Strange Thinkers: Laura Kriefman, the Creative Technologist
April 18, 2024
Rebecca Rooney
I think creative technologist is a very useful turn of phrase; you're not necessarily saying that you're entirely inventing completely new systems, what you're doing is creatively applying them.

Laura Kriefman is many things: creative technologist, artist, choreographer, and founder of Hellion Trace - an organisation specialising in augmented dance. We sat down with Laura to talk about all things technology, movement, and creativity. 

Hellion Trace

With a fascination for “fusing movement, music and technology together” Laura founded Hellion Trace to combine all three. Hellion Trace is renowned for their unique, accessible and interactive installations, supported by cutting-edge technology. Their work has toured the world from India to Brazil and won Media Innovation and Royal Television Society accolades as well as many others. Laura is also the CEO at the Barbican Theatre in Plymouth, where she is focusing on developing easy pathways for creative work to move from a regional basis to national and international tours.

“I like making ludicrous projects happen. I like taking something and showing it in a different way, making it into a spectacle. I have all these ideas in my brain and really I just want to materialise them.”

One of Laura’s favourite projects was a synchronised dance routine performed by construction cranes, accompanied by spectacular lighting and a unique score to match. The project originated through a "stamp-your-feet type desperation" as Laura  "was fed up with the limited way people were thinking about digital and interactivity. And I was like, no, things are physical, tangible, and real. The magic lies in the way you combine things.”

The crane dance has reached a live audience of 10,000 in Bristol with over 4 million online views. "The crane dance is proof that you can work commercially, on a really large scale, but still honour the teams and creative practises behind the project.”

Humans vs Machines...

For Laura, choreographing for humans and machines "works identically in my brain. What you're looking for is the movement affordances of a machine or a specific dancer in terms of their backgrounds and teachings. Then you look at how you can show those off to the most exemplary level and how you can tell the best stories with them. It's about translating energy through time and space. If I'm looking at doing a crane dance in the city, I'm looking at the location as our set, I'm looking at my audience narrative, journey, and what their viewpoint is - the same as I do when thinking about stage shows.

Laura's work often begins as an exploration of a question. Many years ago, while she was working on an interactive dance project, the question arose of whether they were “composing choreography or choreographing composition.”

This question stayed with Laura, becoming the basis for Kicking The Mic, a Hellion Trace creation which has appeared at festivals and shows across the world. Kicking The Mic is a live tap show featuring looped live musical creation and real-time reactive lighting. "You're seeing sound created by a tap dancer, manipulated and changed in real time into any instrument. While the sound is looped and layered with vocals, it paints me in light generated by a full sound-reactive dress. It is as much a relationship about sound as it is an emotional relationship about the decay and absence of sound. The sound fades visually from the costume and from your ears and the stage, and the dancer is plunged into darkness… It’s tangible wearable magic.”

Laura has had great success with these shows. She has toured festivals worldwide, headlined SXSW music festival, and was named by Key Changer as one of the top female innovators in music. 

Technology for Creativity

Laura had delayed her mathematics to join the circus, leading to her becoming a professional choreographer with her own dance company. But where did the tech come in?

"I was very bored with the standard framework of spaces and what you were allowed to do, and I wasn't finding the answers to the questions that I was most interested in.” Laura looked to the Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol. She wanted to explore what would happen "if you can liberate your use of sound in the same way that I was already liberating choreography out to public spaces.” She began to collaborate with people from a variety of disciplines, "from crane operators and city planners, to coders and hardware manufacturers, to industrial experts.”

Laura continually incorporated technology, “my journey into tech was always to solve problems I couldn’t solve otherwise, increasingly it became about creating systems and tools that allowed me to do impossible projects Although you've got a totally different and layered, cohesive structure when creating things with technology, there was something about the robust, iterative process of refining, which felt very familiar to me.”

What Actually is a Creative Technologist?

"I think creative technologist is a very useful turn of phrase; you're not necessarily saying that you're entirely inventing completely new systems, what you're doing is creatively applying them. You're looking at the application of it, the adaptation and the outputs. Often you are bending, stretching and altering the possibilities of hardware or software, or tools that already exist for another use. With that being said, you often end up creating new things. 

For Hellion, a show I did which headlined South by Southwest music festival, we created a fully wireless multi push midi controller as there wasn't anything that gave me the tactile and light feedback, which was totally wearable on my wrist and could do everything I needed it to do. There are occasions where, as you're iterating past existing solutions, you end up designing and manufacturing new products. But the focus of a creative technologist isn’t necessarily that you want to take that product to market."

How Strange Thoughts Comes in

Strange Thoughts has been one of Laura’s “close sounding boards” for commercialising Hellion Trace work, and we’ve collaborated with her over the years to devise various ideas and projects for a lot of brands.

“We've had a really great and healthy relationship over the years applying projects to specific campaigns and delivering them to specific customer bases. I really enjoy thinking outside the box, even within a set brief from a client. I like  acknowledging people's boundaries and spotting bits on the edge of them. When you can identify a space that is inside a client's boundaries but outside of their usual thinking, that’s when the magic happens.”‍

© Strange Thoughts Group Ltd. 2024