The people behind Experimental Stage Project come from different scientific disciplines, but have one common goal: Sparking fascination for science by making it palpable with all senses in new and creative ways. Over the past seven years, they have set up a broad range of installations based on natural phenomena in unusual contexts like electronic music festivals such as Garbicz Festival in Poland or Fusion Festival in Germany. This year they will bring a selection of their installations, which are blurring the boundaries between art and science, to Monument Festival. Ahead of their trip from Berlin to Søre Risteigen, we asked the crew to answer some questions about their approach, their thoughts on the relationship between art and science and some of the most memorable feedback they have gotten from festivalgoers over the years.
What is the Experimental Stage Project about?
Experimental Stage Project is about communicating science in a way that sparks curiosity and fascination. We do this by setting up interactive installations based on scientific phenomena in places you would least expect them, such as music festivals. By explaining the workings behind them, we aim to initiate a discourse between scientists and society through art and play.
Was there a specific event that sparked the idea behind it?
It all started in 2015, when we set up our first installations at a party called Basement Session in a small club in Berlin. There, we showed the first versions of our Non-Newtonian Fluid, Wave Pendulum, Tesla Coil and Vortex Cannons experiments. Back then, the idea of placing them into a party context was just for fun, to see how the guests would react. As it was received so well, the idea was born to give our experiments a stage more often.
How would you describe the relationship between art and science?
Science tries to describe the world in an objective way by eliminating a person’s subjectivity. Art is all about this subjectivity. But the two fields share many interesting overlaps in approaches and work processes. In finding a common ground and language, artists and scientists can learn from and complement each other by incorporating scientific or artistic elements into their respective practices. The way in which we combine the two is through giving a stage to natural phenomena which are otherwise hidden from view in laboratories or simulations. By allowing science to be experienced from a personal, up close perspective, our installations bring the individual’s subjectivity back into the equation.
How did you get the idea to present your installations in the context of music festivals?
After setting up our installations at a series of parties set in Berlin clubs, we wanted to move our installations into a new environment. The natural surroundings of outdoor music festivals offered us a very suitable new space to present our natural phenomena. There we found refuge in small forest clearings which we decorated with our works. The great thing about music festivals – as they span several days – is that people have the time to return to our space. The second time they bring their friends and in turn explain our installations to them, creating a feedback loop over the entire festival. It’s very rewarding to see visitors share our enthusiasm for explaining the physics behind the works.
What have been some of your most memorable reactions from festivalgoers to your installations?
As we have been at music festivals for several years now, some visitors, being regular festival-goers, already know our installations. As it happens, we were told by a visitor at our first festival this year that one particular installation (our “Bloom”) is the reason why she started studying physics. That was a very humbling encounter for us. There was also a great moment in which we for a short time managed to convince a group of festivalgoers that we had reversed gravity within a small field around our Reverse Waterfall installation. Of course, we explained how it actually works soon after! Generally, every contact we have with people on the festivals we visit is very enriching and inspiring. In this regard, we’re very much looking forward to meeting and exchanging with all the MNMTers this year.
Please tell us the story behind one of the installations you’ll bring to the festival.
Chladni figures have been known for well over 200 years. The German physicist and musician Ernst Chladni himself used a violin bow to stroke the edges of his plates, and showed the resulting figures to Napoleon and other contemporaries. When we took our first Chladni Plate to a festival, we did the same thing Chladni did more than 200 years ago and gave people a bow to stroke the plates. Soon, we noticed that it takes some practice to play the plates correctly.
We therefore decided to take a different approach by measuring the resonances of the plate and driving it with a loudspeaker at these resonant frequencies. We hacked a midi keyboard to play the exact frequencies, creating an instrument that is played like a piano, only with a completely different musical scale than the one we are used to. While the scale we are widely familiar with is derived from whole vibrations in a 1-D object like a string or the air in a flute, the scale of the 2-D chladni plate is curiously different but similarly interesting.
Ultimately, our Chladni Plate makes you question our current music system and if it could, in fact, also be completely different.
How do you develop ideas and work together as a collective?
Our collective is a very fluid group of people coming from a variety of scientific backgrounds. If anyone has an idea, they bring it to the table, and the project is then built at our weekly happenings in our basement workshop at the Technische Universität Berlin. For us, the process of making is very important, as it allows an understanding of materiality, technology and methods of craft, all of which have widely gone missing in our modern lifestyle. Society has become so accustomed to using black box technologies, starting with buses and trains as modes of transport, and ending with the smartphones in our pockets. By building every part of our installations ourselves, we want to demystify the methods of making.
By working in such a hands-on way, the final concepts behind our installations often only emerge in the process of creation, as we constantly search for inventive solutions to occurring problems. Even when an installation is developed so far that it can be shown at a festival, its effect on visitors in turn becomes a central aspect, leading to further adaptations. In this sense, one could say that we are constantly prototyping and learning throughout our loop of making processes and exchanges with society.
How do you think your installations fit in at Monument Festival?
Many of our principles agree with those of Monument. We focus a lot on sustainability, as our installations are not conceputalised to be shown only once, but are reconstructed using the same or upcycled materials. In our installations, we reuse electronics found on second hand platforms or in laboratory liquidations, and only buy what is absolutely necessary. By rebuilding our installations on every event we not only save resources but are also able to modify them according to the feedback we obtain from festivalgoers.
Like Monument, we value events that are “head to toe experiences“ stimulating all senses. With our interactive installations, we address these human senses by working in a variety of different creative formats to form an intuitive initial approach to science, simultaneously encouraging new methods of learning.
We aim to create an inclusive environment both within and outside our collective, as our group consists of a flow of people from different disciplines and is open for anyone to join. Every member can develop their own projects, whereby we showcase a range of scientific knowledge and continuously learn from each other in the process of making and explaining. Essentially, one could say that we very much share Monument’s philosophy of creating a “community of knowledge, love and engagement”, which we are excited to be a part of at this year’s festival.