The Algae Opera (2012 -)

An opera singer is transformed with biotechnology to form a unique relationship with algae.
The algae, which are a photosynthetic plant-like organism, feeds on the carbon dioxide in the singer’s breath. As an important future food source, the singer’s algae can also be eaten. Alongside listening to her music, the audience can also taste her song. To increase the growth of the algae the body of the singer is trained to use her extraordinary large lung capacity to produce the highest quality algae-product. The composition of the song and the singer’s vocal technique are redesigned to specifically produce algae and enrich its taste. To do this, the composer and singer use the new science of sonic enhancement of food where different pitches and frequencies make food taste either bitter or sweet.

So in the age of biotechnology not only can the audience listen to her talent but they can also savor her unique blend of algae that are enriched by her song.

   
Photograph by Matt Mcquillan

 

The role of transformation in The Algae Opera is a physical and cultural one. We identified the opera singer as the perfect body morphology for the production of algae. The singer’s large lung capacity was perfect to exhale the maximum CO2 to feed the algae. To facilitate the process further, the singer, Louise Ashcroft, worked with composer, Gameshow Outpatient, to re-design her singing technique.

The opera aspect of the piece was a second crucial component as we wanted to explore some exciting new research like that carried out by Charles Spence, Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford called sonic food enhancement. Gameshow Outpatient and Louise re-designed many conventional operatic techniques. Gameshow Outpatient’s Matt Rogers described the process as:

“We wanted to create a vocal ritual overtly focused on breath as much as singing, since breath is a fundamental connection between singer and algae, with breath control a technical fundament of singing itself. With this in mind we revisited traditional singing techniques to make explicit the role of breath and breath control in them, the impact on tone colour and stamina for example, seeking to explore 'fragility' as much as 'strength'. We wanted the piece to represent an imaginary 'folk' music, born of a Human/Algae symbiote culture where breath itself is the revered symbol of existence.”

 


Performance at V&A, 22nd September 2012

 


Photograph by Matt Mcquillan

 

Louise’s role as a singer was also re-examined and she reflects on the process:

“I have to make a significant shift in the use of breath.  The algae mask captures CO2 to grow the algae and requires a non-reflexive breath cycle to maximise CO2 output.  This means the singer needs to take the breath cycle to the point of collapse. In today’s opera tradition, this type of breath cycle is considered inefficient and undesirable due to the issues surrounding sustainability and aesthetic. However, in The Algae Opera, a breath cycle based on a point of collapse is considered efficient and ultimately desirable, for it produces more algae. 

In terms of the sonic enhancement of the algae, our relationship to pitch, tone and vocal colour also changes. Tone and colour in the algae framework is no longer linked just to text and texture, but also to flavour. What this means for me as a trained singer, is that I have to re-think technique, the purpose of the voice and explore a new vocal aesthetic to ensure that an algae sound creates food to feed you and me.”


Performance at V&A, 22nd September 2012

 

As shown in the diagram, the algae suit/mask works by pumping CO2 from the singer to the algae in the tanks. With a little fertilizer the algae feed and grow.
Over a couple of performances the algae population is sufficient enough to harvest.

In the opera piece, a chef strains the algae and uses it to make a sushi-like meal that is fed to the audience.
The two acts of the opera are composed to consist of sound pitches to enhance the audience’s taste of bitterness and sweetness as they eat.
As such, they consume the performer’s talent.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Performance dates

6 September 2014
for EYE Nights as part of BEYOND BIENNIAL at EYE, Amsterdam

18, 19th May 2013
as part of Dulwich festival for project Co.Futures
@ 6 Havelock Walk, Forest Hill
Performances at 14:00, 15:00, 16:00 & 17:00

22, 23rd September 2012
As part of the Digital Design Weekend at the V&A
Performances at 14:00, 15:00, 16:00 & 17:00

 

 

Credits

Director, Producer and Artists:
Michael Burton and Michiko Nitta

Composer
Gameshow Outpatient

Mezzo-Soprano
Louise Ashcroft

Actor
Samuel Lewis


See also

Louise's journal blog Sitting next to the future

Algaculture project

Algaculture and Algae Opera press list

 

 

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