Rana June works at the intersection between data, art and analysis. As an artist, she defined the space for iPad music production and performance as The iPad DJ, As a technologist, she is now bridging the divide between wearable technology and next generation sentiment analytics by building Lightwave, an interactive biometric data platform, in a bid to help music performers better understand their audiences.
FRUKT caught up with Rana to discuss the inspiration behind Lightwave, the EDM boom, and the growing role Big Data can play in elevating the DJ to audience relationship,
You have a history of innovating in the DJ space. What was the inspiration that drove you to develop Lightwave?
- I have been fascinated with evolving the modality of the performance of electronic dance music from the traditional DJ setup to something more dynamic for quite some time, but my background is as a technologist dealing with big data and analytics systems. This curiosity led me to creating a performance rig comprised of 6 iPads connected wirelessly to one another and to the venue audio system, with the addition of a carbon fibre exoskeletal system whereby I could wander around the venues interacting with the audience while still transmitting to the speaker system. I toured all over the world with this setup. Many technologists don’t experience a concert from the performer’s perspective and it is from this vantage point that it becomes evident that there is a lack of real time tools and data for events, large and small.
About two years ago, I began development of a system that is the artist’s equivalent to the flight instrument panel that pilots use. Perhaps the pilot has limited visibility while flying through clouds or at night, but the instruments transmit critical bits of information so the pilot can make the best decision in the moment. By nature of deploying this type of system for concerts, it also enables a whole new way of interacting with the audience by giving them each their own power to contribute to the show, both visual and in the reaction data displayed to the performer.
Lightwave began as a technology that I wanted to use for my own shows, but I knew from the start that would become exponentially more powerful and impactful in the hands of larger, more established artists. While I loved performing, I am more than happy to be behind the scenes now, building a platform for others to use and evolve beyond anything I could do with it.
How does the concept work and what are the key benefits to both fans and artists?
- Lightwave is a technology platform that allows audiences to become active participants in large-scale entertainment environments by deploying sensors at large scale and using that data in real time. Event attendees – and sometimes the performers or athletes themselves – are given wearable devices upon entry that transmit biometric data, such as temperature, motion and audio level, wirelessly to our system where it can be transformed in any number of ways – from elaborate interactive visuals where each audience member becomes a pixel in the show to triggering confetti and smoke machines to robust post-event analytics.
Our Lightwave wristband is networked to send data back and forth wirelessly to our platform where we have the opportunity to interact with it through multiple data output streams, such as JSON, OSC and more. This sounds simple but it’s actually very exciting for live performances and events because it means that the same audience data from the Lightwave system can be displayed to the performer in one interface, to the live visuals in another format, and to the event staff in a completely different manner, all simultaneously and in real-time.
We’ve seen that this new type of audience sentiment data leads to better events and better fan experiences than ever before possible, and the creative possibilities for this type of interactivity for audiences and performers are nearly endless when put in the hands of creatives and artists.
How is the dramatic rise in EDM and mainstream acceptance of dance cultue changing the relationship between DJs and their audiences?
- Social media tools like Facebook and Twitter have effected all performers and artists, but I think EDM artists were particularly impacted by the democratization of fan input. The DJ has always been the facilitator of the event, and it is only a recent phenomenon that the DJs have become the rockstars with their own cults of personality. However, EDM does not provide the same opportunities for the artist’s personality to come through in the performance because the music is continuous and people are there to dance. Social media can provide that platform.
How important is customisation and personalisation when it comes to developing live music experiences?
- It seems as though electronic music is bound to plateau without more organic ways to interact with the audience. Unlike other genres of music where humans make micro mistakes or slight variances in performance leading to inherently interesting and unique experiences, electronic music tends to be relatively preprogrammed because there simply isn't a better way to perform this type of music yet.
How do you see wearable technology influencing the way people experience and consume music in the future?
- The wristband is a very popular form factor at the moment because it is unobtrusive and a reasonably comfortable location to wear an external device. In the future, as battery and sensor technology continue to improve and get smaller in size, new and novel wearables will be developed which may become so inconspicuous that they simply become an external token for biometric access and feedback. We are currently developing some interesting form factors such as necklaces, gloves, and biofeedback. We recently deployed a Lightwave compression sleeve at a Gatorade event where elite footballers wore our technology and we streamed their biometrics to the jumbotron in the stadium in real time – without affecting the comfort or performance of the athletes. The same considerations must be taken in music contexts, both for the artists and the fans.