Music theatre, virtual reality and visual arts come together in Eight. After Holland Festival productions such as the operas After Life and Sunken Garden and the digital song cycle The Book of Sand, Michel van der Aa has taken another step in applying ‘mixed reality’ to this new, innovative work. Eight tells a woman’s poignant life story in reverse chronological order. Visitors, equipped with VR glasses and headphones, move one by one through an installation. They can manipulate physical and virtual objects, and meet the woman at various crucial moments in her life. Together with singer and actress Kate Miller-Heidke, the Nederlands Kamerkoor, set designer Theun Mosk and a technical team responsible for the breath-taking VR experience, Van der Aa shows once again why he is one of the world’s most inventive composers.
You’re surrounded by darkness – a path on the floor is the only thing you can make out. You hear footsteps; an old woman comes walking towards you. Her hand reaches into the black space. A wall appears;
it bends with her touch and stretches out into a curved hallway. When you follow the woman, around the corner, you suddenly find yourself face to face with her younger self.
With the monodrama One, the cello concerto Up-close – part concert, part film, part theatre – and the operas After Life and Blank Out, Michel van der Aa has proved his incontestable mastery of multimedia musical theatre. After previous productions at the Holland Festival, such as 3D opera Sunken Garden and the digital song cycle Book of Sand, this year sees him taking things one step further. In the ‘mixed-reality’ song cycle Eight, written for actress-singer Kate Miller-Heidke and the Netherlands Chamber Choir, music, poetry, new media and installation art all blend together into a powerful virtual-reality experience. The music that plays throughout the installation forms the centrepiece of a new album that is to be released prior to Eight’s world premiere.
Eight tells a woman’s life story in reverse chronological order. Equipped with VR goggles and headphones, visitors move one by one through a physical installation created by set designer Theun Mosk, in which actual hallways merge almost imperceptibly with virtual hallways, creating an infinite space. Meanwhile the woman’s memories are spread out all across the flexible walls in the form of interactive hieroglyphs, ready to be activated.
A touch causes the walls to start vibrating to the music. They pulsate more and more powerfully – until they explode outwards.
Dutch composer and director Michel van der Aa (1970) is a multidisciplinary artist who combines composing music with directing film and theatre and writing screenplays. In musical theatre
productions such as the monodrama One and the operas After Life, The Book of Disquiet and Blank Out he combines acoustic and electronic sounds with vocals, theatre performance and video into a richly-interwoven multimedia tapestry.
Van der Aa studied composition with Diderik Wagenaar, Gilius van Bergeijk and Louis Andriessen at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague. He also studied film direction at the New York Film Academy and the Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab. His music is performed all over the world by the most prestigious ensembles and orchestras. He has also worked with famous soloists such as Sol Gabetta, Barbara Hannigan, Janine Jansen, Christianne Stotijn and Roderick Williams, as well as pop singers Kate Miller-Heidke, Wende Snijders and the Portoguese fado singer Ana Moura. As a composer, he has headlined the Totally Huge New Music Festival in Perth, Australia and the Holland Festival, among others.
Van der Aa has received multiple awards for his work, including the Gaudeamus International Composers Award, the 2013 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, the 2013 Mauricio Kagel Music Prize and, in 2015, the prestigious Johannes Vermeer Award. His multimedia pieces, including his operas and the concertos Up-close and Transit, have been the subject of great critical acclaim. Since 2011 he has been one of the ‘house composers’ of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, which in 2014 performed the world premiere of his Violin Concerto for Janine Jansen. In 2013, Van der Aa’s film opera Sunken Garden formed part of the programme at the Holland Festival. He is currently working on a new double concerto for Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Sol Gabetta, to be premiered in May in both Cologne and Amsterdam by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
The Australian singer Kate Miller-Heidke (1981) studied classical voice at the Queensland Conservatorium. She played the part of the British dancing girl in John Adams’ Death of Klinghoffer at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Her other operatic roles have included Flora in Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw and Baby Jane in Richard Thomas’ Jerry Springer: The Opera (Sydney Opera House).
Miller-Heidke also has a career in pop music. Her most recent album, O Vertigo!, was nominated for an ARIA Award in 2014. Her third studio album, Nightflight, was released by Sony in 2012, and reached number 2 in the Australian charts. Her debut album Little Eve went gold and received four ARIA nominations; her second album, Curiouser, reached double platinum sales in Australia and spawned the multi-platinum hits Last Day on Earth and Caught in the Crowd. In 2009 she became the first Australian to win the Grand Prize in the International Songwriting Competition for Caught in the Crowd. Kate Miller-Heidke has toured extensively in the US, the UK, Europe, Asia and Australia. She played more than a hundred shows all over the world with Ben Folds and has opened the Coachella Festival in California. In 2013 she featured at the Holland Festival in Michel van der Aa’s 3D film opera Sunken Garden; two years later, she reappeared in in his interactive song cycle Book of Sand.
Theun Mosk (1980) studied Technical Theatre Arts at Amsterdam University of the Arts and spent a year studying Stage Design at the Rietveld School of Art & Design. Workshops at the Watermill Center in New York resulted in a collaboration with Robert Wilson, with joint projects including the landscape performance Walking and the Egypt’s Sunken Treasures exhibition in Italy.
Mosk’s light designs and stage sets are characterized by a strong conceptual focus. Often, he makes the audience into a key component of the design in order to enrich their physical experience and create greater scope for people to arrive at their own interpretations. His body of work spans a broad range of disciplines: from performance art, mime, opera, dance, musical theatre and contemporary music to installation art, exhibition design, fashion and work on location.
In 2013, Mosk collaborated with composer Michel van der Aa on the 3D opera Sunken Garden, which featured at the Holland Festival that year. In 2016 he teamed up with the Asko|Schönberg ensemble and created the scenography for a new piece by the American composer Huang Ruo and for Privacy, a co-production by De Warme Winkel and HAU (Berlin), which was also performed at the Holland Festival.
Mosk has also worked with the Nederlands Danstheater (choreographies by Medhi Walerski), and with the Veenfabriek musical theatre ensemble and Paul Koek on projects including Moby Dick, based on a new screenplay by the Flemish writer Peter Verhelst (Schauspielhaus Bochum). In 2018, Mosk created the set and lighting design for Romeo + Juliet, choreographed by Medhi Walerski for Ballet BC in Vancouver.
- composition, direction, script
- Michel van der Aa
- set, VR design
- Theun Mosk
- performed by
- Kate Miller-Heidke (mezzosoprano, actress) Livia Kolk (soprano, actress) Vakil Eelman (actress)
- Nederlands Kamerkoor, conducted by Boudewijn Jansen
- Virtual Dutch Men
- 3D modelling
- Human Alloy
- Madelon Kooijman, Niels Nuijten
- music producers
- Thijs de Vlieger (Noisia), Michel van der Aa
- costume, styling
- Esmée Thomassen
- production manager
- Ellen van Bunnik (’n More)
- technical director
- Siemen van der Werf
- financial director
- Rosita Wouda (doubleA Foundation)
- commissioned by
- Holland Festival, Festival International d'Art Lyrique d'Aix-en-Provence/Château La Coste, Beijing Music Festival and KunstFestSpiele Herrenhausen
- with support of
- Fonds Podiumkunsten, Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie, Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst, Gieskes-Strijbis Fonds, Ammodo, Nederlands Kamerkoor and doubleA Foundation