★★★★☆ Intel’s Drone 100 lights up the Sydney sky with sparkling and synchronised aerial acrobatics.

Sydney Opera House Podium
June 9, 2016

A swarm of sparkling blue lights lifted gracefully into the air over the water of Sydney Harbour, a high-tech simulacrum of the floating lanterns of Thailand’s Yi Peng festival. Intel’s Drone 100, a collaboration with Ars Electronica Futurelab, saw 100 illuminated drones dancing above Sydney Harbour as part of the Vivid Sydney festival.

The spectacle broke the world record for most Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (or UAVs) airborne simultaneously when it premiered in Hamburg, Germany, last year. However, the performance in Sydney on June 8 was still an auspicious event, as its Australian debut, the first performance in front of a public audience, and the first time the work was performed over water.

Intel’s Drone 100 at Vivid Sydney

From my vantage point on the eastern side of the Sydney Opera House podium – though it could also be viewed from the harbourside – Vivid’s Cathedral of Light in the Royal Botanical Gardens offered a luminous backdrop. On Thursday night, the performance was delayed by an hour due to high winds – drones being particularly sensitive to such things – and in fact, the dress rehearsal earlier in the week had been cancelled as a result of the hangover from the weekend’s wild weather.

A condensed Sydney Youth Orchestra provided an overture in the form of amplified string arrangements of pop songs – Pharrell Williams’ Happy, Beyoncé’s Halo and Vance Joy’s Riptide, thick with reverb.

The full orchestra accompanied the dance of the drones that flew into the air to form stunning shapes – circles and squares across which lights flicked and ran. The most impressive configurations, however, were in three dimensions. Telescoping squares and funnels of light took advantage of the large canvass of sky over the harbour. The drones’ formation became giant wings, like a huge butterfly or manta ray soaring above Sydney. The choreography was accompanied by heroic music that culminated in a sexed-up arrangement of the Allegro con brio movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

If the sound was muddy at times it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd, who cheered when the drones assembled into the Sydney Opera House’s iconic sails and laughed as they formed the Intel logo to the company’s distinctive four-note motif. One of the most magical moments of the evening occurred after the display had finished and the house music was switched back on, as the drones, lit like bright orange sparks, drifted delicately back to Earth.

Drone 100 was a beautiful, elegant display of technology and although the music was a tad cheesy, it didn’t detract from the majesty of the drones.

Drone 100 performs every night between 7:00pm and 9:30pm at the Sydney Opera House until June 12. The performance can be viewed from the harbourside, tickets for the viewing area are free but limited.


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