This year's Vancouver International Jazz Festival invites attendees to play with music at Hybridity Media's Play || Jazz interactive installation

As usual, this year’s Vancouver International Jazz Festival is all about the music. But, although the focus will be on the bands, singers and performers playing over 35 stages and venues around the city, the annual event is adding a few new wrinkles.

One of these is a multimedia installation called Play||Jazz.

Visitors to the interactive audio-visual piece can make their own music and influence the images projected on an 8' x 12' screen. Using technology such as the Xbox Kinect sensor to pick up the movement of participants, the piece recombines music samples from the contemporary New York jazz band Out to Lunch with photography.

Hybridity Media Creates Abstract Music Art

If it all sounds very abstract, that’s because it is.

"What we’ve created with this interactive installation is the opportunity to create your own abstractions," says Malcolm Levy, who heads the Vancouver group behind the installation, Hybridity Media.

"It triggers different sounds that we've put it into an interactive software. When you move in front of the screen, sensors pick up your movements and let you make little musical vignettes."

The idea might sound arbitrary, but it actually follows a jazz tradition.

"In the 1950s and '60s in New York, jazz was really synonymous with abstract expressionism," says the filmmaker, artist and writer. "So in looking at it in a modern context, what we’ve created is a way you can create your own abstractions."

Levy’s credits include working with Jeremy Greenspan of the Hamilton electro-pop duo Junior Boys as well as curating the CODE Live series of multi-media works at the 2010 Olympics. He is also a co-founder of the New Forms Festival, which is how he became involved with this year’s jazz fest – New Forms was asked to collaborate with Kid Koala for the Montreal DJ’s upcoming "Space Cadet" shows. (Those three performances, at Performance Works June 27 and 28, will involve visuals and headphones for audience members, and are sure to be highlights of the festival.)

Make Your Own Jazz

The ideas behind Play||Jazz aren’t new to Hybridity Media, but the actual piece is. "A lot of our projects involve different kinds of interactivity,” says Levy. "So this builds on the concepts of what we do. But it’s a completely new piece."

For the festival's first weekend (June 23-24) Play||Jazz will be at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The installation will be relocated to the Roundhouse Community Centre June 30 and July 1.

Levy expects visitors to spend one to six minutes experimenting with their own new forms in the piece.

"I want them to come out of it saying, 'I don’t know how exactly how that happened, but it was really fun to see jazz and music in a different way."