Workshop and performance
Performa Institute - November 2013
Paradise Interrupted is an opera in development that presents a world activated by a lone voice in search of an unattainable ideal. For Performa this opera was presented as a workshop in which Jennifer Wen Ma created a large-scale three-dimensional wall garden in paper, had a public workshop of the opera in progress and concluded with a couple of performances by Qian Yi set within the paper garden and interactive projections on the garden.
I mainly explored the interaction between Qian Yi's voice and some abstract visuals that were rendered as a placeholder for the actual visuals that will be used.
The images were produced by analyzing tone and volume. Volume determined the size of the images, tone determined the complexity of the images and tone change determined the movement (direction and speed) of the images.
I was the Creative Technology Director for this project. The whole team:
Jennifer Wen Ma, concept and visual direction
Qian Yi, Kunqu performer
Huang Ruo, composer
Xiao Lihe, lighting designer
Matthew Hilyard, stage design
Xing-Zhen Chung-Hilyard, costume design
Melissa Kirgan, costume design
Marianna Peragallo, coordination and production
Paradise Interrupted Workshop is co-presented with Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, and supported by the Asian Cultural Council.
This is a great project i worked on by Jennifer Wen Ma ( I did the creative technology direction )
We are controlling the individual "bubbles" surrounding the structure. Each day has it's own different animation based on the I-ching, modified by the mood of the day on Weibo, the Chinese twitter.
The Water Cube is now the Beijing National Aquatics Center. It was originally constructed for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and later converted into a water park.
The structure is a metal space frame holding up a special plastic film (IETF)shaped into bubbles. Each bubble is illuminated from the inside with rows of addressable RGB LED lamps.
Close up of the water cube. You can almost see the individual lamps shining up from the bottom of each bubble
Since each bubble is addressable we can use the water cube as a gigantic low-resolution screen.
So each day a program calculates what animation the day brings based on the I-ching and modifies the animation according to the total mood of the day on weibo. For example the day's animation might be thunder. The mood can make the lightning flashes more frequent, more intense and brighter (or the opposite)
This makes each animation a unique combination of the nature of the calendar day plus the experience of the people that lived that day.
How we do it:
Zhao Fei in the foreground was part of the original water cube deployment team during the Olympics and is in charge of the final step of converting the renderings to the specially designed control interface. He is also in charge of the hardware. Zhao Liang , behind him, is in charge of fine tuning the software that generates the daily renderings. In the back Jennifer provides Zhao with guidance. To the right is one of the indefatigable video crew documentarians that followed us around close to 24 X 7
I setup a framework that would read the data from Weibo and the Calendar as an XML file, generate the animations and output them into the Water Cube format. This was all done in a great real time video synthesis toolkit called vvvv (check them out vvvv.org )
So we have the I-Ching telling us what the nature of each day is, say Thunder, or Fire, Water ... We also have the day's emotional content in China. The day's emotion is read by scraping emoji (emoticons) posted on Weibo
The emotional content affects the day's nature. For example if today is Heaven (which is symbolized by a white circle) and the day is sad, the circle will grow very little and very slowly. If instead China had a great day, the circle grows quickly to a very large one.
Programming this was a trip. We normally render animations in High Definition, but here we were working with a kind of very low def as each side is 72 giant bubbles long. And while the bubbles themselves have dozens of lamps in a row along the bottom of each bubble, and each lamp is individually addressable, the effect is that the bubble lights up with one color, or a very gentle gradient. To complicate things further the bubbles do not line up so straight lines are squiggly! On the other hand, basic geometric shapes displayed on the water cube as wonderful abstract images.
For example: Fire starts like this in vvvv:
and ends up like this:
Needless to say I'm very happy with the way this project happened, and I loved working with Jennifer and all of the Beijing team. I can't wait to get back to Beijing to spend some fun times with them.
ps. featured on CNN! Fareed Zakaria's The last word
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When the viewer approaches the piece he first sees a mirror, a projection showing the room he is in. But as he gets closer the mirror refuses to show the viewer's face, showing his back instead.
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