Standing Waves

a project by Carol Brown (choreography and dance), Anne Niemetz (media art and design) and Philippa Gander (chronobiology)

Standing Waves is a work in progress. View a video of a research performance
(please note that due to the low-frequency sound it is recommended to listen
with head phones or a good stereo system):


Thank you
Kenny Smith, Alicia Zink, Becca Wood, Rob MacDonald, David Rylands, Sam Trubridge and the Waking Incubator team and participants, Russel Scoones, Victoria University of Wellington, University of Auckland, Sleep/Wake Centre Wellington and all of our supporters.

Our work explores how the non-literalness of scientific phenomena can be embodied in interactive performance and made meaningful for audiences. The aim of this collaboration is to create a unique performance ecology, by bringing together elements of the collaborators’ respective disciplines and expertise and experimenting within the areas of intersection.

The Standing Waves performance system involves wearable electronic sensor technology to allow a dancer to interact with a malleable sound environment. Sensing the body, its gestures and its environment through the measurement of light and acceleration, the “sensor suit” allows the dancer to intuitively control sound. The dancer can choose to expose or hide light-sensitive parts of the sensor garment, combining these actions with movements of varied speed. In turn, the sonic feedback influences the emerging choreographic score, inducing constraints and generative cyclic patterns for movement. This feedback loop between movement and sonic state creates waves of sensation heightening the experience of the space as a perceptible field of embodied technology. The performance exists at the threshold between the figurative and the factual as it takes data and information from the lab practice of a sleep scientist and reinterprets this within the condition of a performance environment, effectively making visible the dynamic processes of physiological phenomena.

The dramaturgy is driven by concepts around the physiological cycles that underlie sleeping and waking. The first segment is inspired by the circadian biological clock that keeps the sleep/wake cycle coordinated with the rotation of the earth (the day/night cycle). This is followed by a retreat into the sleeping brain, and an exploration of the distinct rhythms of electrical activity that characterise different states of sleep. Finally the performance explores the rhythms of breeching into waking consciousness as the brain re-engages with the external world.

The sound design is based on the auditory beat, a phenomenon that arises when two pure tones of different, but neighbouring frequencies are played together. In such a situation, a beat frequency emerges, perceived as a periodic pulsing of the sound. These beats are both an acoustic and psychoacoustic phenomenon. Binaural beats are a perceptive phenomenon that the brain constructs when each ear is separately played a pure tone through headphones; monaural beats arise when two speakers in a room play the frequencies. These beats – waves of sound - are powerful to listen to, physically moving, subsonic but clearly perceivable.

The resulting performance is a mesmerising event, taking the audience through states of slowly undulating, calm and soothing rhythms that phase-shift into more agitated, oscillating vibrations. The audience is drawn into this work through its multi-sensory character: sound is as important as sight, and the fluidity of the interplay between physical gesture, light and acoustic feedback in space develops into an immersive, visceral experience. Beyond the metaphorical resonance of this work with the actual sleep/cycles of the body, we are interested in extending this visceral impact of the performance on audiences. Can the physical impact of the sound on the observer induce states of euphoria, bliss, agitation or calm? The dancer, working with an improvised score, becomes attuned to the audience state and is able to steer and guide the experience, heightening, changing or shifting the nature of the performance through interaction with the rhythms and oscillations of the auditory beats.

As science reaches to heights in uncovering the mysteries of our bodies, we must also realise multiple modes with which such discoveries may present themselves. Standing Waves is in many ways an attempt to give scientific discovery a new avenue for illumination through creative expression. Enacting science through artistic interpretation is not only a way of bridging the world of specialist and non-specialist, but also provides another mode of experience that can address our multimodal consciousness and social exchange.