datascapesComputer experts from Edge Hill have contributed to an international project that uses protein data, passages from the Bible and augmented reality to create unique musical and visual art works.

Artists, musicians, mathematicians and computer scientists from Edge Hill and Brock University in Canada worked in collaboration on the DataScapes Project, which produced two pieces, Emergence and The Five Senses, that were expressed using augmented reality (AR).

Dr Mark Anderson, Reader in Computing, who worked on DataScapes, explained:

The project focused on finding patterns in nature and culture that could be interpreted into musical and visual art. So, protein data and Bible text were converted into numerical representations which were processed through software to create musical compositions or transformed into mathematical algorithms to produce visual forms on a computer.

The two were then put together to create a visualisation and sonification of the numerical patterns. The project then used augmented reality to project the images into a physical landscape, allowing the audience not only to see and hear the artworks but, by using an app on their phone or tablet, also walk round them in a natural environment.”

The mobile app was created by 3rd year Computing student Joe Bolton as his final year project. It used QR codes and GPS to link the artworks to the audience’s movements, enabling them to move around the projections, some of which were several stories high.

“Developing an application that could convey the effects desired by the client, but that could run on a mobile platform was quite a challenge,” said Joe, who has secured his first job as a KTP Associate with video analytics company Bi3. “The device had to do a large amount of work every time it wanted to display one of the visual effects, and initially this was beyond the capabilities of all but the most powerful mobile devices.

Working on DataScapes gave me valuable experience of how to manage a long running project that required contributions from many different people to be able to function. I also gained a new understanding of how AR works, and a new appetite for data visualization, that helped me stand out during interviews and throughout the recruitment process for my current job.”

The pieces were unveiled at the National Congress Conference at Brock University, which hosted 8,500 delegates from all disciplines. Mark and Joe also presented a paper at the conference discussing the app and its potential future applications.

“Augmented reality has been around for a while but it is usually applied in a military context,” said Mark. “Using it to produce works of art is quite novel; in fact, we’ve found it hard to find places to submit our work because it doesn’t align closely with existing strands of research.

AR is an emerging area for the Department of Computing at Edge Hill. Being involved in DataScapes has opened up a world of possibilities for how we can use this technology on campus, and highlights the innovation and creativity of our Computing programmes.”

The DataScapes team is now working on further advanced AR techniques, as well as looking into other artistic and commercial applications of the project.