This piece contributed the GAPPP (Gamified Audiovisual Performance and Performance Practice) Symposium in Graz, Austria (April 2019), supported by EASTN-DC funding, and has also been performed in Manchester, Malaga, Grenoble, Stockholm (2019) and Tokyo (2020). Live recordings are available at https://acusmatica.org/ga/pj14_duelStrings.htm#.
Informed by Žižek’s (2003) philosophical concept of the ‘Reality of the Virtual’, Fischer-Lichte’s (2008) theatrical notion of ‘co-presence’, and the technomorphic attribution of machine characteristics to humans, the work explores issues of representation in interactive media composition incorporating virtual reality. Its methodology centred on a game-engine interactive system created by Climent; this aims to control the audience’s perception of the relationships between human performers, musical instruments and physical space in interactions crossing physical and virtual worlds. The ‘duel’ is an onstage battle of skills between two performers as they navigate a virtual world incorporating 3D models of strings. One operates the interactive system, triggering its responses by playing a large string suspended on the stage; the other uses an acoustic violin to control the virtual strings via real-time spectral and dynamic analysis, triggering sound, 3D animations and spectral followers. Part I moves to each of four virtual stages, which function as compositional miniatures or studies, focusing on specific aspects of the violin: plucked strings, Würfelspiele-like mosaic gestures, bow friction, and timbre. In Part 2 the player improvises freely in response to real and surreal cues, including physically impossible sounds heard from inside the 3D violin, and humanoids constructed using instrument parts, creating a bidirectional creative flow between virtual and real.
By merging the stage ecosystem of performer, instrument and space into a single embodied representation, the composer shifts the creative focus away from real/virtual distinctions towards a new form of co-presence incorporating the audience, providing insights into potential solutions to the problem of audience alienation in VR performance.