I am currently working, along with many collaborators (see below) on a Robot Opera Project, supported by the Centre for Research in Opera and Music Theatre (CROMT) and the Sussex Humanities Lab (SHL), using funds from the School of Media, Arts and Humanities Knowledge Exchange at the University of Sussex. This is the third in a series of robot opera projects, and it explores hybridity and otherness through creative engagement with embodied AI.
For ways to engage with this project, scroll down past the event descriptions and see below the poster image!
Robo_Po /// Robo_Op
There will be two work-in-progress performance events, on on poetry and one on opera, each followed by a reflective panel discussion. These events will be hybrid in SHL / on Zoom (performers in person, audience / panels on Zoom). These events are free! Please register here: <EVENTBRITE link>
28th June 4pm – 5:30pm (UK Time) Sussex Humanities Lab, audience to join on Zoom
a robot poetry reading / spoken word performance, followed by panel discussion. What does poetry mean from the mouth of a robot? What is explored through generative poetry? What is a reading?
Poets include, Kat Sinclair, Carol Watts, and others. Panel includes Caroline Bassett (TBC), Charlotte Geater, Sam Ladkin, Kat Sinclair and Jo Lindsay Walton. Chaired by Carol Watts.
29th June 4pm – 5:30pm (UK Time) Sussex Humanities Lab, audience to join on Zoom
a robot opera performance, a series of short opera studies exploring human – robot interaction and performance through music, movement and scenography, followed by a panel discussion.
Creative Team: Tim Hopkins (director); Evelyn Ficarra (composer); Janine Fletcher (choreographer / dancer); Carol Watts (words); Kat Sinclair (words); Loré Lixenberg (singer); Anton Lukoszevieze (cellist); Mike Oddhayward (programmer); Cleo Mesmer (Robot).
Will Jackson (robot designer / CEO of Engineered Arts);
Elizabeth Jochum (Associate Professor of art and robotics, Head of Research Laboratory for Art and Technology (RELATE) Aalborg University, Denmark);
Cath James (Artistic Director, South East Dance);
Annette Mees (Director of Audience Labs, Royal Opera House);
Ron Chrisley (Reader in Philosophy, Informatics, University of Sussex); chaired by Nick Till (Professor of Opera and Music Theatre, Director of the Centre for Research in Opera and Music Theatre).
These events are free! Please register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/robo-po-robo-op-tickets-157603607633
See below poster image for ways to engage with the project!!
Engage with Robo_Po:
Cleo the robot will be giving a poetry reading on the 28th of June, at 4pm British Summer Time. Cleo is a humanoid robot, in the Mesmer range designed by Engineered Arts, with silicon skin and metallic joints.
Please write a robot poem for Cleo to read at this event. This could be a solo poem for the robot or a poetic dialogue between a robot and a human, or a poem to be spoken by a human to a robot. Or, anything. What is the inner life of the robot? What does a robot want to say to a human? What sorts of hybrid beings are we creating? Cleo invites you to send in your robot poem, and asks that you be succinct, maximum 50 words. If Cleo gets a lot of poems, they may read them really fast, or create a mash-up poem that will be all your poems and yet none of your poems.
Instructions for taking part in Robo_Po:
Send your poem (maximum 50 words) to: [email protected]
- Put ‘robot poetry’ in the subject header
- Please tell us your name.
- Send it not later than 21st June 2021
- We are also inviting children to author poems and be in the audience, therefore please banish your dark web self and evoke your family friendly self.
- Give your poem a title, if you like.
- Tell us your age and/or occupation, if you want to.
Engage with Robo_Op:
Cleo the robot will be taking part in performing a set of robot opera studies on the 29th of June at 4pm British Summer Time. Cleo is a humanoid robot, in the Mesmer range designed by Engineered Arts, with silicon skin and metallic joints. I will be working to create a robot singing/speaking voice that reflects the inner life, materiality and otherness of the robot.
