Some uses of new technology in lyric theatre, in relation to intermedial mise en scene in theatrical staging, and the remediation of operatic media.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sussex
Department Name: Sch of Media, Film and Music


The project explores the challenges for lyric theatre that are presented by technological change. Communucations technologies are effecting a fundamental alteration in how human experience is mediated, and devices based on the principle of Digital Signal Processing permit new forms of convergence and exchange between different expressive means, such as sound and image.

My interest lies in exploring how technology can extend the possibilities of opera, stimulating its historic ambition to create lyric relationships between the different expressive media of space and time, sound, image, singing and performance.

This raises a number of issues for my practice area as an opera director, scenic designer and author of multimedia works.

Devices which translate sound into projected imagery in real-time, whereby a musician can direct visual outcome, or a visual artist shape music, have a clear potential for extending the intermedial relations of opera. New relationships between impulse and expression challenge hierarchical models of authority at work in traditional opera performance, since, in theory, the roles of conductor, singers, orchestra, scenic context etc can be reassigned across all participants. Other new media, eg the web, extend this challenge by allowing expressive exchange between different sites, performers or audiences, in contrast to opera's conventional time-space constituents eg proscenium arch, orchestra pit, a single audience point of view.

This tension between new technologies and the paradigms of traditional opera is my central concern.

Research will address 3 questions.

1. How can new technologies allow the hierarchical media-relations of conventional opera to be re-configured to new expressive and communicative ends?

2. How do new technologies allow the expressive and communicative energies of lyric theatre to be translated into new environments such as the web?

3. How do new technologies allow new relations to be made between the conventional time-space constituents of lyric theatre?

These will be investigated, 1. through studio investigation using translation softwares such as MaxMsp/Jitter and Isadora, making audiovisual studies around material by three composers, chosen for their different historic relation to the media of opera; 2. through workshop development to public performance of three new lyric theatre works, testing potentials for new intermedial relations and remediation:

1 Les Noces: a theatre-based work, taking Stravinsky's piece - an historic deconstruction of hierarchical relations - as a starting point for a series of 10 minute performed 'chapters', reconfiguring core lyric theatre elements: dancer, singer, pianist, conductor, scenic artist (eg a dancer conducting from the pit, a pianist enacting ritual movement) and technological interventions (eg digital translation devices producing sound from movement, intermedial combinations of new and old technologies,) and the merging of proscenium and preparation contexts.

2 Opera for the small screen: explores how qualities of operatic singing and performance physicality can translate into a non-theatrical outcome, such as a gallery piece, web-site object, or broadcast TV, using Contact Improvisation dance, singers and familiar camcorder technology to generate performance readings of a Mozart opera quartet, depicting quarrelling emotional perspectives.

3 The Lost Chord: aims to disrupt conventional time-space constituents of lyric theatre, opening them to relationships configured through new technology, decontextualising proscenium operatic elements and immersing them in other spatial contexts, with web-based remote communication and physical computing, built around a remediation of Sullivan's song The Lost Chord, a historic image of trancendental intermedial connection.

Research will be disseminated through academic contexts and public performance.


