Opera North’s groundbreaking trailer for this spine-chilling tale explores the creative potential for immersive storytelling through digital technology.
The trailer is the result of a collaboration between creative studio Lusion, composer James Bulley, Audio Lab at York University – and the Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North. Bringing together spatial recordings made at Yorkshire Sculpture Park with visuals by Lusion’s Edan Kwan and Fred Briolet, it captures the haunting nature of Benjamin Britten’s opera and the Henry James psychological horror.
XR Stories has made this one of their first projects, with £15 million of investment by partners in the creative and cultural industries and universities in the region, including the University of York, as well as the Arts and Humanities Research Council, British Film Institute and Screen Yorkshire. Such close collaborations aim to ensure that Yorkshire and the Humber region becomes the UK’s centre of expertise in digital screen storytelling.
The process started with Opera North’s musicians and singers recording excerpts from the opera in isolation. The recordings were taken, on a suitably foggy day, to the Sculpture Park, where a different location was used for each chapter of the trailer, positioning eight speakers across the 500-acre site. The product of this exercise is impressive, as described by James Bulley:
“You pass the Governess and Mrs Grose, and hear the children in the distance. As you continue, the two women move behind you and your focus shifts to the children. Crucially you also get the distinctive imprint of the sound heard in the exterior space at that time of day: the mist rising off the water and the acoustic effect of that; the bird calls and the noise of the weir.
Lusion have done an incredible job in creating a visual world for the sonic material to live within. Working from GPS markers, Google Maps, photographs, film and our notes, Edan and Fred closely modelled the visuals on the locations that we recorded at. The team at the University of York have really integrated the recordings within the virtual environment, shaping and crafting the audio into the setting, so the way in which the music bonds to the landscape is quite extraordinary. It’s something quite other, unlike anything I’ve ever seen, with moments of real beauty.”
Edan Kwan, Creative Developer and founder of Lusion, said:
“This was definitely one of the most challenging projects we have ever worked on. In order to find the fine line between abstraction and reality for the visuals, we had to experiment with different real-time rendering techniques such as real-time reflection/refraction, particle system and real-time light tracing. We worked closely with James and the team from the University of York to bring the high quality spatial audio to life on a level that we have never experienced before. We are very happy with the outcome of the collaboration, and it was a wonderful experience to work together with such a talented creative team.”
Composer and sound artist James Bulley comments:
“The finished work goes far beyond what any of us imagined, and the process has taught all of us a great deal: in terms of techniques for recording spatialized music, there wasn’t really a reference point for us when we began work on the project.
This feels like the beginning of something that could be very interesting in lots of different ways. It’s particularly fascinating for opera, because there’s such strong narrative within the singing. When you place the singers within a landscape and record them in such a way that is sympathetic to the storytelling, it produces a sense of the narrative that isn’t possible in fixed scenarios such as the conventional recording studio, or even the opera house.”
Jo Nockels, Head of Projects, Opera North, comments:
“This was a truly exciting project to be involved in. Working with the incredible combination of the University of York’s Audiolab, Lusion and James Bulley has enabled us to push technology into new creative shapes, resulting in a trailer that draws out all the mystery and eerie beauty of Britten’s music in a brand new and immersive way. We hope that it piques the interest of new audiences to see the opera itself”.
The Turn of the Screw immersive trailer can be experienced at operanorth.co.uk/turn-of-the-screw-immersive-trailer now. A good pair of headphones is recommended for the best possible experience. Note that the processing requirements of the piece mean that it cannot be accessed on mobile devices.
For more details and booking, visit operanorth.co.uk or contact Box Office on 0113 2233600.
Photographs provided by Opera North. Those in colour are by Lusion.