Symétriades/Extension is a visual experience that we created for an eponymous contemporary music piece for solo double bass and musical artificial intelligence.
Commissioned by Le Fresnoy - Studio National des Arts Contemporains in France, this art performance was presented at a contemporary music festival in October 2018.
In this project, art director Alain Fleischer and music composer Yann Robin wanted to express the idea of an abstract immolation of the soloist through the performance of this powerful musical piece, “plunging the audience into an immersive experience of engulfment” and “a fusion between the worlds of the seen and the heard.”
We developed with the artists a scenography and live video projections generated in real-time by the sounds and movements of the musician on stage, merging the expressionist visual universe of Alain Fleischer with poetic elements from Stanislaw Lem’s book Solaris.
Symétriades as a musical piece
Composed in 2013 by Yann Robin, Symétriades is the second opus of three abstract compositions, all titled after the incomprehensible architectural formations described in Lem’s fictitious discipline of solaristics.
Inspired by and written for Nicolas Crosse’s double-bass powerful playing technique, the composition of the musical piece also includes an artificial intelligence that reprocesses in real-time the soloist’s live performance. This electronic system, developed at the Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music (IRCAM), distorts, filters and reconfigures the music into a network of 8 loudspeakers and 4 sub-woofers that spatialise the sounds around the audience.
The visual experience
The artists wanted to visually express the contained ferocity of the music, using the metaphor of the bass as an instrument of self destruction.
Echoing some of the themes from Lem’s enigmatic book, we constructed the visual narrative of the performance as a succession of digital incarnations of the bass player.
Overlaid onto his physical presence on stage as video projections, each of these “doppelgänger” gets corrupted and eventually destroyed under the assaults of the sounds and movements of the musician on stage. Progressively turning into an abstracted version of his image, it finally recomposes itself into a purely abstract visual representation of the music.
To achieve this, our approach mixed real-time filming, 3D motion analysis of the musician on stage and sound analysis. We coded a custom computer program that could dynamically create and composite layers of animations over the image of the musician being projected onto the stage and coordinate them with the electronic sound processing.
The dynamic nature of our system allowed the video projections to adjust to the improvisations of the musician during the performance — something that the musical score specifically encourages during certain parts of the piece!
In parallel to the visual effects, we also designed a stage scenography for the performance.
From an early stage, we wanted to keep the powerful delivery of the soloist at the centre of the visual experience. Its perception by the audience should therefore be altered not only by the means of digital video projections, but also through the physical, direct medium of the scenography.
Playing with the perception of depth, we shrouded the stage with multiple layers of finely meshed black fabrics. These translucent surfaces create the screen for the video projections superimposed onto the stage and blur the projection into an elusive volumetric presence.
Positioned between the audience and the stage, they further distort the direct sight of the bass player through shifting patterns of moiré, adding to the expressionist makeup and costume of the performer, and echoing the liquid nature of the book’s protoplasmic being. Modulating the contrast between stage lighting and video projections, we could also shift the audience’s focus between the performer on stage and his abstract projected doubles.
The creative process
As we developed and refined the effects over the course of the production phase, we produced a series of video prototypes that precisely simulated the effects, based on high-definition videos and 3D captures taken during the first rehearsal. This allowed the involved artists to visualise the performance in real conditions at each design iteration, keeping the artistic discussion open and adjustments to the system simple.
We also took care of sorting out the technical solutions for the performance, selecting adequate equipment and producing detailed 3D models of the scenography and technical workflows, so that its feasibility could be checked with the technical team as the project developed.
Credits for the project
Art direction: Alain Fleischer
Music composer: Yann Robin
Double bass soloist: Nicolas Crosse
Electronic sound treatment: Robin Meier
Scenography & live video projection system: 2hD
Production manager: Bertrand Scalabre
Stage manager: Alexis Noël
Sound setup: Geoffrey Durcak
Production: Le Fresnoy - Studio National des Arts Contemporains, in co-production with L’Ensemble Multilaterae