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Title Give Me Your Blessing for I Go To A Foreign Land 
Description Give me your blessing for I go to a foreign land was a multiplatform research project with three discrete outcomes: 1) music theatre performance piece, 2) print publication, 3) web object. This multiplicity was a reflexive device, different forms emphasising shared themes of translation, decontextualisation and migration. The title comes from Stravinsky's Les Noces. The words are sung by a girl on the eve of marriage. She sees the wedding ritual as a state of transition - a voyage into the unknown. Research saw this image as a point of convergence. Stravinsky imported ethnic material into conscious modernity, depicting peasant rituals as violently coercive processes, referring to the wider technological transformation of his world, where individuals were effaced in favour of the many, the uniform. Each platform related this complex historic experience to current transformatory conditions created by digital media, framing transitional encounters between art-forms. Outcome 1) Public Performances (Clore Studio, Royal Opera, Feb 2009) in collaboration with Elena Langer (composer,) Pokrovsky Ensemble, (folk perfomers,) and Ryan Jordan (digital media specialist) combining current technology (e.g., virtual relationships) and the pre-Stravinsky past, (e.g., the notion of folk authenticity) in one event. Opera singer, ballet dancers, pianist, violinist, folk singers functioned as media for each others artforms, navigating chronologically arranged technologies (from iron-age percussion to virtual avatars.) Reversing the usual flow of materials (from 'folk' to 'official' culture,) folk performers re-imported (re-mediated) folk-inspired works by Rimsky-Korsakoff, Glinka etc. Documents archive: Video Archive: Elena Langer Pokrovsky Ensemble Ryan Jordan's page on this project Ryan Jordan 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Title Idomeneo TV - or Love Thrives in Propinquity and Dies on Contact 
Description This explored how 3d live performance is perceived when seen in 2d renderings. The material was the quartet Andro ramingo e solo from Mozart's Idomeneo, a landmark in ensemble writing. This is performed and then deconstructed. The text explores in an extreme setting the experience of being tormented by the presence of the thing that you love, but must not touch. This is depicted in two relationships, one familial, one erotic. This was mediated with 4 unaccompanied voices, to offer the sensibility of operatic singing, expressive flexibility and scale. Rehearsal explored the sense of simultaneous emotions (a Mozart speciality,) with a combination of physical relationships (using Contact Improvisation) and a visual 'telepathy' of cameras used by singers to illuminate the characters' inner life. Performance consisted of one episode experienced in two ways. The space is split by a projection surface. On side A the audience is seated at a table, inside a live performance given by 4 singers holding cameras. On side B the audience are aware of the presence of a performance (they hear it,) but their visual experience exists only as a 4 way split screen composite of what the singers choose to film. Audiences then switch round, experiencing the alternative. This process questions how the virtuosic reality of opera can be more excitingly disseminated. For TV this moves away from two existing models: the reportage-style relay of live stage performance, and naturalistic narrative fiction film. It proposes instead that opera on screen could be made by creating a visible boundary of possibility, againstwhich the presence and virtuosity of the performer can register for the general viewer. As performance, it explores how media translate live experience, and foregrounds the way the audience itself makes sense of what it sees and hears. Diagram . Video .Singers: Anita Watson, Hanna Hipp, Tom Walker, Kate May 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Title The Lost Chord 
Description 'The Lost Chord' was an experimental performance work, reconfiguring its mode of theatre, and relationship to media, according to the site of its presentation. It decontextualised and reassembled a range of materials, originating in the Victorian creative imagination, not usually experienced in a single performance event or in contemporary theatre. Uses of technology varied, depending on artistic considerations. Resources included 4 male singers, Edison cylinder, tape and original text by me, made in partnership with Opera North, (who hosted an earlier installation work of mine which pointed the way to this.) Grand Theatre, Leeds, Jan 2010 and Riverside Studios, London, Aug 2010 - 1 hr, 6 performances. The Lost Chord is the title of Arthur Sullivan's 1877 song depicting an erotic image of sublime connection through music (the organ) within a hymn-like soundworld. Its success was extended by its compatibility (in 3 min versions) with new cylinder recording technology. This was a jumping-off point for each set of performances, reflecting on the impact of technological change on late 19th-century creativity, enacting tensions between utopian and critical experiences of this. During performances, historic technologies in contemporary theatre modes evoked an atmosphere of exchange between past and present. Media were 'organs' channeling lost presences. The audience were presented with a formal dinner setting they were invited to join. The hosts spoke in emotionally intense fragments, caught in lost controversies and searches for departed loved ones, contesting their perceptions of the past and a technological future, through deconstructions of literary and musical texts by Bulwar-Lytton, Morris, Tennyson, Balfe, Sullivan and Anon. Video Archive of Performance in Leeds, Jan 2010. 3 files: 1/3 2/3 3/3 Performers: Dan Norman, Nick Sharratt, Matt Sharpe, Geoff Dolton. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Description The Fellowship aimed to support exploration of the potential and significance of new media technologies for opera and music theatre. At its conclusion in 2012, this work had significantly extended activity in an innovative field of research and practice, during an important period for the artform brought about by technological change. It enhanced the awardee's research, helped frame wider debates in the academic realm, and encouraged professional arts organisations to translate its concerns into commissioned projects. As a mark of this the University of Sussex have since appointed the awardee as Research Fellow in Experimental Music Theatre, and external organisations (Welsh National Opera, Sound and Music, BBC Proms, Scottish Opera, The Space, Opera Europa) have explored new platforms, under his guidance, in a variety of ways arising from the research.

At the outset of the award, three specific projects were conceived as focal points for objectives. Described in more detail elsewhere, these were:
1) Give me Your Blessing (2009, with The Royal Opera, Opera Genesis, composer Elena Langer and performers from The Pokrovsky Ensemble, Moscow) deployed combinations of live performance and digital media in a theatrical context, offering a deconstruction of Stravinsky's Les Noces that incorporated virtual platforms such as Second Life (partners Royal Opera House Two, Opera Genesis, composer Elena Langer and members of the Pokrovsky Ensemble, Moscow.) The project is documented in the book Mapping Intermediality in Performance (Amsterdam 2010). 2) Lost Chord (2010, with Opera North) investigated kinship between historic registers (the late Victorian creative imagination) and images of technological transformation, in an immersive music theatre piece. 3) Idomeneo TV (aka TV Opera, 2012, with Aldeburgh Music) explored how 3d live performance is perceived when seen in 2d renderings. This considered alternatives to dominant traditions of translating opera to the screen, by giving singers cameras and responsibility for image, towards a screen-based outcome which was a function of performance, rather than a report of one.

