Aside from football and halftime, the Super Bowl is well known for innovative advertising strategies. This year one of these experiments took the form of a new release from artist Megan Thee Stallion. But there was a catch: the music video could only be watched in a very precise way. Fans would need a Snapchat filter, and to project the video onto a Frito-Lay chip.
It may seem like an over-the-top experiment, but music is a ripe field for technology. 2021 saw virtual reality opera at the Royal Opera House, and classical musicians have begun to work in the market of NFTs. But throughout music history, pieces of music that have to be watched in a specific form have been produced everywhere from bedrooms to midair.
While scholars differ on the accuracy of this story, it is nonetheless quite charming.
Count Kaiserling of Saxony struggled with insomnia. His keyboard player, teenager Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, would often help by playing for him in the antechamber of his bedroom in the middle of the night. When the count asked Johann Sebastian Bach for some simple keyboard pieces to cheer those long evenings, Bach produced a set of variations. Despite the fact that the Count always called them his own, saying, “come and play me one of my variations,” they now hold the name of the busy keyboardist.
Helicopter String Quartet:
Flamin’ Hottie may be hard to get a hold of, but at least Megan Thee Stallion could sing it with her feet on the ground.
In 1991, when asked, Karlheinz Stockhausen said he had no interest in composing a string quartet. However, he dreamt of a quartet with the performers in separate helicopters. Around that time he also conceived of a piece contained in the buzzing of a swarm of bees, so the helicopters were probably less frightening to the performers. In the end, the helicopter composition came a few years later. The 1994 premiere was canceled after environmental protests, but the piece was first performed in June of 1995 with some help from the Royal Dutch Air Force.
On September 5, 2001, a piece of music by John Cage began an automated performance. And it’s still going.
Original performances of the 8-page work took around an hour. But given the title “As Slow As Possible,” St. Burchardi Church in Germany decided to put the word “possible” to the test. Their organ, built especially for this purpose, will conclude its performance in the year 2640. It is currently on its 16th note, having changed just last February.
Just down the road in Nashville, TN, a replica of the ancient Parthenon gives composers a playground in resonance.
The statue of Athena that sits inside the Parthenon is almost 42 feet tall, meaning that the stone walls, hard floors, and columns all create a marvelous echo – sound reverberates for about 5 seconds in the space. But the open room in a central location in Nashville made it an appealing spot for a concert series. So, the Centennial Park Conservancy recruited composers to create new works specifically for that room, part of a concert series that continues today.
While opera had been slowly moving toward experiments with immersive experience, the COVID-19 pandemic may have accelerated the adoption of technology that allows audiences to experience singing away from any aerosols and droplets.
Opera Omaha’s production of Miranda by Kamala Sankaram did not even require audiences to leave their home – all they needed was a gaming VR headset like an Oculus. The murder-mystery-meets-dystopian-future plot was created in a span of just three months. An incredible feat that not only allowed audiences to try something new, but also kept singers and artists performing through the early days of the pandemic.