Plymouth University takes amazing appliances of science to the Port Eliot Festival

A musical tribute to David Bowie, a duet for mezzo soprano and quantum supercomputer, and a showcase of robotics and coastal research will be among the highlights as Plymouth University merges the creative arts and sciences at a major festival this summer.

For the second time, Plymouth University is to be the official Creative and Cultural Partner of the Port Eliot Festival, taking place in South East Cornwall from July 28 to 31, 2016.

And as part of that, scientists from the University will be taking part in the first ever Port Eliot Science Lab, which will give festival goers the chance to explore science, see performances and take part in a range of experiments.

For the duration of the festival, the Round Room at Port Eliot will play host to numerous creative and innovative showcases, led by the University, the Eden Project and the British Science Association.

David Hotchkiss, Centre Manager for Affinity with Plymouth University, said:

“Port Eliot has always had its roots in the arts, but as a forward thinking and innovative festival, adding science into the mix is a perfect combination. It provides us with an enhanced opportunity to showcase the creative talent and imagination in evidence among the University’s academic community, as well as providing our emerging talent teams with access to unprecedented levels of thought leadership, increasing their employability.”

The Science Lab will feature a range of elements involving academics from the University, including:

  • Superposition, created by Dr Alexis Kirke, is the first ever live artistic performance using a quantum computer. It sees the voice of mezzo soprano Juliette Pochin being picked up by a microphone and sent to the $15million quantum computer at the University of Southern California. It is then turned into sounds back in the performance venue;
  • The Career Sonification of David Bowie is one of the more extraordinary pieces celebrating the life and works of the global icon. Dr Alexis Kirke and electronic music pioneer Martyn Ware use statistical analyses of Bowie’s lyrics and music to create new compositions, in an effort the make the progressions of Bowie’s artistic mood and impact more understandable;
  • The Cassandra Complex – devised by Dr Simon Lock – creates an interactive, electronic fortune teller that incorporates a variety of sensors to detect subtle attributes and behaviours of participants. The work uses sophisticated digital technologies and intelligent algorithms to adapt and customise the fortune-telling experience to suit the character of each user;
  • Tony Belpaeme, Professor in Intelligent and Autonomous Control Systems, will address why social robots are so appealing in Robots! Robots! What a robot can tell us about being human. He will examine how robot builders use the human brain as inspiration when creating the next generation of robots;
  • Former PhD student Claire Earlie will talk about her research in The Storms that Shook the South West. She will explain studies assessing 2014’s winter storms, which showed Devon and Cornwall’s cliffs were being physically shaken 100 times greater than anything ever recorded, causing cliff retreat over 100 times larger than the long term average;
  • PhD student and British Science Association award-winning lecturer, Hazel Gibson, will explore how we think about the 'land beneath our feet' and discover what happens in the subsurface and how it can affect our lives. Her talk will be titled The Invisible World Below Your Feet: Fracking, Geology and You.

As part of the continued partnership between the University and Port Eliot, an increased range of opportunities are being coordinated for both students and the wider community.

These will include the opportunity for spatial design students to work with internationally celebrated artist and production designer Michael Howells to create the festival’s iconic Bridge over the Haha.

Students will also be working with the team behind Hole&Corner magazine and local businesses to promote knowledge exchange through words, music, comedy and a series of workshops.

Port Eliot is the South West’s foremost annual festival of surprises, a free-ranging event which places equal importance on music, words, food, fashion, flowers, walking and water. The 2016 festival will see Noel Fielding and Russell Norman rubbing shoulders with Helen Dunmore, Andrew Weatherall and Ryley Walker on a bill for which ‘more than somewhat eclectic’ would seem to be the most appropriate description.

Port Eliot Science Lab programmer Grace Craigan said:

“We have been itching to bring science to the festival as our audience has told us that they would love to get involved in science events on site. The Science Lab will be very special, both light-hearted and challenging and a chance to jump into subjects that you didn’t know you were interested in and a world that’s often weird but always fascinating. Experiments and debates will fill the room in an all-too-rare opportunity to chew over astronomy, rocket science, quantum computing and the work of David Bowie in one place.”