Elly Jessop Nattinger, Experience Engineer

people + space (+ technology)

Death and the Powers: The Robot’s Opera

Powers’ daughter and research assistant encounter him in his new form. Photo by Jill Steinberg.

Powers berates the delegates from the outside world. Photo by Jill Steinberg

Power’s wife Evvy has a romantic and musical encounter with him through the Chandelier. Photo by Jonathan Williams.

Death and the Powers is a new opera by Tod Machover with technology designed by the MIT Media Lab. The story centers around a wealthy, powerful businessman/inventor, Simon Powers, who decides to extend his life and influence by uploading his consciousness into a computer system before he dies. After he transfers his emotions, his memories, and his personality into The System, the rest of his family and the world at large is left to deal with questions of his life, transformed existence, and legacy. In the show, Powers uploads himself into The System after the first scene, and the theatrical set, including three large robotic walls with visual displays, comes alive as the main character.

My primary role in this opera was that of Interaction Designer, helping develop systems including the Disembodied Performance System that uses the lead actor’s live performance to sculpt and affect in real time the behavior of the theatrical set, and The Chandelier, a giant stringed musical instrument. I worked closely with the creative team and my Media Lab colleague Peter Torpey to explore how we could create technological systems that were essential to the storytelling and immersive experience of Death and the Powers. We premiered the opera in Monte Carlo, Monaco in September 2010, with additional performances in Boston in March 2011 and Chicago in April 2011. The show also performed in Dallas in February 2014.

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