The world's first mass VR experience, The Hubble Cantata is a multimedia cantata composed by Paola Prestini that features narration by astrophysicist Mario Livio, a libretto by Royce Vavrek, VR by Eliza McNitt, and sound by ARUP.
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.
“A brilliant collaboration, The Hubble Cantata is a work that knows no parallel, pushing boundaries of technology and presentation…”
- The Observer
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.
Watch a compelling trailer of the project, from the project's original Kickstarter campaign in 2016...
60 minutes / Music Performance for mezzo soprano, baritone, orchestral ensemble and choir.
Text by Royce Vavrek. Narrations by astrophysicist Mario Livio. Photography featuring Wendy Whelan and VR by Eliza McNitt, sound by ARUP.
Bay Chamber Concerts and VisionIntoArt. Produced by Beth Morrison Projects.
“The kind of experimentation Prestini has lent to her work will help shape what masterpieces come out of the next 50 years”
THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
The Hubble Cantata, composer Paola Prestini’s brilliant collaboration with librettist Royce Vavreck and the Hubble Space Telescope’s lead astrophysicist, Dr. Mario Livio. But in all other arenas, Hubble pushes its classical cosmic themes ever more upward than any orchestral work these ears have ear in a long time, upward and toward the stars. the success of this multi-disciplinary performance lies in its ability to exist as both high art and popular entertainment. And so The Hubble Cantata is a work that knows no parallel, pushing boundaries of technology and presentation that push our city’s relationship with multi-disciplinary performance further into uncharted territory.
“Hubble Cantata … a work of extraordinary beauty.”