The Hubble Cantata



Watch Fistful of Stars in VR >


The Hubble Cantata delves into the living relationship between music, film, and
science. This event marked a major milestone in the history of science and the
performing arts in 2016 as VR became an instrument alongside a 30 piece
ensemble and a live choir. The Hubble Cantata was the first ever live event
fusing a major musical performance with Virtual Reality (VR). Fistful of
Stars is the Virtual Reality experience that culminates the Hubble Cantata that
follows the journey of The Hubble Telescope through the cosmos and drew an
audience of over 7,000 people at BRIC! Celebrate Brooklyn creating the world’s
largest communal virtual reality experience to date. The New Yorker profiled
the experience writing “it astounded me, this feeling of floating above
Earth, and tears began to emerge from my cardboard goggles.”

The immersive Virtual Reality experience is
an exploration through space guided by The Hubble Telescope. With individual
VR headsets the concert audience floats through space and time. Collaborating
alongside Arup, global leaders in acoustic sound design, an immersive
soundscape envelops the audience in a 360 degree world without the use of
headphones to augment this cutting edge performance. The work is a
collaboration between composer Paola Prestini, librettist Royce Vavrek,
filmmaker Eliza McNitt, and the astrophysicist Mario Livio.


Hubble’s legacy and what it has done for our
understanding of the Universe is at the core of our drive
to give it a musical life. The loss of communication
between loved ones in the cantata storyline is echoed
by the expansion of the Universe “at the rate of our
imagination”. Yet as the fictional astrophysicist’s
understanding of the Universe deepens, he reconstructs
his wife’s story and understands her better. Woven
together, those twin threads in the piece — the rarity of
life in the grand cosmic scene, and Hubble’s revelation
of that scene — connect human and cosmic scenarios,
revealing realities that may exist at vastly different
scales, but that are each vastly important. Data Hums
lies at the culmination of the work, and in the words of
Opera News it “conjures a frightening Matrix dystopia in
which the human mind is converted into artificial
intelligence. A mesmerizing haze of sound builds up,
layering humming choir, whistling electronics and a
rumbling, Ligeti-like cluster chord in the instrumental
ensemble that slowly shifts and intensifies, punctuated
by radio interceptions of static and a woman’s voice.”


The viewer is suspended in space, Earth at their toes. For a
moment we stand in silence, allowing the viewer to look
around and discover the world that floats around them. The
planets slowly move in orbit. Electrons collide with the upper
reaches of Earth’s atmosphere, creating a brilliant emerald
Aurora Borealis. An object soars over Earth’s horizon. The
Hubble Telescope emerges from the shadows and is suddenly
illuminated by a soft glowing light. It flies through the Aurora
Borealis nearly colliding with the viewer. The voice of
Astrophysicist Dr. Mario Livio guides your journey as you
travel through space and time with The Hubble Telescope.
Samples of his narration are included below. His additional
narration will examine the discoveries of Hubble and how
humans and the stars are connected. As the Hubble orbits the
Earth, The Fine Guidance Sensors lock onto stars as the
Pointing Control System orients the Hubble directly towards
the viewer. The Hubble’s primary mirror gathers light, as a
white glow fills the frame and transitions the viewer deeper
into space and time. We are transported inside of the Orion
Nebula, a jeweled cloud that paints the Milky Way with swirling
hues of pink and blue. It envelops the viewer with glowing
tendrils and sparkling stars. The dusty clouds of the Orion
Nebula are the nursery where stars are born.