INTERFERING LOBSTER: Digital Opera
Interfering Lobster [Working Title] is a live interactive digital opera designed to be performed in-person and simultaneously livestreamed over the Twitch platform. Twitch provides a relaxed, ‘slice of life’ view into the broadcaster’s space where viewers contribute by voting, awarding points, taking control of the camera, and contributing audio, text, and animation.
“Lobster” invites in-person and virtual audiences to participate through contributions of their words, voices, symbols and other digital communicative fragments, to influence both the direction of a narrative and – increasingly as the piece progresses – the music/sound world of the performance. Participants are able to take on positions of power while responding to both performers and other audience members, who can respond in turn. This practice of collective creation (using interactive audio/visual software), contributes to the breaking down of artistic gate-keeping. The opera allows for multiple forms of engagement, creating a show which centres an at-home audience, while also existing as an in-person experience and producing a co-created film for asynchronous viewing.
We will draw on sci-fi to tell a story of the uncanny. The key themes will be the presence of the alien and the unknown within the everyday. We will make the most of the tensions inherent in Twitch as a platform, its strange mixture of human and animal, performance and voyeurism, comfort and confrontation, and the way that it seems to contain both utopian and dystopian possibilities, alienation and community.
Performance will be at Canterbury Christ Church University, UK, July 2024
Alison Dobbins, Project Director
Alexis Bacon – Composer/MaxMSP Programmer
Toria Banks (https://www.wearehera.co.uk/who) – Librettist/Dramaturg. Banks is a director, acting teacher, dramaturg, writer, and producer of HERA, a London-based opera/theatre production company which focuses on elevating the voices of women and gender-minoritized artists and creating performances accessible to all. She has been Resident Director at Trinity Laban since 2009, and has worked for major opera companies including English Touring Opera and the Royal Opera House. An experienced acting teacher, she led the Foundation Acting course at Arts Ed for five years. As a theatre director and dramaturg she has worked with a combination of new writing, old writing, collaborative devising, and physical theatre. She is also a commissioned playwright. Banks lives with a neurological disability and her writing and performance projects grapple with broadening and exploring this identity onstage. Her recent work “We Ask These Questions of Everyone” illustrates the dehumanization and hurdles created by various agencies in categorizing, and framing what is and what is not a disability independent of the reality of the individual.
KRASHCAN: : INTERACTIVE ZOOM ORCHESTRA
Krashkan was developed in response to COVID and the necessity to suspend in-person performance. Alexis Bacon and Alison Dobbins previously collaborated on the interactive musical theater work Shark! The Musical, which was performed at Georgia State University (2018), Michigan State University (2019) and Science Gallery Detroit (2019). These projects use a scaffolded approach to audience participation, where audience members can use technology as a crutch to allow them to participate, eventually being invited to full participation in the production. The intended research trajectory of “Shark” included a shift towards improvisation structures. These plans were paused by the advent of the pandemic, and so “Krashkan” began to build on previous findings by developing tools for audience participation in a digital environment. “Krashkan” was performed at the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS) virtual conference in April 2021 and OperaHack in July 2021 and the New Music Gathering in Portland Oregon in June 2022.
Orchestra of Movement
Krashcan invites that audience to move to create solo, duet, and ensemble music. The link between movement and music was initially proposed for Shark as a way of visibly incorporating multiple audience members into the musical at once. In Krashcan this idea was implemented over zoom. This project was based on widely available technology so that there would be no impediments to audience participation. The performance begins with the audience instructed to download a specific image and set it as their background. They are then advised to turn on the alien eyeball filter in zoom. The background image provides the audience with a visual reference for how their movement will control the sound.
Left/right motion changes pitch. Up/Down motion changes volume and placing the eye in the center of the red circle loops the sound.
Movement to Music
One element from Shark that we wished to explore further was audio feedback during voting. It was important that all methods of audience participation build on the elements already introduced in the production. By having the voting be registered and manipulate the sonic environment, voting itself became part of the story and the sound of the piece. For Krashcan Alexis Bacon tracked individual participants in Cycling ’74’s Max MSP and translated that movement into control of sound (such as tempo, pitch, volume). All participants were invited to vote on a binary choice. Each vote was counted and signified with a sound. As more votes came in (individuals could vote multiple times) the volume and number of sounds increased for the majority vote. A result was declared either at the end of a specific interval or when the difference between votes reached a set amount.
Music of Digital Communication
Krashcan explores the music created of everyday life. This is music constructed from small amounts of digital communication where emphasis and meaning are made through the motion of the audience controlling how much of the snippet is played back and what repeats. The audience was prompted to type their last text received and sent into the chat on zoom. While each individual text had meaning, in collection they create chaos. These text snippets were collected and converted to a repeating poem that audience members could control by looping or shifting to play faster or slower. This poem was then fed into an AI chatbot who expanded on the poem and converted it into a conversation. Through repeated pass throughs of the texting, chatbot, and movement control of playback different elements of the words began to take form, build story, and create meaning.
Krashcan examined how music influences movement, and movement influences music. Did the audience move to the music or did they make music by moving? Would audience chat entries change as they heard the chat played back? These and other questions will be explored in the next iteration of Krashcan and in Interfering Lobster.
Video below edited by Alexis Bacon highlighting Dobbins/Bacon collaborations. Video begins at 9:21 illustrating examples of Krashcan.
- New Music Gathering, Portland, OR (June 2022)
- Performing/Arts/Technology Presentation, University of Michigan (March 2023)
- OperaHack (July 2021)
- SEAMUS (Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States) (April 2021)
- Alison Dobbins, Professor, Michigan State University
- Alexis Bacon, Associate Professor, Michigan State University