Sensorium Ex

2025

Opera

People / Culture

Science / Tech

Active

An opera and creative technology project exploring the intersections of disability and artificial intelligence. Co-produced by VIA and Beth Morrison Projects.

"To Have A Voice Is Everything"

Jacob Nossell

Disability Activist, Sensorium Advisory Board

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SENSORIUM is a multi-modal arts project exploring fundamental questions of what it means to have voice, and the nature of voice beyond language.

The project is centered around the opera, Sensorium Ex by composer Paola Prestini and librettist/poet Brenda Shaughnessy and co-directed by choreographer Jerron Herman– it is a multi-sensory narrative woven together at the intersections of disability and artificial intelligence. The Sensorium Ex Opera, commissioned by VisionIntoArt and Beth Morrison Projects, and supported by the Ford Foundation, is centered on the nature of voice beyond language, and how to creatively explore and express forms of non-speaking or non-typical patterns of speech and voice in opera. Artificial intelligence plays a role in expanding the possibilities for voice and expression in this dystopian tale.

Opera

Synopsis | A mother’s love, science/tech ethics, romance, corporate greed, a mystical escape, and a robot named Sophia come together in this story about what it means to be human...

Sensorium Ex is an opera for soloists, choir, chamber orchestra and electronics - exploring the nature of voice beyond language, non-speaking or non-typical patterns of speech and voice in opera, and what it means to be truly human. The use of artificial intelligence expands the possibilities for voice and expression in this dystopian tale.

Kitsune is a young boy with a disability who is non-speaking. The Opera centers around his relationship with his mother, Mem, as they seek to explore their own forms of expression, listening and exchange beyond the conventions of spoken language.

Kitsune will be co-created with the actor(s) in the role alongside the project’s choreographer through a series of residencies bringing together disability activists, artists, and families navigating the experiences of disability.

In a culminating scene of the opera called “the escape”- traditional notation will be replaced by medieval chant notation-neumes and a mixture of sound and language and direction and color. Like Benedictine monks, the ensemble will improvise on a series of calls and responses within which Mem and Kitsune are held, embodying a shared sense of space and purpose.

Sophia, the robot narrator of the story, is an amalgamation of the memories and lived experiences of the opera’s main characters. Her musical voice will be developed through a co-creative process which seeks to build new, inclusive AI datasets around non-normative patterns of voice and speech.

Tech

Sensorium AI is an international research, arts and technology project, with the overall aim of democratizing the development of voice-recognition AI and expanding possibilities for creative expression of voice.

The project has a specific focus on strengthening the experience of voice for people with voice-related disabilities, speech impairments and atypical speech patterns - beginning with the Cerebral Palsy community and expanding outward from there.

Sensorium AI will place an emphasis on both physical voice and expression, as well as voice in terms of social and democratic participation. The process will lead to a variety of outcomes including an interactive art installation and the development of creative voice technologies for artists with disabilities, which will be integrated into the Sensorium Ex opera.

The Sensorium AI project will be developed through a deep collaboration with the NYU Ability program and Arup.

Impact

Sensorium Ex is aiming to pioneer new approaches to creating opera in the 21st century.

EQUITY THROUGH ARTISTIC INNOVATION

Devising artistic practices which center disability equity and access at all steps in the process - pioneering inclusive casting practices; co-creating the aesthetics and expressions of the opera with disabled cast and artists; designing a fully inclusive and accessible audience experience.

KNOWLEDGE & DOCUMENTATION

The learnings and methods developed through the process will be documented, codified and scaled to partner institutions (for example: practices around inclusive casting, access needs, and co-creation - working with collaborators at across the country to integrate these practices institutionally.

ECOSYSTEM BUILDING

Sensorium Ex has created a platform for artistic development and knowledge exchange bringing together major arts institutions (Kennedy Center, Artscape) universities (NYU) and companies (ARUP) to collaborate and generate both the artistic work and support structures which drive equity-centered practices.

Format

90 minutes / Opera

Collaborators

6 principals, mixed chorus of 12, chamber orchestra and electronics. Music by Paola Prestini, libretto by Brenda Shaughnessy, co-directed by Jerron Herman and Jay Scheib. Community Lead Gregg Mozgala. Lead produced by VisionIntoArt with Beth Morrison Projects. Workshop production support: Artscape, Cape Town South Africa; the Shed; The Reach at the Kennedy Center.

Funders and Partners

Funded by The Ford Foundation, Alphadyne Foundation, and Nordisk Kulturfond.

Press

Creatives are increasingly using digital tools and technology, not as accompaniments, but as central components of creative work, from the artificial intelligence opera Sensorium Ex

Inside Philanthropy

I am so excited to be part of an opera that provides a nuanced look at disability. As an artist with a disability, I’ve looked before at programming music that features disability… and time and time again, outdated and two-dimensional portrayals of what it means to have a disability have sent me back to the drawing board. With Sensorium, the explorations of disability and accessibility are so rich and nuanced… and ultimately point to the truth that disabled people are whole and beautiful just as we are, without the need to appear ever more able, or to fit into a world that demands we be so. Sensorium asks the world to change its perception of disability, instead of asking disabled people to change. This is a message I cannot wait to sing and share!

Hailey MacAvoy

I was introduced to the Sensorium initiative last year, and was thrilled to learn of an operatic work that gives voice to disability, inclusion, and access.  When I heard the music and met the team, my excitement grew tenfold.  After watching so many of the pieces come together this past year, I am truly excited to be a part of a musical union of sorts that brings together so many of the pieces.
Laurie Rubin