Basking in the Ambience

By Javier Burdette

Electronic dance music. Ecstasy. Neon clothing. Grown adults sucking on pacifiers. These are the images that probably flash into the average person’s head when they hear the word “rave.”

A much smaller segment of the population will have the words “flow arts” come to mind. The term refers to a very specific art form that combines flashing, color-changing lights and complex bodily movements in performances set to hypnotic EDM beats.

It is this niche genre of artistic expression that the UCI club Ambience caters to.

The club can trace its roots back to two UC students from campuses at polar opposites of the state, Berkeley and Irvine, who joined forces to develop an organization that would grow to span many UC campuses, and even some high schools, all operating under the Ambience moniker.

Ambience as it is currently developing at UCI, is the eleventh manifestation of the club.

Club members generally subscribe to one of three distinct glow arts disciplines — gloving, orbiting and poi. As one might expect, gloving entails intricately moving one’s fingers while wearing gloves with LED lights inserted at the tips. Orbiting involves twirling a single string with a small cluster of lights placed in its center. Poi, which has its roots in the traditions of the Maori people of New Zealand, involves swinging about lights attached to strings or “torches” held in each hand.

Light shows, as they are called by flow art practitioners, are meant to “trip people out” whether they’re at a rave, “rolling” on MDMA or sober in a conference room located on the bottom floor of the Cross-Cultural Center.

Most members of the club go by nicknames that are based partially upon their distinct style, and partially upon their personality. Club president Shane Aronson goes by the nom de guerre “Stone.” Rhyan Vergara and Erik Cortez go by the nicknames “Vision Quest” and “Big Happy.” They travelled all the way from LA to participate in a club meeting last Wednesday.

Flow artists participate in a practice known as “trading.” To the newcomer, this ritual is beyond bizarre. As one practitioner sits cross-legged on the floor, the other assumes a position on his or her knees, though it’s more likely the politically correct term in this case is “his”, as there is a noticeable scarcity of women, at least among the membership of Ambience UCI.

The performing artist turns on his lights, and, moving to the beat in a hypnotic, flashing display, seeks to entrance his viewer. There is a degree of intimacy among performer and viewer that is at best, uncomfortable to watch, and, at worst, borderline erotic.

To signal the end of a “set,” the performer quickly shoots his or her hands behind the receiver, lightly touching them on the back. When all’s said and done, the pair exchanges hugs, the viewer often praising the practitioner’s mind-boggling display. Then they trade places.

This kind of untraditional social interaction elicits a knee-jerk response, leaving one thinking, “This is pretty damn weird.”

Ambience seems reputable enough. The membership is quick to deny connections to the drug scene so heavily associated with the flow arts’ rave roots. Almost too quick.

When asked whether or not the generalization “a friendly group of stoners and ravers” was applicable to Ambience, club president Shane “Stone” Aronson, along with several other members, nodded his head in agreement.

Two things fill the air at an Ambience meeting: camaraderie and EDM. Despite the shady origins of the flow arts, the latest group of LED twirling fanatics is working to both legitimize their art and establish a tradition that will last for years to come.