Premiering as part of Scotiabank Nuit Blanche 2013, My Virtual Dream promises to fill a 60-foot dome with beautiful animated images and music driven by participants’ brain waves through brain-computer interface (BCI) headsets.
In this interactive installation, three featured musicians will perform live, inspired by the animated images being projected around them. Since these animated sequences are shaped by the brain waves of the participants, the music being played will serve as a reflection of the brain activity going on inside the dome.
The live My Virtual Dream band is made up of three musicians: Nigel Taylor will be playing the trumpet, Adria McCulloch as the soprano and Kris Maddigan will be onstage playing percussion, and has also composed the marimba library. Kyle Johnston has composed each dream’s electronic score, while Bruce Radmacher composed the cello library in a pre-recorded backing drone track.
We spoke with Adria, Kris and Nigel to find out more about what we’ll be hearing as part of My Virtual Dream.
You’re improvising the performance as a reaction to the projected dreamscape — what kinds of things are you watching or listening for and how do they shape your performance?
Adria: We’ve had time with each of the pre-composed drones and images to come up with either melodic themes, leitmotifs and other sounds (sometimes strange) that we think will work well with whatever is happening visually and energetically. Of course, those are just basic ideas that will be fully realized in the space with all of us together. The collected brain data will affect things like intensity of colours, animation speed and the progression of each of the libraries. Intense colours may evoke either high, soaring legato lines or fuller dynamics. Less fluid motion may indicate more complex rhythmic patterns and possibly atonal harmonies.
Why do you think it’s important for the installation that your performance be improvised vs. pre-composed?
Adria: The interactive nature of the installation requires a mostly improvised piece. Improv allows for a real-time conversation between the musicians, the art and everyone in the dome. Each dream will be completely unique, even though there are only five different libraries of visuals and sounds. As a singer, I also get to be a storyteller! For some of the improvs I will narrate dreams that people have generously shared with me, either sung or spoken. They won’t necessarily be a literal representation of the visuals, but will express something similar. And they won’t always be in English either…
During the rehearsal, there were some unconventional methods of playing that made for some really cool sounds. How did you develop a sound for this performance?
Nigel: From a personal standpoint I am interested in expanding the range of sounds that are possible with a trumpet. It is a gamut much larger than what we often consider the “sound of a trumpet”. When approaching the MVD project, I found that enlisting these sounds was a natural fit. I find that my own dreams feature a wide array of sonic events, but I would say the majority of those events are not songs or simple melodies and harmonies. More often, they’re noises that fill out the visual space I am imagining… a low rumble, a distant squeak of something unknown, the sound of wind blowing, water running, etc.—any number of vague possibilities slowly crystallizing. I want to make this type of sonic event a part of MVD’s soundscape as much as I want bits and pieces of melody and harmony. I think the often fragmented nature of dreams allows for a vast array of what the “music” of this project can be.
Kris: I was interested in making ambient sounds and noises with conventional and unconventional instruments, and performing some live electronic surgery on them using looping and effects pedals. I wanted my setup to be able to create both tinkly wonder and pulsating jungle rhythms, depending on what’s going on around me both visually and aurally.
What have you learned from your involvement in MVD?
Adria: I feel so fortunate to have been able to collaborate artistically with and be inspired by people that I would never have had the chance otherwise. I think I’ve really had to break though some of my own boundaries that I’d placed on myself and my art in order to play a little better outside of my comfort zone. As someone who was formerly an all-acoustic musician, I’ve been able to learn more about audio technology than I ever thought I would—and it isn’t the enemy after all!