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Chorus of robots, and maybe an iPhone app: meet MIT Media Lab, the Opera

The MIT MEDIA LAB is best known for shocking the world with next-level innovations like e-ink and the $100 laptop. But now it's teamed up with the American Repertory Theater, a former Poet Laureate, and an international team of creatives to produce an "Opera of the Future" based on a storyboard that will be familiar to anyone who read last week's cover story on RAY KURZWEIL: a 60-year-old man yearns for immortality, figures out how to download himself into an internet-like network called The System, and then "his entire house comes to life around his family and friends."

Think of it as a 21st-century Ballet Mecanique. Tod Machover, the composer and inventor who is the Media Lab's resident musical genius, is the guiding mind behind DEATH AND THE POWERS, an opera that has been eagerly awaited by tech geeks and art geeks alike. (You can watch excerpts from a workshop performance at the Opera's website.) The ART says it "explores what we leave behind for the world and our loved ones, using specially designed technology and an expressively animated stage, including a chorus of robots and a musical chandelier." According to the Media Lab, the opera has been "scored for a small ensemble of specially designed Hyperinstruments" -- Machover's invention, using technology to make virtuosic musicians sound even better, previously deployed to the likes of Yo-Yo Ma and Prince -- and "will feature a robotic, animatronic stage, the first of its kind, that will gradually 'come alive' as the opera’s main character."

One of the reasons we've got high hopes for this? Well, one of Machover's previous pieces -- Brain Opera, which allowed non-musicians to manipulate elements of a set composition -- became the germ of an idea that led two of his students to invent Guitar Hero. So what'll come out of this one?

Back in January, writing a guest blog for the New York Times, Machover elaborated on the creative process that spawned Death -- and, in keeping with the Media Lab's mission, it seems destined to spin off practical applications as well. Reflecting on the innovations required to turn onstage movement into expressive musical cues, Machover wrote, "I would not be surprised, for example, if the sophisticated infrastructure that Simon Powers will use to construct and communicate his legacy ... were eventually to morph into a platform for creating and sharing musical stories — a kind of 'personal opera' — on, well, your iPhone." 

The libretto is credited to a familiar local face -- the poet ROBERT PINSKY -- and it's directed by ART artistic director DIANE PAULUS in conjunction with OPERA BOSTON. It'll makes its American premiere at the Cutler Majestic in March. 

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