Pioneering dance performance explores ‘living well with technology’ at King’s Chapel

Anna Spink, dancer, strikes a dramatic pose in the King's Chapel

The Strand Campus’ King’s Chapel hosted a dance performance of Feedback Loops on 18 January 2024 followed by a panel discussion.

The evening showcased Feedback Loops as an arts and science collaboration in the area of living well with technology and brought together colleagues from Faculty of Arts & Humanities and the Digital Futures Institute with the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) and the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre (BRC)

Feedback Loops combines dance and music that is generated from live human body data collected from a wearable device and lived experience stories to provide insight into the relationship between mind, body and technology. 

Professor Fay Bound Alberti, Director of the Digital Futures Institute Centre for Technology and the Body stressed the importance of interdisciplinary research of this kind in transforming medical and public attitudes to health and disease:

“This performance sits at the critical intersection of the arts and science, highlighting novel and important ways of viewing the body, the mind and human experience. It is a reminder that we are, even in in our pain and solitude, embodied beings – and that throughout history, technology has helped us communicate that to others.” 

The immersive performance was inspired by the RADAR-CNS project which investigated how wearable devices and smart phone technology can track and help prevent depression, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. RADAR-CNS was jointly led by King’s College London and Janssen Pharmaceutica NV and collected over 62 terabytes of data with 1450 participants between 2016 and 2022.

Dancr Anna Spink in the King's chapel posing with a fist raised

Dancer Anna Spink in performance of Feedback Loops in the King's Chapel. Image: Nathan Clarke Photography

Feedback Loops was created and produced by Alina Ivan and performed by dancer Anna Spink and musician Dan Wimperis. The dance is loosely choreographed around health data and patient experiences of various conditions – for example for the part of the performance representing depression, a slow, heavy movement quality was used, alongside changes of focus and specific gestures which abstractly demonstrate guilt and difficulty making decisions.

The sonification process translates the dancer’s movements into the notes which are played: the blood volume pulse (the graph on a heart rate monitor) is controlling the probability of notes being played and the volume of the notes (how hard a pianos key is pressed) and the electrodermal activity (the amount of sweat on their skin) is controlling how the notes sound, either bright or dark, far away or close etc.

Panel discussion in King's Chapel

Panel discussion (l-r): Professors Fay Bound Alberti, Steve Connor, Sally Marlow, Richard Dobson and patient adviser Patrick Burke.

Professor Sally Marlow, Associate Dean for Impact, IoPPN chaired a discussion following the performance which included four panellists from across King’s College London and explored the different relationships between the arts and technology in the area of health and possible future collaborations.

Panellist Professor Richard Dobson who led the data collection and analysis in the RADAR-CNS project said:

“It was fascinating to hear the music in Feedback Loops and how it provided signatures of the dancer’s state and movement from the wearable device she was wearing. This paralleled what we have been doing in the RADAR-CNS project: searching for signatures in the data that could represent aspects of MS, epilepsy and depression with the aim of finding ways to better monitor and potentially predict the course of these health conditions.”

Patrick Burke who was a member of the RADAR-CNS Patient Advisory Board and whose voice appears in the performance said:

“For me the dance captured the experience of having MS and also made it beautiful: the dancer fell down gracefully which is not what I tend to do. I think collaborations like these are so important to explore what it is like to ‘live well with technology’ because there is really no option anymore – technology is everywhere and we have to find ways to make the most of the opportunities it can provide.”

Panel discussion speakers

Professors Fay Bound Alberti and Steven Connor; Professor Richard Dobson and patient adviser Patrick Burke

Professor Steven Connor, Director of Research, Digital Futures Institute (DFI) said:

“Feedback Loops provided a wonderful enactment of the dynamic oscillation between the understanding and the experience of illness, reminding us that the human body is the only thing in nature that humans both have and are. It was powerfully suggestive of the need to intensify the dialogue between the medical effort to understand how illness works and the arts-orientated effort to give form to how it feels. The digitally-enabled cross-talk of malady and melody, of data and dance, in Feedback Loops provides confirmation that neither knowledge nor imagination is enough on its own for us to live well.”

Seeking Connection: Living Well with Technology

The performance of Feedback Loops was part of the ‘Seeking Connection: Living Well with Technology’ exhibition and event series. The performance marks the starting point of an ongoing collaboration between the Digital Futures Institute, the IoPPN, the NIHR Maudsley BRC and Faculty of Arts & Humanities to work together and develop new approaches to help build a technological future that enables better physical and mental health.

Feedback Loops is an ongoing project which debuted in 2020, and the team would like to bring the performance to further organisations, universities and schools.

RADAR-CNS brought together clinicians, researchers, engineers, computer scientists and bioinformaticians from all over the world. The project was funded by the Innovative Medicines Initiative - a Public Private Partnership set up between the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) and the European Union). It includes 22 organisations from across Europe and the US.


All photos by Nathan Clarke Photography

Tags: Informatics - Patient and Carer Involvement and Engagement -

By NIHR Maudsley BRC at 23 Jan 2024, 17:26 PM

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