It is the distant future, the year 2000
We are robots
The world is quite different ever since
The robotic uprising of the late nineties
There is no more unhappiness, affirmative
If you, like me, were a young person in the 80's, you will simply love the Digital Revolution at London's Barbican Centre.
From the moment you walk in through the main door and are greeted by vintage hardware such as Pong, the world's first arcade videogame, or even better, Pacman, still in it's original upright cabinet, waves of nostalgia come crashing down around you.
The first section of the exhibition, called 'Digital Archaeology', was a hotbed of technological developments since the 70's and documented many of the advances made since then.
Included amongst these were Speak and Spell, Nintendo's Game & Watch series (who doesn't remember Donkey Kong?), the NES, Commodore's PET, the Apple II, Atari's ST and many other incredible advancements. Many of the exhibits are interactive and I could quite happily have played Super Mario World for the rest of the afternoon but the lights and noises from the other attractions kept diverting my attention elsewhere.
While you navigate your way around this room you are serenaded by some timeless electronic music from such classics as Tetris, PaRappa the Rapper and Manic Miner.
Great fun and an excellent way to start the tour!
As we moved into the 'We Create' section we were able to interact with animated birds sculpted from mobile phones which reacted when their individual numbers were telephoned from a nearby handset. There was also a robotic lamp which was supposed to react to its environment but unfortunately it wasn't working while we were there. I've since seen a short video of the lamp in action and it's excellent.
The 'Creative Spaces' section began with a huge wall of screens demonstrating the sequence of creating Alfonso Cuaron's (not at all tedious) Gravity; from pre-visualisation animation, in-studio filming, CGI and final results.
There was also a demonstration of the Paris street view CGI from Christopher Nolan's Inception, which was pretty cool too!
I also liked the Dronestagram Instagram exhibition which used widely available satellite imagery and other online tools, such as Google Earth to post images of locations bombed by America's drone programme. Macabre, but fascinating nonetheless.
Sound and Vision
This section, which was created alongside the shy and retiring will.i.am, and which included a 6ft three dimensional animation of his head, was intended to explore how imaging technologies are changing the way we explore and experience music. Three robotic musical instruments played his new song 'Dreamin' About the Future' while motion capturing technology mapped your position and the large head followed you around the room. Very clever, and even more so when you realise that its actually following everyone in the room at the same time.
State of Play
The State of Play' exhibition started with a fantastic piece of interactive art by Daniel Rozin, where you are actually a part of the artwork itself. Mirror No. 10 filmed its viewers in real-time and displayed a colourful interpretation of the image of the screen.
Rafael Loranzo-Hemmer's 'The Year Midnight' used in built tracking software to make the viewers eyes appear to catch fire and smoke, whilst gesture control and camera tech were used in Chris Milk's 'The treachery of Sanctuary', a huge interactive display where you were eaten by or turned into giant birds able to fly off into the sunset.
Our Digital Futures
As well as wearable iMiniskirts, apparently worn by Katy Perry and Nicole Scherzinger (Dan will not have heard of either of these pop heroines) this section included a video game played purely by tracking eye movement. By simply staring at the cute little alien would-be earth take-overers a laser beam would blast them out of orbit.
Indie Games Space
The indie games section included a few games from some of the world's most creative independent game developers. One or two were beyond the capabilities of my tiny 40 year old mind but 'Papers, Please' was fairly entertaining and Greg and Tristan seemed to be enjoying themselves playing an odd little sword fighting game called 'Nidhogg' - well Tristan certainly looked like he was enjoying digitally taking Greg to the cleaners.
The final part of the exhibition took place in the Barbican's 'Pit'. This dark, atmospheric auditorium allowed us to manipulate beams of light by unlocking elements with certain predetermined motions. I don't mind admitting that I found this a bit disorientating and didn't really grasp the concept. Dan said he had better lasers at home! But I think in retrospect we were missing the point!
Worth the entrance fee?
All in all, and I hope I speak for all 4 of us, we had a very good day out. The exhibition is a lot of fun and the interactive elements make for a great user experience!
Dan, Tristan and I were parted from our cash in the Barbican's shop mysteriously drawn in by Pacman coasters, Lego Streetfighter Ryu's, 8-bit hero sticker books and robot bookmarks!
We were there for around 2 hours but you could easily immerse yourself further into several of the exhibits and waste a whole day reliving your youth! Maybe next time I go I'll dig out the Raleigh Aero and marathon wheelie my way up there.