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Disembodied Performance

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scene from 'Death and the Powers'

"Death and the Powers" introduces a technique called disembodied performance, in which an offstage character's presence is evoked by a musical chandelier, moving walls, pulsating lights, and specially designed sounds.

Credit: Jill Steinberg / MIT News

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab professor Tod Machover has spent more than a decade inventing the technology for a new opera premiering in September that could redefine the technological enhancement of live performance.

Machover says he designed the technique of disembodied performance to complement the singers rather than overshadow them, which he sees as a problem in contemporary musical performances. Machover's opera, "Death and the Powers," features a character who is offstage most of the time, and who expresses himself through elements that include an animated set of bookcases and a chandelier that emits light and has Teflon strings that can channel the unseen character's presence when they are strummed. In addition, there are nine life-size singing robots that function as a chorus and frame the narrative.

The disembodied performance is rendered through software that measures both conscious and unconscious aspects of the singer's performance, such as volume, pitch, muscle tension, and breathing patterns.

View a video of MIT Media Lab Professor Tod Machover discussing "Death and the Powers" and how disembodied performance enhances the presence of human performers onstage.

From MIT News
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