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Expand Your Reality: Marshmallow Laser Feast Interviewed

Finding their inspiration in the fault lines between art and technology, Marshmallow Laser Feast don’t create installations as much as they create experiences. Founded by designers and animators Barney Steel and Robin McNicholas, the studio creating cutting-edge experiences, working with everything from virtual reality, to drone performances, to real time projection mapping, creating immersive, enveloping work – work that has a desire to explore the relationship between sound, movement and shape at its heart.

This is shifting, exciting territory, making their work a perfect fit for Convergence Festival, where they will be presenting and discussing their output and upcoming projects. Now in its fourth year, Convergence presents six days of performances, discussions and workshops as a showcase for technology, art and music – a platform for ideas.

We caught up with Marshmallow Laser Feast Creative Director Robin McNicholas to discuss their remarkable and mind-expanding work.

The Marshmallow Laser Feast CV is vast and varied – it’s almost intimidating. You’re designers and technologists, working in everything from art to advertising. How would you characterise what it is you do?

We're a group of friends who have stuck at it and found ourselves in quite peculiar but adventurous settings. On a bland level, we're multimedia artists. However it's increasingly attractive to say we're an experiential studio so in the hope of keeping the interesting work flowing in, we'll go with the latter!

How did Marshmallow Laser Feast begin?

We began as a group of curious collaborators who weren't afraid of taking risks to realise the work we wanted to make. Things like our network of friends/collaborators has evolved over time to what it is today which is a studio of men and women  who have caught the collaboration bug!

You’ve got a reputation for constantly pushing boundaries, often working with technology that is constantly changing (indeed, your VR work is some of the most impressive I’ve seen). How do you adapt and stay relevant in such a shifting industry?

We adapt in a simple way which is based on internal scrutiny. If we're not doing stuff that interests our team, how's it going to have appeal beyond?

And as a follow up, where can you see this experiential media going in years to come? VR has had it’s biggest year ever, and I’m interested in where you think it’ll go next – and where it will take you.

We see VR as a stepping stone to AR and eventually to MR (merged or mixed reality) or what some people refer to as XR (you'll have to look that up!).

 

Video from MLF’s project In the Eyes of the Animal, a virtual reality experience that allowed users to see the world from various animals’ point of view.

 

What can you tell us about what you’ll be talking about at Convergence?

We’ll be talking about what makes us tick. Our creative approach and our explorations into multisensory projects.

Convergence is all about the meeting point between art, music and technology – an area that you explored wonderfully with your project. #ElectrikLondon. What do you see as interesting about the crossover between these disciplines? Are you planning any other work that engages heavily with music?

Most definitely. We love music and are exploring ways to compliment live music in non-traditional ways. We're also neck deep in a VR project that has music at the heart of it.

You’re currently working with Heston Blumenthal and The Fat Duck on a mixed reality experience. How did that project come about, and what can you tell us about it?

The project came about in an organic and accidental way where we were speaking to friends who are involved in VR. Our friend and VR pioneer Chris Milk introduced us to Heston. We'd been waxing lyrical about the creative possibility of tracking food in real time and had found a good partner to explore it - in the form of bath.camera, a department in Bath who specialise in real time performance capture. It's my favourite project. Lots of creativity. Lots of potential to really explore perception.

You’ve also got the Treehugger project ongoing, which allows users to experience marvel at the wonder of the Sequoia tree. Could you tell us a bit about this?

It's a beast! An evolution of the In The Eyes of The Animal project. We're interested in putting people in different sensory perspectives. We're hoping the combination of interacting with the sculpture we made and the VR experience that accompanies it is compelling and raises awareness of the natural world and our delicate connection to it.

I really like the Treehugger project, as it uses VR to allow viewers to explore the wonder of a natural structure. Essentially, it use technology to get users to engage with something that is almost beyond human comprehension – a quality that I feel is present in much of your work. Would you agree? To what extent does that drive you?

Tactile elements mean a lot to us. We're mindful of the overall experience when people check out our work- from the pageantry of the walk up to the installation through to the textures felt on the finger tips. We don't necessarily see a difference between the virtual and real worlds- as far as we're concerned we're constructing an overall moment in time for people in a space, so really everything within that time and space needs careful consideration to really nail it.

And finally – do dolphins dream in sonar?

It's an important question that needs to consider the fact that dolphins have to keep one side of the brain awake at all times in order to breath. It's a nice thought- as is thinking about whether bats and other creatures who see the world in a different way order their thoughts. I hope with all this fancy machine learning and AI, we'll be able to find out whether dolphins dream in the near future.

@robinmcnicholas

marshmallowlaserfeast.com
@marshmallowlf
facebook.com/marshmallowlaserfeast

Marshmallow Laser Feast will be at Convergence 2017.
Saturday 25th March
at Behind The Bike Shed, EC1V 9LT
10.00 - 21.30
More info here