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Upload © Dutch National Opera i
What if our minds could live forever? Recent advances in artificial intelligence and neuroscience mean that we will soon be able to map our memories and experiences, and to use these data to build a digital consciousness identical with our own. These ‘whole brain emulations’ will be able to carry on indefinitely after our deaths: a way of virtual resurrection. But where do our identities really reside? In our minds, our bodies, or our relationships? And how far do the data of our lives determine our fate? Upload will explore these ancient philosophical questions against the backdrop of present-day and near-future technologies.
Upload tells the story of a father, who suffers a severe trauma, and a daughter. It features two timelines: the present (shortly after the upload of the father) and the recent past in which the upload process takes place. In these flashbacks, we see the technology used for the uploading: motion capture (physical movements are captured in an animation), foley recordings (of the sounds on stage). During this process the physical body dies. The father is treated by a psychiatrist and two technicians in a Swiss laboratory. Conversations with family and friends with all kinds of memories emphasize the failing of memory and implicitly the inaccuracy of the upload process. In between we see moments from the present: the daughter wasn’t aware of her father’s ardent wish to be uploaded in order to reduce his trauma. This process fails; the father puts his fate in his daughter’s hands. She has to decide whether or not she will delete him, a form of digital euthanasia.
Dutch National Opera and its co-commission partners DoubleA, Opera Cologne, Ensemble Musikfabrik, Bregenzer Festspiele and Thompson Arts Centre at Park Avenue Armory will co-produce the World Premiere of Upload, a new opera by Dutch artist Michel van der Aa. Extending the groundbreaking achievements of the 3D opera Blank Out, Upload will tell its story through live action, motion-capture, and immersive film.
Michel van der Aa will be the composer, director and librettist of Upload, in close collaboration with the artistic and technical teams with whom he also created the highly acclaimed productions Blank Out and Sunken Garden.
The film opera Upload, a new work by composer and director Michel van der Aa, will be developed, produced and distributed internationally to a wide and diverse audience. Van der Aa’s productions might jointly be referred to as ‘Creating a new Reality’. They are informed by thorough research into the impact of cutting-edge technology and increasing digitalization on our lives and the arts, exploring a new balance between fact and fiction and what might be the consequences of the fading line between what’s real and what’s unreal. With classical opera elements and digital applications, Van der Aa creates a fictional world, a new reality, that offers new narrative perspectives to audiences. The doubleA Lab allows young creators (artistic and technological partners) to develop their talents and to contribute to new content and technology. Audiences are invited to step into these new auditory and visual worlds, featuring augmented and virtual reality. The implementation of new technologies in the performance, however, is never an end in and of itself. The focus is on the essential human questions triggered by technological developments and their impact.
During the performance of Upload the audience will attend the creation of a new dimension in real time, as the lines between the familiar world and a digital version of it start to fade. What is real, and what is fiction? Where do our identities reside: in our minds, our bodies, our relationships? And to what extent do our experiences and memories decide the course of our lives and our fate? Consequently, ethical questions concerning our wellbeing and our relationship are raised, but most of all: what will happen to us when the border between death and life is fading away or even disappears altogether? Upload is about these classical philosophical questions against the background of contemporary and future technologies. The focus is on these themes and on the experience of the public; technological developments are in service of greater humanistic issues.
Composer, director, libretto Michel van der Aa
Musical director Otto Tausk
Scenographer, lighting designer Theun Mosk
Dramaturges Madelon Kooijman and Niels Nuijten
Sound design Tom Gelissen
Assistant director Ruth Becker
Cast Julia Bullock, soprano and Roderick Williams, baritone
Conductor Otto Tausk
Film cast Katja Herbers, Ashley Zukerman, Esther Mugambi, Samuel West, Claron McFadden, David Eeles, Tessa Stephenson
Motion capture production Darien Brito
Film production Melvin Kant & William Griffioen / WE ARE WILL
Production management Neil Mackinnon / Intermusica
Music published by Boosey & Hawkes
For the Upload project, these highly skilled team members form a well-attuned team that can build on a lot of valuable experience with previous projects. Michel van der Aa forms the core of the team, with Ruth Becker as his assistant.
Scenographer and lighting designer Theun Mosk has already worked on previous eye-catching Van der Aa projects. Kooijman and Nuijten, recently graduated, are already sought-after dramaturges.
Roderick Williams has been in the spotlight of Van der Aa shows before; Julia Bullock is a rising star and a dedicated vocalist to unconventional contemporary music theatre. Ensemble Musikfabrik is specialized in modern music theatre and intimately familiar with Van der Aa’s work, as is conductor Otto Tausk.
Darien Brito is an audiovisual artist and multimedia programmer, who is fascinated by micro sound, immersive environments, generative art, machine learning and complexity. The team of the BeamSystems company not only provides the project with the most advanced devices, but are also part of the creative team.
Djoere de Jong is an experienced freelance opera producer. Siemen van der Werf and Rosita Wouda constitute the core of doubleA with Van der Aa.
Michel van der Aa
Composer, director and librettist
Scenographer and lighting designer
Thompson Arts Center at Park Avenue Armory
FEDORA Artists Series, FEDORA Prizes, Jury Nominee
Dutch National Opera & Ballet
20 October 2020
Learn more about lighting design and the challenges of scenography, with Theun Mosk, Scenographer and Lighting Designer of "Upload" by Dutch National Opera, nominee of the FEDORA Opera Prize 2020!
Be inspired by this exclusive interview and meet one of the creators behind the projects nominated for the FEDORA Prizes!