In a time in which any kind of larger gathering of people is impossible and all theatrical performances are postponed to day-x, when a cure for the Coronavirus may be found, it is incumbent on us to rethink how the rich cultural life of Los Angeles, of which the LA Opera is a central part, can continue to flourish. It is incumbent on us to find and experiment with new forms and pathways to engage audiences and continue the cultural work we are committed to. As we wait for this cure to come, we propose an AR experience that users can download to their phones and independent of having to go anywhere or mingle with others, experience the Journey to the Center of the Youniverse.
The AR experience will use the listener’s real spatial movement as tracked through the sensors of their mobile device to allow them to navigate a soundscape that corresponds to the spatial movements of the listener and changes accordingly to give an immersive sense of the experience. The soundscape is composed specifically to provide a rich journey across the shifting sounds of the outer and the inner worlds of the listener. Using their smartphones and headphones, users can enjoy a rich spatial composition that unfolds as they proceed on their journey through the Youniverse. Along with the soundscape they see a visual representation that guides the explorations and supports the narrative of the opera.
The AR version will be released prior to the theatrical performance, it will immerse listeners in the story world and sounds of the opera and prepares and makes them curious about the theatrical performance. Both phases are art-works in their own right and complement each other, without duplicating any aspect of the whole experience. The AR experience is using inherently digital methods of telling the story of Youlisees that would not be possible in a theatrical performance — and vice versa. All elements of the project can be seen as complementary transmedia components that form a larger experience that begins now, when no performances are possible, continues when a theatrical performance does not pose a risk anymore and continues long after the theatrical performance is over in the VR version.
Besides bridging the hiatus on cultural life during the Corona crisis, the AR version of our project also significantly enlarges the audience that has access to the experience. More people and people in other locations, who would not be able to come to a theatre in Los Angeles can now participate in the Journey to the Youniverse, and also are drawn into the LA Opera world as potential audience members for future productions.
The AR version of Journey to the Youniverse will be downloaded to a mobile device (iOS or android phone or tablet). The user starts the app and will be advised to move to the center of the room they are in. They allow the device to detect the floor, and a constellation of spheres will appear in a concentric arrangement around the user. The user is in the middle of one sphere and a music piece starts playing. The sphere’s surface shows semi-transparent visuals, abstract imagery mixed with images of the instruments playing at the moment. Through the boundary of the sphere the users sees the actual room they are in as well as other spheres to which they can move by walking across the room toward the sphere. Once the user enters the sphere another music piece becomes audible and mixes with the previous. At the intersection of both spheres, both pieces are playing. As the user walks around in the room, a spatial soundscape can be heard and explored. Moving into new spheres plays the corresponding music pieces. The sizes of the spheres are different and symbolize the complexity of the piece resident in the sphere: small spheres may just contain single instruments, while larger spheres contain orchestral pieces. By walking around, the user can explore the soundscape at will and form an individual path through the musical experience. The notion of the center is important, which corresponds to the idea of the center of the Youniverse, walking from the center across multiple layers of sound allows the user to get a sense of the role of the center and its relationship to the surrounding layers. The possibility to explore this in the privacy of the home resonates with the theme of the narrative, which is about self-finding and the concentration on the self and the intimate surrounding space.
The arrangement of spheres in space can be variable, so that each time the experience is started new combinatorial possibilities arise. One of these arrangements may correspond to the actual arrangement of musicians in the in-person theatrical performance in relation to the audience platform.