Rogue Objects

How would you go looking for darkness?’
--Rogue Objects

Rogue Objects is an intimate, large-scale audio augmented reality (AR) experience developed in association with the Hayden Planetarium/American Museum of Natural History and the Public Theater. It features the stories of brown dwarfs—lonely celestial objects, neither planets nor stars—and how they come to be. Hundreds of participants are invited to assemble in large public spaces where they hear guided instruction, playful storytelling, and original music via audio AR headsets. The audio is spatially mapped and responsive to participant movement, gesture, and position. The piece is at once an experiment in the limits of empathy, a poetic engagement with astrophysics, and a game.

Hundreds of participants are invited to assemble in large public spaces, where they hear guided instruction, playful storytelling, and original music via audio AR interfaces. As part of our technological development process, we are creating a custom audio spatialization interface. Through this interface, we can map audio segments to a given geographic space, and those segments can be triggered by participant movement, gesture, and relative position. Thus we are able to faithfully render astrophysical phenomena through embodiment and interaction, and activate any public space as a site of poetry and collective inquiry. Additionally, since we are building this spatialized audio AR platform from the ground up, we are able to make this audio- and movement-based experience accessible to Deaf and mobility-restricted audience members in creative and dramatically meaningful ways.

See below an early work-in-progress trailer from a workshop of the piece at the University of Colorado.

The experience is 35 minutes and designed for audiences of 100-2000 people. Appropriate venues include large open spaces such as parks, schoolyards, town squares, museum halls, train stations, airplane hangars, and warehouses.

Project Motivations:
Podcasts are enjoying unprecedented success as a medium, but they are limited by the individuated nature of the listening experience. In the live arts, we have the opportunity to harness the power of audio storytelling and render it into delightful social experiences. Astrophysics is a strong conceptual driver for such an experience, since it is relies on collaborative ways of seeing—amongst scientists, telescopes, and nations—and is inherently a universal theme. In Rogue Objects, we have an exciting and ideal partnership amongst disciplines: the narrative and dramatic power of live art, the intrigue of emergent astrophysics research (particularly by the brown dwarf astrophysics group), and the latest in audio AR tech. 

Astrophysics is a rigorous computational discipline; a large majority of humanity has been systematically marginalized from STEM fields and thus are offered few opportunities to engage deeply with the immense emotional and philosophical questions the universe presents. In Rogue Objects, we use technology, embodiment, and performance to make the dynamism and theatricality of the sky accessible to diverse publics. We should all be able to build delightful intimacies with the universe, and also be swept up by its greatness. 

Brown dwarfs themselves are liminal objects; their formation stories frequently involve exile from stellar and planetary systems, and thus offer us a new scientific and metaphorical space in which to understand selfhood, otherness, and the universe at large. Brown dwarfs are celestial objects for the rest of us.

We take our cues from brown dwarfs, then, in crafting the central values and goals for this project:

  1. We are creating novel technological tools that encourage collective storytelling.

  2. We are engaging disability/accessibility as a creative opportunity at every project stage, rather than merely at presentation.

  3. We are reinscribing public space for bold, open exploration by diverse audiences.