Take a trip to the UK city of Hull over next few weeks and you may well stumble upon an odd sight – a 9-meter tower in which people are dropping bowling balls just a few meters away from a bunch of people wearing Oculus Rifts. Head inside, and you’ll find yet more Rift-wearing public making strange sounds.
If you happen to chance upon this scene, don’t panic; Hull’s population hasn’t gone insane. Instead, they’re simply trying out the latest VR installation from Marshmallow Laser Feast, the team behind the recent Treehugger VR app as well as thought-provoking Syrian crisis call, Future Aleppo. Named A Colossal Wave, this new experience is designed to push discussion on humanity’s impact on the planet around us.
It does this in three ways. Firstly, in the indoor space, people use the Rift’s microphone to mold ‘voice fruit’, which are strange objects you create by making different sounds. The sound fluctuations are recorded and translated into a virtual object unique to the user. These fruits will then appear in the VR experience the users outside are inside of.
That experience starts off with a giant wave hovering above the users’ heads. The scene is static until another person atop the tower drops a bowling ball onto a gong below them. This causes a virtual tsunami that sends the wave straight to the user.
It’s a little hard to piece together the installation’s message without experiencing it, but MLF Creative Director Robin McNicholas laid it out a little.
“We aimed to create a series of windows into a virtual world that represented our collective consciousness,” he explained in a prepared statement.” It resulted in a curious slapstick scene for passers by to be lured into. We wanted to juxtapose a virtual reality experience with a visceral, overtly physical act of dropping a bowling ball onto a gong; this energetic burst being the trigger to a flurry of activity in a virtual world. As well as celebrating the creative use of technology, we’re thrilled to present a shared experience for visitors who are on the look out for something new.”
A Colossal Wave is co-commissioned by British Council, Hull UK City of Culture 2017 and Partenariat du Quartier des spectacles as part of a creative partnership between Hull and Montreal in Canada. The piece will open 12pm-10pm weekdays and 10am-10pm on weekends.