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Virtual Choir

March 26, 2010

virtual.jpegI finally got around to viewing the performance of Eric Whitacre's "Lux Aurumque," a work which the composer created for his Virtual Choir, a sort of hybrid between a live performance by a choir standing together in one room and one involving people singing from many different locales via Internet hookup.

The conductor brought together 185 singers from 12 countries. Each of the singers was recorded separately but conducted by Whitacre via a YouTube video. You can read about Whitacre's process and instructions (which he posted on the Web last July) here. For the final performance, Whitacre brought all the different video tracks of the choristers singing together. The result can be seen here.

I admire Whitacre's experiments in technology. This one is particularly exciting because it attempts to bring the polish of a live performance to the virtual format. Many other virtual choir experiments which feature a conductor leading a remote ensemble in real-time often sound ragged because of time-delays on Internet connections and the like. Because the singers in "Lux Aurumque" had all followed the conductor carefully in advance of the performance to create a video of them singing their part, the rendering of the music when all the voices were brought together was more accurate.

But while it's fun to watch the video of Whitacre on screen in a black t-shirt conducting 185 computer screens each with a chorister's face on it, the performance is far from perfect. In fact it sounds very canned and artificial. With its atmospheric, drawn-out lines and movie soundtrack-like feel, Whitacre's choral music lends itself more to electronic rendering than the work of other composers. But as parsed through so many screens, it lacked the warmth and communication of a live performance.

Still, I hope the composer continues with these experiments. Even if the music still has a long way to go before it approximates a true choral sound, there's something captivating about the idea behind the projects. And from a visual standpoint, the sight of lots of people singing together is gorgeous - the canvas of faces is bright and kinetic. It wouldn't look out of place as an installation on the walls of an art gallery.

If nothing else, it's fun to think about all those singers dotted around the world, turning on their webcams, singing in time with Whitacre's beat, recording themselves and then appearing on screen with their colleagues from many different lands in almost perfect unison. There's a sort of poetry to this achievement


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