Discotrope: The Secret Nightlife of Solar Cells / Amy Alexander and Annina Rüst

Discotrope: The Secret Nightlife of Solar Cells is an audiovisual performance that resembles a cinematic nightclub light show. Dance party performances invoke both alternative energy and the curious history of dance in cinema – from backlots to backyards - from Thomas Edison to YouTube.

At the heart of Discotrope is an unconventional projection system: a disco ball that has been modified to use solar cells as mirrors and reflect video instead of colored lights. The ball rotates slower or faster according to how much light reaches the solar cells and creates kaleidoscopic, rotating circular projection on surrounding buildings, trees, and people.

The concept springs from the genre of YouTube clips of people dancing directly in front of cameras. With the advent of social media, this type of video has become a phenomenon, with countless people recording themselves dancing and sharing the results online. Discotrope performances trace this type of dance video back throughout film history: The sense of intimacy between performer and audience that characterizes the YouTube performances was popular in early silent films and Hollywood musicals, where models for performance were drawn more from vaudeville than from theatrical narrative. Yet YouTube dancers direct themselves - so they call the shots.

During the show, we project this historic trajectory onto the Discotrope disco ball. We perform the ball live using custom software, layering and mixing videos to create visually rhythmic stream-of-consciousness juxtapositions. Accompanying the performance is an algorithmic sound design by composer Cristyn Magnus. Sound is generated and mixed in real-time from the audio tracks of the projected videos, creating an evolving, danceable remix. Audience members can "dance with the stars" on our night vision audience-cam - or just chill out and enjoy an evening of solar cinema.

September 14, 2012, 6:00pm - 12:00am
S. 1st Street (from San Carlos to Reed)
SoFA District, San Jose

Amy Alexander and Annina Rüst

live and work in San Diego/Los Angeles, CA and Syracuse, NY

Artist website


Amy Alexander is an audiovisual and new media artist who performs and exhibits in festivals, museums, clubs, on the net and on the street. Her work has appeared at venues ranging from the Whitney Museum and Ars Electronica to Minneapolis’s First Avenue nightclub. She has written and lectured on software culture and audiovisual performance and has been a reviewer for new media art and computer music events. She is Associate Professor of Visual Arts at University of California, San Diego. During summer / fall 2012, Amy is Artist-in-Residence at the iotaCenter in Los Angeles.

Annina Rüst produces electronic objects and software art. Her projects explore the intersection of activism, algorithm, data, electricity, humor, politics, and pop culture. Her work has been shown in different public contexts including Ars Electronica festival, Read Me festival,  and Eyebeam. Annina's projects have also been discussed in publications such as Wired and The New York Times Magazine. She is an Assistant Professor at Syracuse University’s Department of Transmedia.