Midlight is a stunning field of fibre optic lights that was shown across Birmingham throughout Winter 2015-2016. Viewers participate in this constantly changing public artwork, which they can alter just by making sounds. The fibre optics react differently to each spectator, and viewers can take control of the entire field by interacting with it on Twitter.
Birmingham Cathedral Chinese New Year Celebration
Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre Leading Ladies Event
Birmingham Cathedral Green
Birmingham Science Museum
After a year of research in the city, the artist has been inspired by:
Free and easily accessible to all, Midlight is an interactive stage that welcomes everyone to create their own light displays with sound, empowering everyone's individuality and creativity, regardless of their background.
By offering social media interaction, the work engages with the young people of the city. The cutting edge technology and engineering also honours the city with both its legacy and modern excellence in leading the country's manufacturing industry.
At the same time, the relatively recent Chinese population in the city continues to grow - more than doubling in the last 10 years - and now Birmingham has the third biggest population of ethnical Chinese in the UK, only slightly behind Manchester.
The project is the first of its kind to include the paticipation of the local Chinese community on this scale. Each of the technical modules were built by the British Chinese artist along with local Chinese residents who live and work around the theatre.
The volunteers say:
Angela Qi Huang
Entrepreneur and Community Ambassador
I think its such a great opportunity to be involved in a celebration of Birmingham’s culture. I feel as a Chinese that I am really happy that I can contribute towards the city’s culture and creativity. I am really inspired by the artist and she has also given me the opportunity to become the Community Ambassador for Hippodrome CREATIVE.
It’s also such amazing art project that I felt really proud to be part of it.
On a personal level, I feel it's a way to socialise and have a different way to relax from my day-to-day job. I have made so many friends within the Chinese community and have become more involved in British social life through volunteering.
Vivi Yingrong Wang
I feel really proud because its about a Chinese artist. I am so far away from home in China, so it’s a wonderful opportunity to get involved in something that is very original. I have not heard or seen art like this and I am really intrigued. I am stripping wires, which is very technical, and I am a pianist and I have never done anything like this before, so it’s such a new experience for me.
I am really proud that the artist is Chinese and could have this amazing concept. I really want to support her because her work is so much about how to make everyone happy!
This is a great opportunity to raise the profile of our Chinese community, Chinese art, and Chinese creativity. It’s a good cause, because its not commercial, and it has great social meaning so it makes me feel feel very good to be involved. I work in different cities and have to drive back from different cities, but I still come over after work as much as I can to stay over and help out.
I think what I am doing to help is very little, but I hope there will be more. There has to be trust built within the community - and now Mrs. Jin is very well known and respected within the area because of her effort and passion for involving our Chinese community in as many local cultures as possible!
Volunteers from the Chinese community who worked alongside the artist to make the show happen
Specially designed modules containing Raspberry Pis control thousands of LEDS, each featuring 9,000 colour variations. The lights constantly learn from their surroundings, adjusting intelligently to make sure that no two experiences with the artwork are ever the same.
Designed and co-coded by a female artist, Midlight showcases female innovation in both coding and technology. The cutting edge technology has taken months of programming and design to combine advanced audio processing, electronics and machine learning, pushing the boundaries between technology and art.
Each module refreshes its configuration every 10 seconds, and downloads new source code for itself every few minutes, so that the team can make changes in near real time as the artwork progresses.
In the artwork's proprietary software, the pitch determines the colour of the LEDs, while the volume determines the brightness. This is mapped against a rainbow system designed by the artist and configurable to each location.
The location's audio profile is constantly and automatically measured in the background by each module, and the software interactively learns and analyses patterns in the environmental sounds to create a visual style that's specific to every location. Every single LED in the artwork can respond to 100 different pitch ranges and 90 volume variations, creating 9,000 colour combinations for each individual light.
The sound is captured by the sound card on the Raspberry Pi as waves. We put the wave data through a Blackman windowing algorithm. When it’s got a distinct voice signal it looks like this:
We then carry out a Fast Fourier Transform (FFT), which analyses the sampled sound waves to produce a breakdown of all of the individual frequencies contained in the wave. Once we have our completed FFT analysis and removed noise (see below), we then use a mathematical technique called quadratic interpolation around the maximum to determine the most prevalent frequency in the chart, returned in Hz, and a root mean squared analysis to determine the volume. These outputs are used to control the lights.
In an outdoor environment noise is a big challenge, as it is different in every environment and can cover a wide range of frequencies. Beyond a straight forward low pass and high pass filter, in every location we also have the ability to create a "noise map" which works out the frequencies generating ambient noise for that location:
We can then map that noise map over the frequencies we're analysing to make sure that genuinely unique sounds are more pronounced, as per the following before and after frequency charts:
You can see that the high frequency sounds are now much more pronounced in the second chart.
Each module also uses built-in wi-fi to retrieve instructions from a cloud-based server dedicated to Midlight. This server automatically and constantly monitors social mentions on Twitter to the account @himidlight, interpreting natural language instructions such as "@himidlight turn red" which give spectators the unprecedented power to change the colours of the whole field of lights through social media interaction.
Midlight is a spectacular light installation in Birmingham by British-Chinese artist Aowen Jin, commissioned by Birmingham Hippodrome CREATIVE, and is the result of months of research into Chinese community around the theatre sponsored by Without Walls and Arts Council England.
Birmingham Hippodrome sits within Birmingham's China Town and is the busiest single seated theatre in the UK. It hosts a wide range of outstanding international hit shows for audiences both from the city and the Midlands as a whole. Hippodrome CREATIVE produces many of Birmingham's biggest art and cultural events and is proud to support any ambitious art projects that engage with the city's diverse communities. Graham Callister, Director of Hippodrome CREATIVE says:
"Birmingham is now a super diverse, international destination for culture that boasts an amazing array of young artistic and creative talent. We want our creative programme to really engage with this agenda and offer something different for both our existing and new audiences, and new commissions such as 'Midlight' does exactly that! Through Hippodrome CREATIVE and the fantastic enthusiasm and commitment from our local Chinese volunteers and participants, Aowen has created a unique artwork that can bring together the city's communities at this very special time of year."
Aowen Jin is a renowned British-Chinese artist who works on critically acclaimed public commissions that challenge cultural perceptions and social inclusivity. Her works are collected by Her Majesty the Queen among other high profile organisations and individuals. Aowen says:
“Working with the Hippodrome CREATIVE team on this project has been a real pleasure. As an artist it’s so important to be able to create an original artwork that pushes boundaries and breaks new ground. Many organisations struggle with this, but the visionary team at Hippodrome have been so supportive - they really embraced the concept and their help has been invaluable to getting it off the ground. Their devotion to engaging with the local community and bringing art to the city is admirable, and really does make Birmingham stronger as a whole.”