Cleo’s voice currently comes from text-to-speech software voices provided by the Acapella Group To make these voices, an actor has to sit in a recording booth for many days speaking the tiny phonemes that are put together to form words and sentences, which try to communicate as clearly and sound as human as possible. By contrast, we wish to create an experimental voice that explores the otherness and materiality of the robot, which may not be readily comprehensible to our human ears. This voice could be made from a broad source of sounds – vocal, mechanical, natural, instrumental, electronic. For this we are inviting people think creatively around sound and send us your contributions to the voice.
Instructions for taking part in Robo_Op:
Send your sounds (maximum 10) to: [email protected] using a file transfer service such as www.wetransfer.com (deadline: 21st June 2021)
- Use a file transfer service such as www.wetransfer.com
- send to [email protected]
- Put ‘robot opera’ in the wetransfer message. If the wetransfer message gets rejected by the Sussex anti-spam software, just forward the link again to <[email protected]> Thank you.
- Please tell us your name.
- Send it not later than 21st June 2021
- You may send up to 10 sounds
- Each sound can be no longer than 2 seconds. Perhaps think of very short sounds as consonants and longer sounds as vowels.
- Each sound must be edited as tightly as possible, no pauses before or after the sound begins.
- Each sound must be in MP3 or .wav format
- Each sound must be labeled using the following format: yourname_soundname (e.g. Ficarra_a1.wav)
- Sounds may be from ANY source, think creatively!
- Tell us your age and/or occupation, if you want to.
For further information, contact Evelyn Ficarra
Solo Cello for RAM 200
I am also working on a solo cello piece, as part of the RAM 200 project. The Royal Academy of Music is celebrating its 200th anniversary by inviting 200 composers to write a solo piece for the instrument of their choice. These pieces will be programmed in concerts at the Academy throughout 2021-22, and I am pleased to be collaborating with Academy cellist Sam Vincent on this piece.
In 2020 I turned inwards, as many did, having the luxury, as many did not, of a job that supported me throughout the pandemic. I was on research leave from my teaching at Sussex during Spring term, so I spent the first lockdown in Berkeley California. I spent many solitary hours improvising on my flute in an attic studio and working with sounds recorded on my walks. This work centred around a series of ‘colour meditations’, a name I have for the drawing practice which I started in response to the death of my mother in April 2020. Some of the colour meditations look like scores and I use them as prompts for sonic reflections.
In April 2020 I received a commission for a new acousmatic piece to be premiered in the Rainy Days Festival in Luxembourg in November 2021 (postponed from 2020). The improvisations and found sounds from the period in the attic during lockdown have fed directly into this new piece which explores a hybridity of human, flute, electronic and natural bird sounds: strange birds.
In June, 2019, I worked on a small scale robot opera featuring a Pepper Robot. This project was supported by the Centre for Research in Opera and Music Theatre, the Sussex Humanities Lab and the Sussex Research Opportunities Fund. Singer Loré Lixenberg and cellist Anton Lukoszevieze joined me in explorations around human / robot interaction in a creative setting. Performance and discussion. Click here for details. This project continues themes of vocality, embodiment and performance with robots which I started exploring in 2017 with my five minute operatic miniature O, One for two Nao robots.
In May 2019, Listening Creates an Opening received three more performances, this time at ODC in San Francisco. Originally commissioned by the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, this work, conceived and directed by Mary Armentrout, featured a sound score plus music for two singers and cello, including settings of poems by Emily Dickinson, with video and light sculpture by Ian Winters.
At the beginning of 2019, I collaborated on a show called Broken Open at 1078 Gallery in Chico, California, Jan 17th – Feb 10th, 2019. This was a collaboration with poet Elise Ficarra and sculptor / ceramicist Cameron Crawford. Read Jason Cassidy’s review in the Chico News and Review here.
