Is the evolution of technology cyclical rather than linear? Is its rapid advancement just bringing us back to the same mindset humans had as a species for thousands of years? These are just a few of the questions that came to mind with futurist designer Heather Shaw's two-night-only The Circuitry of Life: A Journey Through the Evolution of Technology, a mind-bending, multidimensional, fully-immersive sight-and-sound experience that happened on a Downtown Los Angeles rooftop the weekend of February 20 and 21 for Red Bull at Night. The experience drew on human interaction in order to achieve a spectacular display that took the audience on a journey through five different eras of technological development, including the future.
"The term 'futurist designer' was actually coined by the Los Angeles Times when referring to what we like to do," explains Shaw, herself an LA native. "I am extremely inspired by the scientists that work on predicting the future. I know that as designers, we are also responsible for designing that future. I like to imagine that future, and create experiences and projects that may reflect that."
Shaw began studying fine art before switching to automotive design, working as a designer with Audi for five years. Now, she's the CEO of Vita Motus, which develops multi-disciplinary environments, mostly for the music industry. Among others, the company's clients include the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, American Idol, Taylor Swift, and in the case of The Circuitry of Life, it was Red Bull. But instead of just being a simple vehicle for product-placement, Shaw's most recent endeavor existed as an experience on its own, with Red Bull along for the ride.
As Shaw describes, “The Circuitry of Life is a journey through the evolution of technology. It is an experience that notes analogue to digital through music, media and sculpture." She says the whole thing took over a year to execute with a team of about 40 people, including musicians, animators, interactive animators, interactive sound designers, music curators, and engineers.
Like a traditional stage production, the event unfolded through loosely defined "acts." First, individuals were indoors, where they were encouraged to become subjects in separate 20-second video head portraits, which figured into the experience later in the night. They were then urged to understand the five epochs of technological advancement through a timeline on the wall, each enacted in the actual production immediately afterwards outside.
The graphic representation began with Human Connection, in which, as the timeline text described, people connected through tribes and the development of rudimentary organic tools, which later evolved into more complex disciplines such as sewing, metalworking, and agriculture. Physically, this was represented by a core group of tribal drummers who ushered visitors into the four-story cube outside.
The second phase on the timeline was described as the Industrial Revolution, though learned historians would argue the term is a gross oversimplification, with all achievements from the era being rooted in the preceding Agricultural Revolution. Nonetheless, the timeline's text described this as a period that "enabled mass production, which gave way to the industrialized world." The third spot on the timeline, Integrated Circuit, chronicled the start of the technological revolution, beginning with the transistor radio and programmable data, computing, and software. Inside the cube, this was represented with the increasingly frenetic, discordant sounds of a live string quartet, set to early film clips projected onto all four walls.
Next came the Superhighway, when we all began to connect online beginning in the early 1990s. "This rapid communication resulted in the rise of digital technologies that seemed faster than most of us could comprehend," the timeline text explained. Inside the cube, the string quartet gave way to guitar rock, and the found-footage film was replaced by visuals reminiscent of lava lamps and screen-savers.
Finally, the last phase on the timeline was Singular Consciousness, which described the future application of scientific knowledge for functional purposes. "A singular consciousness represents the future of technology," the timeline informed readers. "Here we become aware of the fact that technology has offered us a place to connect faster than our preceding generations." Inside the cube, the trajectory of technological development became less divisive and more fluid, and the guitar rock morphed into electronic music. The visuals went from Pink Floyd-esque, Tron-type animations to an interactive canvas, which invited visitors to touch and play with the screens, thus creating their own visuals and sound, becoming part of a single entity that repressed the forging of the future as one. "We are connected all over the world at the touch of a button, offering tribes a place to communicate quickly and become one conscious collective," the timeline text described the most recent current/future period, hinting at the idea that through circuitry, we have come full circle, and we are once again a "tribe."
At the top of the scaffolded structure, there was a head-shaped clear sculpture with tiny moving images featuring the same video head portraits of the crowd, filmed just moments before. It represented the larger component of the cube, which was made up of individuals as well. Shaw says she originally conceived the whole idea as an "infinity staircase," then expanded the idea into a cube, because she found her own art gravitating toward the cube as well. It works, because the cube mimics the computer, alluding to the fact that it's we humans who have designed and developed the computer for our own purposes, and that we are the ones telling it what to do — now, and in the future, too.