Discotrope is an audiovisual performance by Amy Alexander and Annina Rüst, with sound design by Cristyn Magnus. Performances invoke both alternative energy and the curious history of dance in cinema – from backlots to backyards.

At the heart of Discotrope performances is an unconventional projection system: a disco ball that has been modified to use solar cells as mirrors. The ball rotates slower or faster according to how much light reaches the solar cells on the ball and creates fragmented projections on surrounding walls, floors, surfaces and people. We’ve written custom software to project videos onto the ball and have developed a live audiovisual performance around the system.

The concept springs from the genre of YouTube clips of people dancing at (directly in front of) a camera. With the advent of social media, this type of video has become a phenomenon, with countless people recording themselves dancing and sharing the results through social media platforms. In our performance, we trace this type of dance video back throughout film history. We’ve found that the sense of intimacy and immediacy between performer and audience that characterizes the YouTube performances was popular in early silent films and Hollywood musicals, where models for performance were drawn more from vaudeville than from theatrical narrative.

During the show, we project this historic trajectory onto the Discotrope disco ball. We perform the ball live, adding color and light to the video projections, improvising layering and mixing to create visually rhythmic stream-of-consciousness juxtapositions. The changes in imagery vary the light to the solar cells, which changes the speed of the ball’s rotation, allowing us to “choreograph” the movement of the projected visuals.

Accompanying the performance is an algorithmic sound design by composer Cristyn Magnus. Sound is generated and mixed in real time from the audio tracks of the projected videos, creating a seamless, danceable connection between audio and visual.

Aw heck, this project’s about movies! A video’s worth a thousand words…

Discotrope in an outdoor setting

Discotrope in an outdoor setting