Secret Garden

Secret Garden A Virtual Reality Hybrid Opera Interactive installation.

Secret Garden Documentary

Introduction Secret Garden is an attempt to recreate a contemporary version of the Eden myth in the midst of an urban environment. It will ultimately be available in two versions –a physical installation and as a virtual mobile experience linked to selected site locations. In its current manifestation as a digital installation, it consists of eleven mounted iPads acting as virtual viewports that are positioned in a circle in centrally in the gallery space. Peering into one of the viewports triggers a view of an idyllic three-dimensional scene in the ‘Secret Garden’ that tells part of the mythical story of the Fall, through words, music and dance.  The Fall story is common to many of the world’s religions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The structure of Secret Garden is loosely modelled on the ten paths of the Sephirot in the Jewish telling of the story, which is itself also a symbol of the Tree of Life and the oldest extant version.

The texts comprise of original poems that tell this classic story in a timeless and relevant way, examining choices in a fallen world. Two contemporary human figures re-enact the story of the Fall, combining sung poetry and video vignettes with 3D generated environments, each scene dis­tributed to a different one of the eleven iPad viewports. The viewer’s interaction with the scene triggers both music and dance. They visit each scene in any order, inciting a gradual assembly of elements of a story in the user’s mind.

The musical composition is adaptive and features vocal settings and digitally treated percussion. The virtual scenography consists of 3D designs based on an idealised garden space, inspired by the 19th century Mezzotints for Milton’s Paradise Lost by John Martin.  The story is mysterious and mythical in nature, however, it is not necessary to see the viewports in any particular order, and a partial viewing will also provide a complete experience in itself.

Visual design Motion Capture on a Vicon system was used with professional dancers and improvised Choreography fpr each scene. The motion mapping was completed in Maya using 3D skeletal models skinned with a star image of the visible universe and transferred into  a UNITY landscape modeled by the Artist.

Music composition and sound design The music comprises of eleven songs, scored for one or two voices (soprano/tenor) and accompanied by tuned gongs and crotales. The songs, composed by Andrew Hugill are settings of the original poems by Martin Rieser that provide the basic scenario of ‘Secret Garden’. In addition, there is an extended ambient soundscape that comprises spectrally processed gong and crotale sounds. This is played at low level in the room to provide atmosphere. Whereas the songs last several minutes each, the soundscape evolves steadily over several hours. The composition of the music was constrained by the requirement that each of the eleven songs could be triggered at any given moment and in any order, giving 22 potential layers of randomly timed polyphony. An additional self-imposed constraint was the number symbology associated with the Sephirot. A hexatonic gamut provided the basic scale, but stretched over several octaves and with some inflections to provide moments of variation. It was important that the effect should be pleasing, while at the same time containing enough contrast to retain interest.

As an audience member engages with a scene, they hear in the foreground the song that is native to their current position through headphones. Also present within their personal sound environment is the faint, often peripheral indication of other audience members viewing scenes at other viewport locations. This level of the sound design, which acts as an acknowledgment of the ebbing and flowing of user engagement, attempts to locate sound based spatially on their actual location in the virtual scenography. Achieving this in practice required the construction of a convincing three-dimensional sound environment and a robust communication framework between the iPad devices. Initially, songs were recorded in an acoustically neutral space in the MTI research centre at DMU. They were then binaurally reproduced at the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery using a loudspeaker and dummy head setup.

The resultant spatialised songs are therefore now distributed through headphone in the Cube using a combination of Max/MSP and Abelton Live. To implement networking between the iPad locations and the audio engine, a communication routine was established that encoded touch events on the devices as a UDP/Open Sound Control signal and delivered them to a central sound management system. In practice the technological setup allows the music to adapt intuitively to the interaction of the users. The sound design aspects are a product of a collaboration between Andrew Hugill and Lee Scott

 The Institute Of Creative Technologies (IOCT) at De Montfort University (DMU) supported the project. The IOCT specialises in cross-disciplinary working that combines science and technology with the arts and humanities. The project draws on expertise from the Faculties of Art & Design, Humanities and Technology, including the Fused Media Lab (for the virtual scenography), the Architecture Department (for the physical build of the installation), students on the Games Design degree (for the interactivity) and the Music, Technology and Innovation Research Centre (for the music). Management is provided by Professor Andrew Hugill (Director of the IOCT) and Professor Martin Rieser (Professor of Digital Creativity), who are the creators of Secret Garden.

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 Installed at Phoenix


Motion Capture

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Scenes from avatar performances


Music: Andrew Hugill

Concept, script, design, direction, visuals: Martin Rieser

Technical Realisation: Jamie Shaw, Lee Scott , Agne Tilingaite, Eric Tatham

Singers: Angharad Thomas, James Atherton,

Dancers: Brendan Handsford, Ariane Barnes