A Sidewalk That Sings As You Dance With Your Shadow

A new installation encourages people of all ages to join together and dance…or at least flail.

At some point between ages 3 and 13, we go from the life of the wedding dance floor to being the awkward kid standing at the edge of the gym wondering why we wore a silk shirt. Many of us will never outgrow this sheepishness, either–at least without plowing ourselves with alcohol to partake in the simplest pleasure of rhythmic movement.


But what if our environment could encourage us to dance–without any balloons, bridal parties, or booze? A project called Mesa Musical Shadows, by Montréal’s Daily Tous Les Jours studio, is doing just that. It’s a public installation that turns a chunk of pavement in Arizona’s Mesa Arts Center into a giant game of Dance Dance Revolution that you play by moving your shadow.

As detailed by Creative Applications, the system itself uses light sensors, coupled with speakers built into the mosaic tiles. If the tiles sense a shadow–or even just you stepping directly on the sensor–it plays a note. And so as many people swing and kick together, these notes combine into a harmonious soundscape generated in real time. If this approach to musical public installations sounds familiar, that’s probably because Daily Tous Les Jours is the same studio that brought us the thematically similar 21 Swings project, which used playground swings to create a playable sound installation.

As the day progresses in the Mesa installation, the sounds shift from bright and funky acapella beats to austere chamber music to the spooky tones of a forest at night (the space is lit so you can make a shadow, even in the dark). So, in a way, the project is very much a work in progress. Now that the physical installation of sensors and speakers is done, the studio can see how people use it, and actually program the system’s entire logic to react in more complicated ways to a user’s behavior, like ramping up with more and richer sounds as a person becomes more and more engaged.

In this sense, I imagine Mesa Musical Shadows as an environment that doesn’t just encourage you to dance, but actively coaxes you to–by slowly reminding you of the fun times gone by, and rewarding you for abandoning inhibitions.

[All Images: via Daily Tous Les Jours]


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.