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Classic book inspires innovative online digital opera created with Tweets


The world premiere of an online digital opera  inspired by an 18th century book but created with Twitter messages and computers, takes place this week in York and anywhere else.

Audience members for the experimental performances on 28 and 29 March will not only be those people in the auditorium at York Theatre Royal, but anyone around the world who listens online via and joins its Twitter conversation @_Y0r1ck.

The innovative opera, A Sentimental Journey, has been created by Dr Craig Vear, a senior lecturer in performance and digital arts at De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester.

Using the book ‘A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy’ written in 1768 by Laurence Sterne, Craig began a 14 month process of composing the opera in 2010.

Craig said: “This is an interactive digital opera composed with a wide range of recorded sounds around the book’s main character Yorick.

“The musicians will use these recorded sounds to be the ‘voices’ of the opera which is performed live to an audience in a theatre, and also within the minds of remote audience members who ‘listen in’ to the real-time internet stream of the performance.

“These remote audience members may be situated in a hotel lobby, an airport departure lounge, or a coffee shop in the centre of a tourist district, experiencing the digital opera through headphones while watching others journey. As such, the cast for their opera will be the people that they are watching and their set will be their surrounding environment.

“In a sense there are two parallel journeys: our actual Yorick (flesh and blood in the theatre with the music), and his Twittering alter-ego, who is also on a journey through the music and the collective participation of our remote listeners who send Tweets.

“This performance is one of the first of its kind and it’s a unique opportunity to engage with, and participate in, a total experience through sound, music, and digital storytelling.

“I am asking the online audience to immerse themselves in the surrounding energy of journeying: the expectation of travel, the heightened charge of jet-lag etc, as they listen.”

For the soundscape which performers use to ‘play’ the opera music rather than the traditional orchestra instruments and singers, Craig has gathered noises including:

• Field recordings from places in France and Italy mentioned in the book
• Archive music recordings from places in the book
• Musical impressions recorded at places mentioned in the book
• A recording of the elderly Sterne reading a text called Journal to Eliza
• Electroacoustic sounds
• Silence 

The visual score for the musicians is generated from:
• Scans of the original pages from the book
• Transcriptions of 18th century street songs
• Transcriptions of music mentioned in the book - particularly the dance music of Giovanni Battista Martini (1706-86)
• Research from the Sterne collection at Shandy Hall, near York, where Sterne live
• Original illustrations from various editions of the book

Craig said: “Opera has been re-invented and we are challenging the normal mainstays such as the voice and the opera-house. The voice has been re-imagined and now embraces 21st century technology and performance making. There are 12 different ‘voices’ in this opera and they are created by musicians improvising with the soundscape to tell the story.”

Tickets for the theatre performance are available from: and the latest news about the opera can be followed on Twitter at @_Y0r1ck

The opera was commissioned by the Laurence Sterne Trust, York Theatre Royal, and Arts Council England.

As well as Craig, the opera will feature the musicians Audrey Riley (Icebreaker, Gavin Bryars, Muse, Foo Fighters), John Richards (DMU’s Music Technology and Innovation group), and Allison Neale (Dave Cliff, Mike Westbrook).

In 2011 Dr Vear ( was part of the creative team that won the Olivier Award for Best Production for The Railway Children. He was also nominated for an Olivier award and a Canadian DORA award for best sound design.

In the same year he was awarded a doctorate in music composition. In 2010 he was commissioned by Exhibition Road Cultural Group and PRS Foundation to create Flow to celebrate World Music Day and the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Ismaili Centre, London.

Superfield (Mumbai, 2009) commissioned by Bradford Mela and Mumbai Festival incorporated sounds and music from the streets of Mumbai after the terrorist attacks of 2008.

During 2003-4 he held the Arts Council England Fellowship with the British Antarctic Survey, which resulted in a large-scale composition created from field recordings. In 2006 Unicorn Theatre, London commissioned Play: Antarctica about these experiences.

In 1997 he co-founded the pop group Cousteau, which made 300,000 sales worldwide and gained a gold disc. Singing Ringing Buoy, an installation at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall (2007-8), was shortlisted for the 2005 PRS New Music Award.

The spring edition of the International Journal of Performing Arts and Digital Media, co-curated and edited by Craig and Dr Aine Sheil from the University of York, will highlight other work by composers and performance makers experimenting with music and theatre. This special edition will be dedicated to ‘Digital Opera: New means and new meanings’.


Posted on Tuesday 27th March 2012

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