Users Guide for the Brain Opera Lobby

Joe Paradiso, July 1996

You are about to enter an environment filled with many new and unique musical instruments that we have designed for the Brain Opera. You will have the opportunity to explore several different movements of the Brain Opera music on these instruments during your time in the lobby, after which a trio of trained musicians will perform the entire Brain Opera score on a similar set of instruments in the performance space. For the most part, these instruments are very easy to play, and need very little instruction, since they use a bank of computers to make complex music from simple gestures. These guidlines, however should enable you to quickly get proficient on each instrument and make the most of your lobby experience.

Speaking Trees

These are the most common installations in the Brain Opera. They are the dome-like objects with a flat video screen, headphones, microphone, and pushbutton embedded at the tip of a rubber leaf. Step into the headphones (donŐt pull them!); the entire unit can be raised or lowered to match your height by moving the attached metal bars. Your presence is detected when you stand in front of these devices, then a video image of Marvin Minsky (the pioneer in artificial intelligence whose work inspired the Brain Opera) appears and asks several questions about music and the mind. After each question, you are invited to reply into the microphone by pressing and holding the red button at the tip of the rubber leaf while speaking. Your responses are recorded for use in the Brain Opera performances that follow. The sensors that detect your presence are very sensitive, and may stop or restart the video if you step away. Since there are 7 different video programs running on these trees, you are encouraged to visit several of them.

Singing Trees

There are 3 of these devices in the Brain Opera. They look very similar to the Speaking Trees, but can be distinguished because they lack the rubber leaves and have a large umbrella-like dome overhead. These devices respond to singing. Walk up to one, and put on the headphones (their height can also be adjusted by pulling the attached bars). Sing a long, constant tone into the microphone. To block out extraneous sound from other Brain Opera instruments, it may help to cup your hands around the microphone and sing a little louder than usual. The sound and video images that you generate are tied to the quality of your voice. As your singing becomes steadier, the synthesized sound grows more melodic and the images become more complicated and pleasing. The effect stops if your singing wavers or you change pitch.

Melody Easel

The Brain Opera has 3 of these instruments. They are the hanging tables with TV screens, located at the right end of the lobby as you enter. You play these instruments by touching the screens and moving or pressing your fingers. In addition to changing the sounds, touching the screen perturbs the images, which change entirely after the whole screen has been explored. Although they are designed to only track a single finger, interesting effects can be sometimes generated by touching with several fingers, or quickly alternating different fingers. A set of headphones is provided with these instruments to enhance the experience of the primary player. Each Melody Easel is running a different group of sounds and images.

Harmonic Driving

There are 3 of these devices in the Brain Opera. They are a musical instrument that you play by driving through a computer-generated video. Your presence is detected when you sit in the cockpit, whereupon the video starts, showing you how to move the special joystick. Once the music begins, you can steer the vehicle by twisting the joystick or moving it right and left. Moving the joystick up, down, left, and right can change the character of the music. Moving it up and down also makes the road rougher or smoother. Steering down the roads marked with red posts makes the music more ŇhotÓ and aggressive; steering toward blue mellows the sound and makes the experience more ŇjazzyÓ.

Rhythm Tree

The Brain Opera Rhythm Tree is perhaps the worldŐs largest percussion kit. The group of nearly 300 drum pads are clustered on the six large, white bags near the middle of the lobby. They respond to being hit, plucked, or stroked. Each pad is able to make two different sounds; one hit from the top and another when hit from the side. Explore the many different sounds that live in these pushbutton pads, or start a rhythmic jam session with the other visitors.

Gesture Wall

There are 5 Gesture Walls, located at the left end of the lobby space. These are instruments that respond to the hand and body motion of the person standing on the special platform in front of the screens. First put on the headphones; these are designed for only one player at a time. Before starting to use these devices, stand on the special platform, and place your hand flat down on the calibrator plate, as marked with a handprint. The lights will flash quickly red, then turn green. Wait until they are green, then you can remove your hand, turn toward the screen, and play the instrument by waving your hands and moving your body. The music grows louder as you approach the screen. As your hands and body move lower, the music sounds in a lower register, as you move higher, the music plays higher notes. As you move from left to right, the synthesized instruments change and the sound moves in the headphones. The four sensors around the screen glow yellow as you approach them. If they do not change as you move, step back and/or try recalibrating your hand. Getting the most out of the Gesture Wall takes a little practice and is different with everybody, since its response changes with body size. Try stepping back and forward, putting only one hand out, putting both hands out, moving hands together, etc. ItŐs generally better to move a little slowly when you start playing. As you explore different kinds of gesture, you will experience different musical effects. The video image is also affected by the sensor readings. Try to create disturbances in different regions of the image; by doing this you can create a transition to a new image and explore all of the musical possibilities. Only one person should be on the Gesture Wall platform at any one time, otherwise the sensors may not respond properly. Likewise, the calibrator panel should not be touched by anybody except the player, or the instrument will loose its sensitivity. Avoiding putting anything (books, papers, bags…) on the calibrator plates as you play. Each Gesture Wall is running different images and sounds, thus you are encouraged to try several.

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