'Yesterday' evolves into 'Tomorrow' in computer-controlled performance

Yesterday Tomorrow

Annie Dorsen

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From Yesterday by The Beatles to Tomorrow from the musical Annie, Annie Dorsen’s performance Yesterday Tomorrow takes us on an exciting, unpredictable musical journey through space and time. Dorsen has made a name for herself as an creator of algorithmic theatre, in which she cuts up famous texts – and now also music – and has put them together again by a computer. In collaboration with Pierre Godard and IRCAM’s Greg Beller, she has devised an algorithm which uses ‘evolutionary computation’ to ensure that the path Yesterday Tomorrow takes is a different one every time – the starting point (Yesterday) and the evolutionary goal (Tomorrow) are known, but what the path in between will look like, nobody knows. As Yesterday fades further away from us and Tomorrow comes ever closer, the audience experiences how time passes and how the loss of the past is redeemed by the promise of a new future.




Annie Dorsen's Yesterday Tomorrow is a new kind of unconventional musical. Dorsen herself calls it an 'evolutionary algorithmic musical', a unique collaboration between human artists and synthesised computer voices, computed live by evolutionary algorithms. Dorsen takes the audience on an exciting, unpredictable musical journey through time and space, leading from the classic Beatles song Yesterday to the equally seminal Tomorrow from the musical Annie. Using the computer's creativity to generate real-time transformations of the musical material ensures that every performance will be different, creating concerts which blend man and machine, song and gesture and light and space in a very original way; and blurring the lines between recognition and alienation. 

Annie Dorsen is an artist internationally acclaimed for creating algorithmic theatre, in which she analyses and breaks up existing texts, and now also music, and has them put together again by the computer. In collaboration with Pierre Godard and Greg Beller of the renowned Parisian institute for sonic research IRCAM, Dorsen has devised an algorithm which ensures that the path which is followed in Yesterday Tomorrow is always different – the departure point (Yesterday) and the goal (Tomorrow) in the evolutionary process are given, but no-one knows what the journey in-between will look or sound like. Naturally, the beginning and the ending were chosen with a purpose. As Yesterday recedes and Tomorrow comes into view, the audience will experience the passing of time, how the loss of the past is redeemed by the promise of a new future.

An algorithm is a specific procedure to describe the steps needed to solve a problem. Evolutionary algorithms work towards a set goal, but in an unpredictable way. The process uses procedures inspired by natural selection: reproduction, mutation and selection. In each instance, the algorithm will determine its route towards the goal anew. An important difference is that biological evolution does not have a predetermined goal.

This means that in Yesterday Tomorrow for each generated sequence each singer receives information with variations in pitch, rhythm, tone, lyric, key, etc. They follow this aural and visual score not knowing where the evolutionary algorithm will take them next. Over the course of the process, the variations generated by the computer will move away from the departure point, the Beatles' Yesterday, towards Tomorrow – those variations that are further removed from Tomorrow are eliminated from possibility, those which are closer to Tomorrow reproduce with new mutations, until we reach the last variation which is exactly the same as Tomorrow.

The singers will be following an algorithmically-determined movement score, simple moves and gestures which keep the performers as well as the audience in continual movement. Lights similarly operate automatically according to a custom-designed evolutionary programme, marking the passage of time and transforming the space in unexpected ways. The algorithms inform everything, not only entering the bodies of the singers, directing them and feeding them, but also determining the space which performers and the audience find themselves in. The effects are continually transforming. The non-human blends with the human and vice versa. The differences between them are always in flux, appearing and disappearing, in a whirlwind and virtuosic duet between man and machine.


Yesterday Tomorrow is an immersion in an extended song about time, change and evolution. It is a piece about the progress and regress, about the loss of one world and the optimistic creation of another.


New York based writer and director Annie Dorsen is active in a broad variety of disciplines, including theatre, film, dance and theatrical performances based on mathematical formules and computer programming. A recent example of the latter is her work A Piece of Work, in which the text of Shakespeare’s Hamlet was rearranged on stage by a computer. This work was staged in theatre On the Boards in Seattle, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Parc de la Villette in Paris, among others. In 2012 she made Spokaoke, a karaoke project that used political and historical speeches instead of pop songs. Her first project that used computers was Hello Hi There, in which two speech computers had an onstage improvised dialogue. It premiered in 2010 in the Austrian festival steirischer herbst and was staged after that in many theatres and festivals in the United States and Europe, and was seen in its installation version in the bitforms gallery in New York. Dorsen worked with choreographers Anne Juren and DD Dorvillier and with musicians as drummer/producer ?uestlove of hiphop group The Roots, composer Laura Karpman and string quartet ETHEL. She was the co-creator of the Broadway musical Passing Strange, which was made into a film by director Spike Lee and won the Tony Award for best book and an OBIE Award. In 2014 Dorsen won the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts for her relentless search for new forms of theatre. Her latest work Yesterday Tomorrow will have its world premiere at the Holland Festival 2015.


concept, direction
Annie Dorsen
music director
Joanna Bailie
algorithm design
Pierre Godard
sound design
Greg Beller
video systems design
Ryan Holsopple
lighting design and technical direction
Bruno Pocheron, Ruth Waldeyer
Alexandra Rosenberg
Allison Chinn
Jeffrey Gavett
Natalie Raybould
Holland Festival, Black Box Teater, Performance Space 122, La Villette – Résidences d’Artistes 2015, L'Hippodrome, scène nationale de Douai, Théâtre de Gennevilliers with Festival d'automne à Paris, Le Maillon-Wacken - Scene européenne – Strasbourg, théâtre Garonne - Scène européenne – Toulouse
with support by
Mount Tremper Arts, Abrons Arts Center, New York State Council on the Arts, The MAP Fund