MapFund

About the Grant

$30,000 to support Death and the Powers (MAP 2005), a new opera that blends images, sounds, autonomous robotic creatures, and a robotic stage to explore what it means to be human in an age of sophisticated machines, with music by inventor/composer Tod Machover, story by Randy Weiner, and libretto by Robert Pinsky.

About the Project

Death and the Powers is a new opera combining sound, language, images and robotic design technology to create a drama that explores the essence of "human" existence in an age of increasingly sophisticated technology. The opera is a meditation on memory and the passing of life, with music by composer/inventor Tod Machover, story by Randy Weiner, and libretto by poet Robert Pinsky. It takes place within one single 90-minute act and features newly created performance technology, including the first robotic animatronics stage designed to gradually "come alive" as a main character in the drama.

Death and the Powers tells the story of a great inventor at the end of his life facing the questions of his legacy: "When I die, what remains? What can I control? What can I perpetuate?" His final experiment is one in which he passes from one form of existence into another in an attempt to project himself into the future. Whether or not he is actually alive and how that condition is expressed is the pivotal point of the story.

The production will employ a completely new, modular structure that will be designed to allow the room to change shape as it literally undulates, vibrates, and pulsates. This "robotic architecture" designed by the MIT Media Lab, consists of an array of interlocking forms--derived from loudspeaker-driver technology--that are independently controlled by motors and hydraulics. This rapid and lightweight system can be programmed to create sculptural forms, moving visual patterns, and even human-like gestures. The system will include image display surfaces for video projections and sound-producing elements, capable of illustrating and evoking disparate, fleeting thoughts and memories from the protagonist's inner world.

Death and the Powers will premiere in August, 2006.
Stage design by Alex McDowell for <EM>Death and the Powers.</EM>
Stage design by Alex McDowell for Death and the Powers.

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