, Santangelo said, "Anyone with the appropriate expertise can create new software to do new things with the Cube. Currently the learning curve is a bit steep there, but we’re working with Microsoft to provide something of a bootstrap get other artists creating with less friction."