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  • The Interactive Dance Club:Avoiding Chaos in a Multi-Participant Environment
  • Ryan Ulyate and David Bianciardi

We were recently asked by representatives of the 25th annual ACM SIGGRAPH Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques if we had any ideas for a potential program incorporating music and imagery in a unique way. We had an opportunity to create a "never-done-before" venue for a major conference, based upon our ability to "sell" the conference in the concept, and then find enough corporate sponsors and like-minded volunteers to bring it to fruition. We accepted the offer and brought our respective experience in music production, sound design, and control system engineering together to spearhead the development of the Interactive Dance Club.

We wanted to create a type of venue where people could have the opportunity to become players in a large, interconnected, interactive musical and visual environment. Within the framework of a dance club, the results of their interactions had to sound musical (to the untrained ear), with special attention paid to keeping the overall sound from becoming cacophonous. The environment had to make the participants feel comfortable and safe to express themselves.

Because this was a production assignment with a very tight schedule and not a research project per se, we decided to use as much "off-the-shelf" technology as possible, developing software and hardware only where necessary. We used Max extensively, which allowed us to rapidly prototype and deploy software for distribution to our collaborators, and we also used Opcode's Vision MIDI sequencing software. Infusion Systems loaned us some of their digitizers, and Interactive Light provided a handful of Dimension Beam IR sensor devices. Side Effects Software's 3D animation package, Houdini, was used as our computer graphics platform for both authoring and runtime; we drew on its strengths in real-time control of nearly every aspect of the computer graphics environment. Additional drum pad interfaces came from Roland, and custom sensor interfaces were created by Interactive Technologies. Both Apple Computer and Silicon Graphics generously supplied us with computers during both the development process and for the SIGGRAPH show.

The Interactive Dance Club

The Interactive Dance Club is a multi-participant interactive venue with real-time computer graphics lighting and video that is synchronized to dance music (such as acid jazz, trance, ambient, drum and bass, etc.). Instead of dancing to prerecorded music and images, members of the audience become participants. Within interactive zones located throughout the club, participants influence music, lighting, and projected imagery. There are zones for single participants, pairs, and groups. Moving from zone to zone, participants experience different blends of musical and visual elements. Like sections in an orchestra, the output from the interactive zones contributes to the overall performance. Our software analyzes and filters participants' input to deliver a musically coherent and visually satisfying experience.

The most notable and similar work of this type was the MIT Media Lab's Brain Opera ( Other pioneers in the area of interactive sound and visuals are David Rokeby ( and Myron Krueger ( On the musical side, Brian Eno has been a constant inspiration. (See, for example, Todd Rundgren ( has also been thinking about interactive music for many years. [End Page 40]

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Figure 1.

Overview of three interactive zones.

Design Goals

The Interactive Dance Club was designed with three goals in mind. First, we wanted to allow group and individual participation in the modulation of multiple musical and computer graphics elements while maintaining a musically coherent and visually satisfying whole. Second, we tried to create a compelling social environment that amplifies the uniqueness of the individual and reveals the synergy of the group. Finally, we wanted to deliver the euphoria of the artistic experience to "unskilled" participants.

Interactive Zones

Various interfaces are located in zones throughout the club (see Figure 1).

Beam Breaker

The Beam Breaker zone consists of parallel light beams above participants' heads on a dance floor with sensors that detect when a beam has been broken. Participants...


Additional Information

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pp. 40-49
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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