An LED Storm Cloud Is Turning Sound into Electricity

Lightning strikes in the same place more than once in SOFTlab's latest interactive light sculpture.

by Sami Emory
30 May 2015, 6:00pm

Images and GIFs courtesy of the artists. 

A hollow, anamorphic cloud of light and sound channels the unpredictablility and power of lightning in New York design studio SOFTlab's Cumulus installation. Currently suspended above the showroom of the RAB in Chelsea, Cumulus reacts to the footsteps, conversations, and exclamations of visitors, funneling this data into 230 feet of programmed LEDs, fused together at over 100 3D-printed joints. Detecting RAB's ambient sound through a customized user interface, the structure sends signals to the LED segments through three Arduino microcontrollers, becoming a visual barometer for the mood of the room and its inhabitants. 

"Each time sound in the space reaches a certain volume, the piece activates," SOFTlab explains in the project's abstract. "A variety of behaviors were programmed, including a trail that cycles through the structure in a series of waves and pulses, each responding to the amplitude and ranges of surrounding sound. Cumulus’ most dynamic behavior is similar in spirit to our original intent—i.e. lightning—which seeks a pathway through one of the next connecting segments. The duration of this path is dictated by the volume of the sound that activates it, while a simple algorithm allows for a variety of interesting visual effects—from long, lightning-like strands caused by sporadic low frequency sounds to a static-y looking burst when people are chattering beneath it." 

Cumulus is installed in the RAB showroom in Chelsea until July 3rd. Watch SOFTlab's cloud in action, and see it in still images, below. 

Check out the rest of SOFTlab's awesome work on their website


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