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With The Book of Sand composer Michel van der Aa has invented a completely new genre: the digital, interactive song cycle. Inspired by the allusions to infinity and the use of mazes and mirrors in the fantastical stories of Jorge Luis Borges, Van der Aa puts you in a space where all places in the world exist simultaneously. A young woman (played by the Australian pop singer Kate Miller-Heidke) collects up sand which is being moved between the film layers by a mysterious machine. Three parallel film layers reveal alternative points of view and introduce new elements and characters to the story, which allows you to choose a new route through the narrative at any point. It’s a wonder of interactivity which will have you returning to it time and again.
The Book of Sand can be accessed through the web (thebookofsand.net) and via an app (iTunes and Google Play).
Optimal performance of the site can be achieved by using Chrome, Safari or a mobile browser.
‘It is true that I never leave my house, but it is also true that its doors (whose numbers are infinite) are open day and night to men and to animals as well.’ From Jorge Luis Borges’ The House of Asterion
The Holland Festival and Dutch composer Michel van der Aa teamed up to develop The Book of Sand, a song cycle which audiences can access through an app on their smart phones or tablets or by going online to a website. Van der Aa has invented a new genre: the digital, interactive song cycle. By switching between different musical and visual layers, viewers can determine their own version of the performance. The Book of Sand will be launched on 31 May 2015 at 4 PM. From that moment on, the website will be live and the app available – both for free.
The Holland Festival’s new artistic director, Ruth Mackenzie, is planning to make digital art a regular part of her programming. Michel van der Aa is an artist who frequently combines different types of media in his work and does not hesitate to develop new formats, such as 3-D film opera for instance. Ove the years, the Festival has produced and presented important work by Van der Aa with regularity, including his operas After Life (2006) and Sunken Garden (2013).
Van der Aa does not use technology as a gimmick; he integrates it aesthetically and conceptually in his productions in a natural manner. In the opera One, a woman in psychological distress engaged in a virtuoso dialogue with her alter ego on video. In the film opera Sunken Garden, three-dimensional film images evoked a surrealistic underworld. Also playing an important role in that production were scenes filmed by the characters with their own smart phones – a contemporary way of presenting parts of the story, which moreover offered new narrative possibilities. Those possibilities have been further developed in The Book of Sand.
The script and music for The Book of Sand were inspired by ideas related to the concept of infinity and by the mirrors and mazes that appear in Jorge Luis Borges’ stories, such as The Zahir, The Aleph, The Book of Sand, The Library of Babel and The House of Asterion. The libretto is composed of excerpts from these stories.
The central figure is a 30-year-old woman, played by the Austrian singer-songwriter Kate Miller-Heidke with whom Van der Aa previously worked in Sunken Garden. The woman collects up sand that is being moved between the film layers by a mysterious machine. She enters a space where all places in the world, seen from every angle, are present at the same time. Anyone who gazes into that space can see everything in the universe simultaneously, from every possible perspective, without distortion, overlapping or confusion.
The Book of Sand is told by means of three different layers of film and their accompanying music. By switching between the layers, viewers can choose their own route through the song cycle. Each of the layers introduces new and different points of view. Kate Miller-Heidke’s vocal part remains the same in each, but the accompaniment is different in all three. Alter egos of the protagonist, a device Van der Aa uses more often in his work, appear in each of the three layers and react to one another.
Musically, the first layer is intimate, abstract and electronic. The second layer is the most pop like, with beats, electronics and a choir. The third layer is a cappella, with only a choir of 12 voices – the Nederlands Kamerkoor – and the protagonist’s solo part. After a certain period of time, the film returns to the beginning and the viewer can discover new elements of the story by taking a different route through the cycle. The music fragments seamlessly flow into one another as the viewer switches from one layer to the next.
With The Book of Sand, the Holland Festival is presenting an innovative production that explores the boundaries between traditional performing arts and contemporary digital innovations.