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A Chorus of Sound and Light

Herald Arts Editor Keith Bruce discovers how data collected from the Edinburgh Festival Chorus will be transformed into a remarkable outdoor display.

On the night of Friday 7 August, the Edinburgh Festival Chorus emerges from the Usher Hall for a unique free event that will explore its work in specially commissioned visuals projected onto the outside of the concert venue. The music will be Harmonium, by contemporary American composer John Adams, and the pictures are being created by 59 Productions, a company that has taken its pioneering work in video projection for the theatre to the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics and the 'sails' of the Sydney Opera House.

Creative director Richard Slaney sees the Usher Hall as a similar canvas. He enthuses about The Harmonium Project as a reversal of the company’s usual way of working, where a soundtrack will be composed to accompany the visuals.

'I'm designing what we do, and how we create it,' he says. 'We try and find a narrative in everything we do, but this time the music exists first, so it has to illustrate that, although it will be more about the chorus and how they sing, and how they come to sing that piece.'

To that end, 59 Productions is working with the Department of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh and ten volunteers from the chorus to document and display what is involved in being a member of the choir. 'It won't be just film of the choir singing,' says Slaney.

Spanish soprano Maria Liendo Zaccara is one of those volunteers whose physiology will be the basis for the artwork 59 creates. She points out that, unlike other amateur choirs who rehearse repertoire for a concert and then move on to a new work once they have performed it, the Edinburgh Festival Chorus has 'everything on the go at once'.

'I was aware that singing is hard work and exercise, but now I know that three hours of rehearsal burns up 255 calories – so that is a good excuse for the glass of wine afterwards!'

The singers' work is also being captured with video and infra-red cameras, and software that allows Slaney and 59 to create a 'points cloud' of different faces in a sort of three-dimensional map. That will then be animated for the Usher Hall projections. All the various data sources will be combined to mirror the collective experience of singing together.

'It is a collective experience, not an individual singing a line – that is why choral singing is interesting,' says Slaney.

Illustrating that process is what 59 Productions intends to do for the first outdoor public launch event at the Edinburgh International Festival. As a project to mark the Golden Jubilee of the Chorus, it sings of a choir with a focus on the future.

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