Brighton Digital Festival: Talking tech with Genevieve Smith-Nunes

“It’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet of digital cultural tech.” That’s how Genevieve Smith-Nunes sees Brighton Digital Festival – a month long celebration of digital culture which will return for its fifth year this September.

Genevieve is the founder of Ready Salted Code, a creative, non-profit computer science education company who will be showcasing their latest work, DataStorm, at this year’s festival.

Despite how it may sound, it’s not all screens and lectures, as Genevieve explains: “We write curriculum and workshops and then we have the innovation side, which is the ballets and the big installations.” In her youth Genevieve went to dancing school, but this had to be put on hold when she underwent two spinal fusions that still affect her today. Now she uses Ready Salted Code to combine her love of ballet with her other main interest – technology. “I think I’m just vicariously living through the dancers but I really love tech. It’s kind of like a double passion,” she enthuses.

The two may seem poles apart, but dance and digital aren’t all that different to Genevieve. “I don’t know if you’ve ever done ballet but it’s quite functional, it’s very structured. It’s not exactly the same as programming or computational thinking, but to me they’re just totally the same thing.

“Ballet has its own language the same way as programming and Python or C or Java Script does, it’s just the language of feet and body.”

Not only do they show these similarities, but ballet and technology can also compliment each other, and this can be seen in DataStorm. “It allows people to see the really kind of abstract, complex elements of computing science theory in a way that feels comfortable and accessible.” Says Genevieve of the project.

“It’s a beautiful piece as well, which is what people don’t think about computer science. They think it’s very analytical when actually code is incredibly creative and people who are really good at programming have beautiful, elegant written code. You can look at it and see the beauty in it, if you’re kind of crazy in a way, like me.”

DataStorm is the follow up to last year’s [arra]stre, and the second in Ready Salted Code’s three part Art of Computer Science series. “Like any good sci-fi, it has to be a trilogy.”

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Based on the theme of oceans and weather, DataStorm follows the journey of one piece of data as it travels from the US to the UK. Each of the dancers will hold a glowing cube representing one piece of data, in an attempt to simplify and educate the audience on this complex process.

“It’s about them associating the imagery with the theory, so how data is transferred via a network. The whole notion of jumping from server to server, that’s quite hard to visualise as humans.”

“People think computer science is scary, it’s kind of like nerds in basements with sandals, you know that whole notion that it’s solo activity, that it’s not inclusive, but actually it’s incredibly social.”

Along with the cubes, the dancers will wear ballet shoes adorned with Arduino lights as well as headdresses, which they will code with their own personal touch: “We go through with them and they just decide collectively on what kind of pattern they want and they pick the particular colours.”

This year, audience members will also be able to get involved in a way that will affect the live performance. “We have a set piece of code that we’re using for how the lights trigger on the installation and they’re going to be able to modify that. They’ll make them different colours and different patterns, and we want people to go ‘oh my god, that’s my bit of code!’”

But not all of the technology will be coded beforehand. The dancers will wear sensors to monitor their sweat, and the data generated will trigger lights and visuals including storm videos, satellite data and isobar maps.

Visuals will also be triggered by genuine weather data to help the audience feel the storm around them. “We’re looking at wave map data and the sound effect that waves have, then we have Met Office data, oceanographic data, heat maps of weather and jet streams.”

When creating DataStorm, Genevieve decided to continue a theme that she touched on in [arra]stre. “That was choreographed on the patterns of the storm data from July last year when it flooded everywhere and everyone was inundated with rain, and actually the weather maps were really beautiful to look at.”

Constantly inspired and exploring new developments in technology, Genevieve is already planning her next project, which will be ballet focused on a much more personal theme – herself. “You can’t see I’m in chronic pain, you would never know that I sit here and it’s painful. So it’s about making the audience aware in an emotional sense, and using technology to demonstrate it.”

And who better to dance in the piece than the subject herself? “It’ll probably be me dancing that bit, so I start on ballet lessons in September,” Genevieve reveals. September’s going to be a busy month.

www.readysaltedcode.org

brightondigitalfestival.co.uk

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