Thursday, September 23, 2010

Space. Opera.

While we mentioned it here awhile back, we now have a bit more information about the real space opera (opera) Kai, Death of Dreams.

As we here at Aria Serious are opera loving, sci-fi geeks who stayed up way past our bedtime playing Halo last night, this is something we're interested in.

Kai, is literally a space opera opera - an opera taking place in space about one alien's quest to free her people from physical and spiritual bondage at whatever cost. It's told entirely in 3D computer animation, or machinmina, which uses video game engines to create a computer generated story (for an example see Red vs. Blue). It's an incredibly intriguing concept, and one that excites us as it creates a new production (albeit a virtual one) with very little money using open source programs that are already in millions of homes.

Technology aside, opera is about story telling. It's about music. The music for Kai is fitting for the story and quite good, considering we expected a bunch of pewpewpew sounds when we first heard of the product. It's melodic modern classical music. You can hear it for yourself as we've embedded some clips down below. The story is also suited for opera (and even tackles some very real and contemporary problems). The one thing we noticed from the clips down below is that the singing of the text is not done in English (or any language on this planet as far as we can tell) but in an alien tongue which we found an interesting decision.

As my dogs can attest to when I sing to them "dog operas" in the morning (whatev, we know you do the same with your pet) is that it is very easy to create sounds to fit the music and yet these sounds are completely devoid of meaning. What made the Klingon opera, U, that we talked about last month so fascinating is that it followed an established set of linguistic rules that other people who knew these rules could comprehend. I'm not sure if the Kai team has employed a xenolinguist to create a completely new language, and if so, it's a truly impressive feat. Part of what makes opera so magical, for us at least, is the economy of language, how a librettist can fit the text into the musical line. But without a defined language, the "text" just becomes another part of the orchestra without telling a narrative story.

We've asked the composer, Richard DeCosta, for some clarification on this and here is his response:

"Since I have a background in computer programming, I wrote a computer program to translate the lines. Instead of building up a language with its own vocabulary, grammar, etc, I created one that acts as a code of sorts. What happens is this:
1. A line is read by the program
2. letters and letter combinations are replaced
1. for example, all letter e instances are replaced with 'u', all 'ch' with 'lk', and so on
2. the program consults a lexicon of poetic combinations of letters and verifies that all words are
1.singable ("pronounceable")
2. poetic (a subjective term, but I spent many, many hours fine tuning the logic)
3. of a reasonable length
4. of a particular sound character (the opera's main language is meant to be sung as one would sing Latin or Italian)

3. the program scans the line for any anomalies or other irregularities I do not wish to write music for (avoiding alien words that might sound like English curses or famous names, etc.)
3. output is passed to the post-processor, which puts the words back into a single phrase and returns it to the user

If you want to try it, there are two of my languages online: http://richarddecosta.com/tr.php

I have spent hundreds of hours fine-tuning the program so that I can enter any text and get alien speech back that I can then use in my opera.

I decided to use my own language because I did not want to be tied to an existing Earth language, nor be tied to any of the existing created-languages. I wanted to be able to be flexible and have my characters sing what I wanted them to without just making up alien-sounding words on the fly."

Seems to be a perfectly sensible and intelligent solution.

What really excites us is how Kai can open opera up to those who would never enter a physical opera house. As much as we love Barkingbartok's Lego versions of opera, Kai is doing the same thing, just using the modern day equivalent of building blocks, digital code; and in doing so frees the production up from being limited to one physical location at a given point in time. It's a virtual opera production that can be taken on a virtual tour and be staged in any virtual world such as World of Warcraft or any of the other MMO's (massively multiplayer online game) out there.

Is it the future of opera? No. But as opera companies are trying to find newer, younger audiences, many of whom are staying at home and immersed in virtual media, it might be a smart move to bring our art form to them.

So tonight, instead of playing team deathmatch on Halo, we'll boot up the in-game editor, The Forge, and attempt to recreate the final act of Tosca - firing squad, jump from the ramparts and all. That is until someone comes over and shoots us with a plasma rifle. Yes. Everyone is a critic. Even in the year 2552 and especially in space.

You can learn more about Kai and help them make their opera a (virtual) reality here.

Multimedia clips follow.

"K'ai, Death of Dreams" - "Zroetur, Greeti Garx, grepiti ex e erupive." by RicharddeCosta

"K'ai, Death of Dreams" - "K'ai, Vu uvayaa epu" by RicharddeCosta


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