Monday, 11 February 2013

The form is the story with telematic climate opera

Wallace Heim writes:

Superstorm Sandy postponed the simultaneous performances of the climate change opera Auksalaq in two of its seven world-wide venues. Winter storm Nemo may make travel challenging, but tonight, performances in Washington, Virginia and New York are scheduled to go ahead.

The form of the opera is the story. Composer Matthew Burtner and media artist Scott Deal, created a system of telecommunications and informatics, a 'telematic', they say reflect the geographies of distance and interconnection. Performers play live in different venues. By video and audio these performances are mixed in one location and sent out via the Internet to the other locations. Audiences contribute via their laptops or cell phones using NOMAD technology.

Audience members in any one space will see and hear the live performance happening immediately before them and see the content created in another city. In no single location will the audience perceive the full work. Like an ecosystem, these musical elements create interacting layers that transform into new intricate structures.

‘Auksalaq’ is the Inupiat word for ‘melting snow/ice’. The narrative content is held together with a dramatic account of a boy’s journey, and incorporates testimonials from people in the region, social and political perspectives and scientific information along with characters personifying wind, sun, shifting ice, and clouds. These are layered with visual art, dance and music. Burtner’s score incorporates sung and spoken voices, instrumental soloists and ensembles, computer-generated sound, video and sonifications, including that of data on ice melt.

‘The composition foregrounds ‘remoteness’ creating a spectacle that is both complete and incomplete in each location. In this way Auksalaq captures a feeling experienced by people living in the far north, a centred feeling of deep attachment to the land but also an uncomfortable sense of isolation.'

The technology requires Internet2 and cannot be streamed live. There are sequences from earlier performances here and here.

Explanations of how the opera works are here and here.

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