pervasive-media-studio-logoManaged by the Watershed, Pervasive Media Studios (PMS) is a collaboration between the University of Bristol and the University of West England (UWE) to host and promote technologists, creative companies, artists and academics exploring creative technology. They deal in a wide range of cultural and commercial projects: performance, digital displays, robotics, location-based media, connected objects, music, projections and gaming.


The Watershed was founded in 1982 and for many years has produced work that straddles technology, creative, visual art, design, theatre, music and film industries. Their primary role is curating talent, spaces and ideas to facilitate creative collaborations and artistic visions.

So, how did Pervasive Media Studios come about? In the late 90s and early 00s they were involved in a number of experimental R&D projects which drew together some of the growing community of experts and innovators exploring the creative potential of emerging technologies. Rather than continuing to operate on a project-by-project basis they decided to set up the Pervasive Media Studio.

This gave the community of creative practitioners, technologists and researchers a place to co-locate, learn from, support one another and build on the knowledge and experience of the collective network. In the six years since, the Studio has grown into a network of over 100 active residents and an alumni of over 200 now working around the world, many of whom still collaborate regularly with the Studio network.


The idea of community and collaboration is at the heart of everything PMS stand for. Joanie Lemercier from AntiVJ, a former Studio resident, says: “Moving to the PM studio was the starting point for the label AntiVJ and facilitated its growth from a one-person freelance project to an international collective with five visual artists, a sound composer and a producer delivering large-scale projects around the world; from South Korea to Beijing, Montreal, NYC, and Mexico City. The studio is the one creative hub that makes me come back to the UK.”

“The Studio and its community offers you that rare safe place to learn, enquire and acquire new skills, ideas and passions, to be open and inquisitive”


And current resident, Laura Kriefman of Guerilla Dance Project tells us: “The Studio and its community offers you that rare safe place to learn, enquire and acquire new skills, ideas and passions, to be open and inquisitive.”



Some of the earliest Studio residents were Simon Evans and Simon Johnson. They worked together as ‘Simon‘, producing games that take players out onto the streets and into the cities, often deploying new technologies such as geo-location in their design. They ran regular Interesting Games Labs (‘iglab’) with attendees to find out what worked and what didn’t – a format that grew into a tremendously popular summer festival ‘igfest’, which saw thousands of people from around the world taking to the streets of Bristol engaged in all manner of gamified activity.

One of igfest’s headline games, 2.8 Hours Later – a live-action zombie survival experience – has since enjoyed international tours. With Slingshot leading the charge, a global pervasive/street games community sprung up around the world and a cultural/commercial model that didn’t exist before was created.

Nu desine

In 2010, Music and Visual Art graduate Adam Place applied to join the Studio on a new graduate residency with an idea for a new type of musical instrument, and a prototype made of coffee cups, balloons and wires. The company he set up was Nu desine and the concept was AlphaSphere – a tactile globe of 48 programmable pressure pads that allow musicians to control and create unique music in an intuitive and highly visual way.

Adam was quickly able to develop the concept and grow his team by taking part in Watershed’s Media Sandbox scheme and accessing small business start-up funds through contacts stemming from PMS. Four years later, the company is going strong – the AlphaSphere is being sold and enjoyed around the world and the team is now entering into a second round of product development to push their ideas even further.

Advantages of being based in Bristol

In the words of PMS themselves: “Business-wise, Bristol has a fantastic combination of creativity and technological expertise which is why many companies such as IBM, HP and Toshiba have chosen to base their UK R&D teams here. We also have creative powerhouses like the BBC and Aardman within walking distance from their central location.

“Perhaps even more exciting is the exceptionally well connected and tenacious network of smaller cultural and commercial organisations that join forces to try new things on a global stage. Add to that the talent pool from the two fantastic universities and you can see why Bristol is a really fertile environment for experimentation.

“There is no better place in the world right now to bring together brilliant people to make extraordinary things happen”


“Culturally too, the city has seen a proliferation of initiatives like Make Sunday Special, See No Evil and Luke Jerram’s Park and Slide, showing a city-wide willingness to change and reconfigure public space. Bristol is quickly becoming a city characterised by their distinctive, disruptive and playful behaviour and an openness to change. Bristol is growing in global prominence, which the companies collectively suspect will be further fuelled as they become the European Green Capital 2015.

“There is no better place in the world right now to bring together brilliant people to make extraordinary things happen.”