'Astonished and Terrified - Opera and the Transformation of the world by Technology', a conference marking the end of the Fellowship, took place at Sussex in 2012. This helped share discoveries with others engaged in opera's creative uses of media, either through interpretations of opera's existing repertoire or imagining new kinds of opera for the future. The event attracted national and international participants.

BBC Proms Music Walk 2012 ( is an example of a project arising from the research context once the award was underway. It responded to a development in technological paradigm - namely the accelerating use of mobile media devices from 2009 onwards.
12 composers from a range of musical backgrounds were commissioned to write 10 short compositions inspired by locations around the Albert Hall and Exhibition Road (itself a C19th theme park for an idea that science, technology and art should speak to each other.) The composers represented a variety of approaches to contemporary musical composition, including the American experimental composer Alvin Curran, Scottish composer Judith Weir, electronic music duo Sound Intermedia and others. Their compositions were made freely available online to be heard on headphones via mobile technologies such as smartphones/Mp3 players at the locations themselves, or downloaded and listened to elsewhere. Audiences could also call a phone line to upload sounds of other locations, which were algorithmically organised into an extra piece. Transport for London produced a map locating the works according to composers names, alongside other amenities (such as bus stops or bike parks.) This placed headphone-wearing listeners at the center of new artistic experiences, triangulating perceptions of sites, sounds and audience connection and action. The creative use of such technologies foregrounded issues of live performance and embodiment, the social effects of digital portability, notions of public space as curated space, and opening the digital realm outwards to the 'real' world, with the potential to augment our experience of that world. As Creative Director, the awardee devised the project, introduced the collaboration between TfL and the Proms, curated the composer/location interaction, and directed a multi-location Prom event whereby audiences experienced recordings as part of happenings featuring the composers themselves. The impact of this project is outlined elsewhere.

Occupation ( commissioned by Welsh National Opera and the Space (2014,) is an instance of a post-award project developed using practical knowhow and reflection the Fellowship made possible. A platform for new composition with a strong social media dimension, Occupation ran alongside WNO's Liberty or Death Season (which presented 19th century works - William Tell, Carmen, Mose in Egitto.) It aimed to translate thematic concerns into the digital and contemporary realm - in a way which to allowed audiences for different kinds of music to bump into each other. It framed two key aspects of the digital realm in action: immediacy and cultural reach - for example how the spread of consciousness about political events seemed to be accelerated by social media. Five composers were invited to write new songs responding to current events, of their choosing, within a particular two-week time frame - songs as a form of news. Carleen Anderson wrote about Ferguson, Missouri; Judith Weir about the Hong Kong democracy occupations; Cerys Matthews about injustice in the US; High Contrast about Christmas consumerist excess; Dan-Wyn Jones created lyrics for a song using comments submitted online by the public. As it had to respond to the flow of events, the creative cycle was highly condensed - songs conceived one week, written the next, recorded, filmed and uploaded to the project website the week after.

Viewed as a whole, this award has helped make space to consider what new questions technology might allow opera to ask, and what kind of audiences opera might now reach. It has helped to facilitate debate and action, and to propose that Opera is well-placed to set the pace of formal adventure, both as a 400 year history of technological innovation, and as a model of creative thinking, already familiar with ways of converging different modes of expression into alternative realities in imaginative ways. It has also allowed the opera-media relationship to be articulated from another angle - how opera in particular may explore artistically the transformation of the world by technology, from critical as well as utopian perspectives, as society and individuals process how they are viewed by the digital realm, and what this means.

In terms of projects as conceived at the outset, some key objectives have arguably been met. However, longer-term ambitions which the award has awoken, for example the
creation of curatorial units related to this area inside opera companies, and their further partnerships with HE organisations, are of course still very much work-in-progress, dependent on how wider frameworks of cultural provision are organised and prioritised.
Exploitation Route See above
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description BBC Proms Music Walk 2012 The impact arises from a project commissioned by the BBC Proms for its John Cage centenary on August 17, 2012, with the involvement of Transport for London. The project had direct impact upon 600 members of the public who took part in a performance event around the Albert Hall using mobile media devices, and a further 5961 people who accessed the project website. The project also had impact upon the policy thinking of the BBC in relation to mobile media as transmission platforms, Transport for London in relation to its strategy for pedestrians, and new music promoter Sound and Music
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Transport
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services