Brighton Digital Festival inspires month of innovation

By Culture24 Reporter | 02 September 2011
A photo of a ray of light through a tree
Semiconductor's Solar Systems, at the Phoenix, is part of a packed programme for the month-long Brighton Digital Festival
© Semiconductor
Festival: Brighton Digital Festival, various venues, Brighton, until September 30 2011

If you’ve ever felt the world of digital arts might be a somewhat alienating one, the crammed month ahead in Brighton could dispel a few myths.

A Machine to see With, which has kicked it off, is described as an “interactive heist movie” through the (hopefully sunkissed) streets of the city, and it comes with an addendum that organisers will eschew responsibility if you happen to get arrested, just to add to the “high adrenalin” promised on the secret missions lying in wait.

You don’t even know what time your marauder will start – they call you on the mobile number you provide online, then order you to turn up on a street corner to receive instructions.

A photo of a man in a suit looking at a mobile phone under a blue sky
Blast Theory invite participants to take part in a heist through the streets
© Blast Theory
In the hands of acclaimed local visionaries and seasoned festival adventurers Blast Theory, it’s hardly surprising to learn that sell-out crowds signed up to have a bash at this when it appeared at Sundance Film Festival, and the domestic premiere of the urban chase should be a thriller.

James Bond wannabes who avoid a spell in a cell can reward their self-restraint with a trip to the Phoenix Gallery, where three moving image installations observe the sun from different points between the Earth and outer space.

This beautiful intergalactic odyssey marks the welcome return to Brighton of Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt – otherwise known as Semiconductor, the pair are from the city but have gone four years without updating the South-East on their globe-trotting investigations of the natural world.

A photo of people sitting around circular tables in a pub
Fairs, discussions and workshops pop up throughout the festival
Out of Light portrays eclipses and planetary movements through shimmering light and shadows, Black Rain is a collection of solar satellite images relaying the sun’s “mass ejections” as they head Earthwards, and Heliocentric galvanises time-lapse snaps to track the sun’s trajectory from various landscapes, resulting in a beguiling video installation on a single channel.

Easy to see why NASA’s Sciences Lab and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History have taken a keen interest in the wide-eyed exploits of the duo, who recently embarked on a bold expedition to the scientifically-important Galapagos Islands in pursuit of further discoveries. Prepare to be mesmerised.

Saturday (September 3) sees an invasion of home-spun robotics, synthesisers, fireballs and other inventions which would do a certain white-coated shed-dweller out of Back to the Future proud in the foyer of Brighton Dome.

A photo of a man operating a contraption involving a horn speaker and a bicycle wheel
Instrument magician Thomas Truax is an unmissable guest
What’s not to love about self-balancing electric skateboards, gingerbread ghetto blasters, mechanical musical hats (a speciality of inventor and master musician Jane Bom-Bane), interactive mirrors, stringless singing ukuleles and subsonic submarines?

Knitting, crocheting, felting, mosaic and soldering masterclasses are also up for grabs as part of this Mini Maker Faire. It’s all free, and the after-party at The Brunswick features live music and the appearance of Mother Superior, a rackety self-propelling drum machine driven by a spinning bicycle wheel and a robotic dummy head found in the attic of a dead magician.

This bombastic beast is expertly deployed by Thomas Truax, the David Lynch-serenading Godfather of improvised instruments, and a man who makes most singer-songwriters’ claims to uniqueness seem comically redundant.

A photo of a man making a presentation at a conference
A series of conferences include appearances by leading industry thinkers
Elsewhere, Update Conference at the Dome stars Ronald Wayne, a welcome guest who has the unwelcome distinction of giving up his 10% share in Apple – which he created the logo for and founded alongside Steve Jobs – for a couple of thousand dollars.

Organisers reckon he’d be a multibillionaire ranked among the richest people in the world if he’d kept his stake, so this is a good chance to nod sympathetically and forgive the speaker if he feels a tad unlucky.

Another creative get-together, Dconstruct, is taking place today (September 2) in the same place, and four discussion evenings at perennial gallery favourite Fabrica cover the impact of social media on the arts world.

Other highlights include a smartphone app and large-scale projection at Permanent Gallery, live comedy, flash-literature nights and new work by dance doyen Wayne McGregor’s breathtaking Random Dance ensemble, soundtracked by electronica wizard Ben Frost.

Four film screenings at gorgeous old cinema the Duke of York’s also range from Inception, Leonardo Di Caprio’s cascade through unreality, to Arnie’s Terminator.

The common theme, naturally, is the dark side of all things robot-powered, completing a full circle for a festival set to explore its genre in expansive and illuminating style.

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