Back in 2014, I had the pleasure of devising and creatively directing an EU-funded ‘visualisation of classical music’ project in collaboration with my students, alumni and staff. Our mission was to take on Verdi’s mighty Requiem, and not attempt to animate it, or fall into any turgid, representational mode committing us to grandiose CGI. You can dive nice and deep into the development of the project here, but I’m going to offer up the short version, which goes like this: first, we plugged Arie Van Beek into some motion-detection software while he was conducting Verdi’s Requiem with his orchestra in order to capture his every movement during the performance. Next, the resulting data was translated by a computer into seven curves, one for each of the discrete movements of the Requiem, which gave us spatial representations of the conductor’s gestural energy; along these curves followed his orchestra.
The seven curves originating from Arie Van Beek’s conducting of the Requiem
My students and alumni were then given the curves as digital files, and challenged to use them to produce sculptural forms fashioned in 3D using the animation software in which they were trained. They were asked to listen to each movement of the Requiem and allow their impressions of the music to inform their creative decision-making, and a final selection to be made from their respective entries.
The final seven 3D models produced by the students.
Ultimately, we wanted to physicalise the 3D forms as real-world sculpture, so had to devise a practical means to ready the digital models for fabrication. We divided the 3D forms into planes, or slices, with the idea of laser-cutting the silhouettes out of sheet steel, before reassembling them again to produce the finished piece.
One of the sculptural forms expressed as a series of silhouettes.
A 3D simulation of how the silhouettes combine to produce the sculpture.
Maquettes of the seven sculptures were then produced so we could understand how they would sit on the ground and actually work as physical things. I need to say here what an exciting moment this was, as we first understood what it meant to have taken an epic, canonical work of classical music and converted it into tangible, tactile things.
The seven movements of Verdi’s Requiem as diminutive, laser-cut maquettes.
Finally, laser-cut from steel, welded together and painted, the seven finished sculptures were installed on the lawn of the Royal Opera House’s High House Production Park, Purfleet, to accompany a further performance of the Requiem. The unspoken truth of this highly collaborative and interdisciplinary project was that all of us wished the budget had been very much larger, meaning we could have produced the sculptures at a much bigger scale. Sized as they were, the sculptures were playful, when I think we all wanted them to loom more grandly, as befitting their origin point. Still, the business of moving them around in various transit vans, and carrying them about, proved challenging enough; any bigger, and we would have needed a fleet of articulated lorries!
The pleasure of this project was not knowing how to do something, and not knowing how something was going to turn out, but always confident in the knowledge I was working with a bunch of talented individuals committed to making something wonderful take place.