For the Body, By the Body – Young Sun Lee:
In October of 2018, my collaborator, choreographer Young Sun Lee, had a major installation / exhibition at the Cheonan Arts Center in Seoul, Korea (17-28 Oct 2018) called Drawing for the Body, By the Body in which she performed a number of works with my music, in galleries filled with her drawings. Her pieces Dance Drawings for Snail IV and Dance Drawing for Black Drawing use music from works such as Vagues Fenetres and Isle Remix. The exhibition also featured a screening of her collaborative animation film soul / soul with experimental animator and documentary film maker Kyja Kristjansson-Nelson. Below is Young Sun Lee performing with some of her drawings and stills from soul / soul. For more photos of the exhibit go here.
San Francisco Music Day with Myra Melford and Ian Winters:
September 2018: I was thrilled to be a part of San Francisco Music Day, albeit in absentia. Myra Melford (piano), Ian Winters (video) and I did another version of our Dissonant Futures project in the Taube Atrium Theater at the War Memorial Veteran’s Building at 5:30pm on Sunday 30th September. For this version Ian and I improvised with sound and image materials gathered from Myra’s amazing inside the piano world (see photo above!) over the past few years, while Myra played the piano keyboard with her usual astonishing virtuosity and power. My electronic improvisations were made using samples recorded with Myra and processed through improvisation patches I’ve designed in Max MSP. Since I couldn’t be there, my improvisations were done in advance and sent ahead. Pre-improvisation!
Here’s a snippet of part of the electronic sound world. This excerpt is created from samples of Myra playing a piano prepared with chopsticks …..
I very much enjoyed residencies, during 2018, at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC), with choreographer Mary Armentrout and media artist Ian Winters, creating both scored music and electronic sound for Listening Creates an Opening for Mary Armentrout Dance Theater.
Listening Creates an Opening was commissioned by EMPAC and supported by their Residencies and Commissions program. The work was premiered 12th – 15th September 2018. The work, which is written, devised and directed by Mary Armentrout, takes notions of embodied listening as a lens through which to explore site, history and the artist’s relationship to social engagement. We worked with Darcy Dunn and Allison Easter (singers) and Patrick Belaga (cellist/improvisor) on this multi-site, site-specific work, which explores various localities at EMPAC and beyond.
Within the work I wrote settings, and fragments of settings, scored for different combinations of two singers and cello, for two poems by Emily Dickinson, which Mary cut up and wove around her text. I also scored two videos (one each for the first and last scenes), creating soundscapes from sounds recorded with cellist Patrick Belaga. Additionally I made a 16 channel sound score for a scene in the EMPAC theater, using many sounds which I had recorded in and around EMPAC and the city of Troy. The theater scene included a ‘cloud’ sculpture made out of LEDs, created by Ian Winters, which used, as a source for changing light, over a year’s worth of data collected from light and colour sensors set in the roof of the EMPAC building. The eight channel sound for this section combined sonic references to both sites visited in the show and to the music within it, creating an immersive sonic environment which the audience experiences by lying down under the cloud. Documentation for the piece will soon be available.
In August 2018, Ian Winters and I were invited to the Djerassi Resident Artist Program where we re-mounted a version of our installation Summer, Winter, Spring.
Building the screen (Ian Winters and Weidong Yang):
Adjusting sound levels:
Some images from the show:
Taking a bow:
Lingering spectator staying for a second run….
Summer, Winter, Spring, is a collaborative work lead by media artist Ian Winters with choreographers Mary Armentrout, Daiane Lopes da Silva and paige starling sorvillo. I collaborated with Heather Frasch on the first work in progress version of the piece in January 2017, and her presence remains in the sound world of later versions, particularly in the bicycle wheel sounds! This piece premiered as an installation on 13th January 2018, performances were 26th & 27th January 7:30pm, at the Minnesota Street Project, 1275 Minnesota Street, San Francisco 94107. See the trailer here.
Earlier in 2018:
My 1990s collaborative works with film maker Suse Bohse (such as Those Roads) were part of an inspirational project at Central St Martin’s School of Art, in the exhibition Temporalities, which ran at the Lethaby Gallery in February 2018. This exhibit consisted in a set of commissions from current students responding to historical student work from this iconic art school.