Over 100 artists and composers are lined up to perform live as part of a 48-hour continuous webcast, the crowning moment thus far of composer William Duckworth‘s Cathedral 2001 project. This festival of music on the Internet, which will run November 30 through December 2, will circle the globe, featuring live performances from New York to Sydney.
The live webcast is just one element of Duckworth and Co-artistic Director Nora Farrell’s Cathedral Project — an innovative Web site that fuses virtual, acoustic, and interactive music with visual art.
Since it defies linear description, Duckworth draws an analogy between the site and a large medieval cathedral. “It takes 500 years to build it, but people start using it almost immediately and it’s a place where the community can join in.” In this instance, it’s taken five not 500 years to get the Cathedral up and running.
All of this began as a piece for singers and multimedia intended for live performance, but it took a turn while Duckworth and Farrell were visiting STEIM in Amsterdam in 1996. “We decided over the course of that week that the best place for Cathedral would be on the Web,” Duckworth explains. “And we more or less sketched the whole thing out, including the big 48-hour webcast that’s coming up next month.”
Though the project carries Duckworth’s name, it has developed into such a collaboration that he and Farrell (who also happens to be his wife), share the title of co-artistic director. In theory, Duckworth says, “I handle the music and Nora handles the art and the programmingÖBut in reality we sit here and talk about it all the time so she has a big influence on the music and I have a big influence on what it looks like.”
The site itself is built on a foundation of five “moments” from history — the groundbreaking for Chartres Cathedral, the detonation of the first atomic bomb, the building of the Great Pyramid, the founding of the World Wide Web, and the beginning of the Native American Ghost Dance Religion. The site explains that “these particular five were chosen because they represent issues of ongoing importance; events that, though not yet fully understood, are likely to effect the future. The moments themselves are designed as places to encourage contemplation and reflection about these five visionary events in human history.”
Each page on the site is accompanied by original music. The user is encouraged to wander around the site, following no particular path, so the musical experience is more akin to exploring a gallery as opposed to attending a performance.
The acoustic pieces featured on the site are being integrated through webcasts, eight of which have already occurred. On top of that, the site also includes virtual instruments and an animated book that includes the 32 inspirational texts for Cathedral.
“It’s really a piece of music that’s 49 pieces of music — 32 electronic, 12 chamber pieces, some of which use the virtual instruments featured on the site, and 5 orchestra pieces including one for Javanese gamelan,” Duckworth explains.
Farrell adds that “what I’m trying to do visually is support Bill’s music in something beyond a music video sense, so with this site we’re trying to create an area of reflection and contemplation,” a place where “you can sit with the music, watch some visuals, and hopefully be pulled into the whole site.”
Duckworth tries to simplify the Cathedral Project even further. “It’s the umbrella, it’s the festival, and it’s also a work of music and art on the web.”
During the 48-hour marathon webcast, users will be able to watch the concerts or access the 32 pieces for Cathedral by Duckworth, explore other pages on the site (all of which also have musical accompaniment), play with the PitchWeb, a virtual instrument (programmed by Jon Child) that Duckworth will also be playing in the Cathedral Band, or explore links to other interactive pieces, some specifically created for the Cathedral project.
Farrell has coordinated the technical end of the webcast and built most of the Cathedral site. The project has resulted in “a lot of lost sleep,” she acknowledges, but points out that “what’s been really wonderful about this whole project is that the technology has been keeping pace with us.” Whenever they were in danger of being limited by the technology, a newer version of a program would be released. “It’s been literally lockstep with technologic developments in sound. So we’ve been basically pushing the envelope as much as we can.”
Farrell is confident that they have the technical challenges of the webcast well under control. In addition to the technical crew on hand at the venues, Akamai, an Internet content delivery service, will have a three-person technical staff monitoring the event. Past webcasts have averaged between 2,000 and 4,000 viewers. Duckworth and Farrell are expecting 5,000 at each concert event, and can accommodate 100,000 people over the course of the weekend.
Ultimately, the site has accomplished what she and Duckworth set out to accomplish. “At the time and even more so now, as everyone got very excited about the Internet, no one was talking about art,” she points out. “It was all about commerce, all sorts of marketing kinds of things.
“We felt like we needed to get out there and at least say this is possible as well.”