AURA: PLAYING LIGHT LIKE A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT

 

Simon Rycroft & Paul Thursfield

 

In 2014, Paul Thursfield and Simon Rycroft developed Aura, an interactive music and light experience exhibited at the Philips Museum, GLOW NEXT, the St. Etienne Design Biennale, and the Wellington LUX light festival.

Aura
We often see children lifted up by their parents to play Aura; it is special to witness the moment they are able to recognize and understand the connection between their movements and the light and sounds. We watch as their faces light up when they discover that even a small, simple gesture can create a large reaction, but it doesn’t end there – spending more time with Aura allows people to discover the subtleties of the interaction. As designers at Philips, crafting meaningful and tangible interaction principles for users is at the very core of our practice and Aura was no exception.
Aura: playing light like a musical instrument

Aura is an interactive sound and light work that responds to presence, becoming an experience that allows people to connect with light and sound in new ways. Its creation stemmed from a project at Philips Lighting Design exploring the role of light in every-day life. In particular, we used influences from natural phenomena to build new light forms and experiences. We experimented with embedding light and sound “behaviors” into objects, such as the effect of sunlight reflected by water, or shining through trees. Aura, the interactive version of this work, emerged from this process.
People can control the musical pace and pitch of Aura in real-time, but unlike most traditional musical instruments Aura can take on multiple personalities of its own. By giving people control of “generative” sound and light content in this way, each time you play Aura the experience is slightly different. In the “engine” behind Aura there are some complex digital algorithms, yet these exist solely to empower people to interact intuitively with the work in simple but meaningful ways. The interactive part of the work is driven by a small light sensor, which drives a series of audio samplers and sets color values for the LED lighting – creating a tactile relationship between movement, light and sound.
Image by Frank van Beek
Image by Frank van Beek
Aura has only been made possible by the emergence of digitally controlled LED lighting systems. LED lighting releases us from the limitations associated with traditional lighting (i.e. fluorescent tubes or incandescent light bulbs), while unlocking endless flexibility to control the parameters of light. Aura uses Philips Color Kinetics LED lighting, which allows us to sculpt light into virtually any shape or form, and separately control every pinpoint of color.

Aura was first exhibited at Glow NEXT festival in Eindhoven in 2014, and has appeared at other events including the St. Etienne Design Biennale, and the LUX light festival in Wellington, New Zealand. With Aura, we aim to continue the Philips’ custom of experimenting with light and sound in ways that affect people at an emotional level. We are currently experimenting with light and sound for a new work, which will be exhibited at the Glow NEXT festival this year (2015). Keep an eye on the Future of Light for more updates!
Image by Frank van Beek
Image by Frank van Beek

Aura received the iF Professional Concept award in 2016.

 

Paul Thursfield originally trained as an industrial designer at Newcastle Polytechnic. He joined Philips Design in 1992 working in the TV division, followed by periods in the Multimedia and Strategic design groups leading user experience initiatives. Paul created the award winning and highly successful Livingcolors, initiating a transformation in consumer lighting that continues today with HUE. Paul currently lives in Eindhoven, and directs the Philips Smart Living Spaces research program that nurtures new ideas to improve our environment and health.

 

Simon Rycroft trained in Auckland as Sound Engineer and Music Producer in 1999. He went on to co-found, perform and record with renowned Wellington band Rhombus. During this time Simon also studied Sonic Arts at the New Zealand School of Music. Drawing on his experience as a professional musician and music producer, he was invited to instruct students at the Victoria University School of Design (Media Design) in 2008. Here he developed his skills as a designer and creative coder. A move to London in 2011 heralded a change of scene for Simon: taking on new creative projects and completing a Master of Arts (Design, Interaction Research) at Goldsmiths, University of London. As a part of this degree, Simon completed an internship at Philips Design in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Simon joined Philips as an Interaction Designer in early 2015.

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