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Brain Opera

Tuesday we went to the opening performance of Tod Machover's 4 1/2 million
dollar interactive music installation/performance at Lincoln Center. The
work has three parts. In the first part you and a large crowd wander
around a plastic dendrite & ganglion forest designed to be a
cyber-amusement arcade. You get to play various "hyper-instruments"
hanging from the ceiling and growing from the floor. In my favorite, one
of the "singing trees," you poke your head in a pod and hum into a
microphone, watching as your humming makes an image of folded hands morph
into open hands holding a flower, then into a dancer. In other such pods
Marvin Minsky asks you series of gnomic questions ("Do you believe you have
been abducted by aliens?" then, no matter what you say, "Do you know others
suffering from the same delusion?")

You are warned, in these interviews, that whatever you say is being
recorded and may be incorporated into the second part of "Brain Opera,"
which brings me to the question I have for the List. In this second part
Machover and two colleagues play hyperinstruments live and, supposedly,
incorporate into the performance both sounds the audience has generated in
the first part and sounds generated live by people checking in at the Brain
Opera website. I for one felt zero sense of personal involvement in the
performance. The various hyperinstruments sound very much alike, at least
all squeezed together in the cacophanous environment of the Julliard Marble
Lobby. I'm not sure that even had I been the only one in the room I would
have recognized any of the series of sounds produced by my poundings of
illuminated squeeze-toys on giant plastic asteroids, hand wavings before
flashing art nouveau trellises, hummings into glowing pods, etc. As it
was, I was just one of a couple hundred people engaged in these activities.
A couple times I thought I recognized patterns familiar from the first
part. A couple other times I heard muffled, unintelligible sounds of human
voice that might have been someone's reply to a Minsky question before
electronic treatment. When the special section came up where people were
supposedly playing instruments via the Web (the third "part"), it was
impossible to distinguish that section from what came before and after.

So my impression is of another work where you're invited to make a
difference that makes no difference. It reminds me of a cartoon in the
latest edition of "Funny Times."
He (seated before a MIDI rig etc): "Without a COMPUTER, I couldn't have
MADE this music!"
She (arms folded skeptically): "Nor would you have WANTED to…"

I haven't tried to be one of the players from the Web yet. Anyone do it?
Anyone see it?

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