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Divine show control at London’s National Theatre with Eos Ti and OSC

Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith

What color is the voice of a deity? This was the synesthetic question faced by the design team at London's National Theatre in their production of  Everyman , a new adaptation of the classic fifteenth-century morality play. This isn't your medieval-ancestors' staging of  Everyman. Carol Ann Duffy's adaptation recasts the play as a critique of the prodigal present, as a modern Everyman (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is forced to confront his solipsism, materialism and wasteful ways in the face of imminent death. The National's production, directed by Rufus Norris with lighting design by Paul Anderson, set design by Ian MacNeil, video design by Tal Rosner and sound design by Paul Arditti, uses a synthesis of up-to-the-moment technology to present its new interpretation. 

At the beginning of the play, God - who takes the form of a cleaning woman - becomes fed up with the self-centered wastefulness of humanity after a run-in with a drunken, reveling Everyman. To convey the divine omnipotence of this seemingly unassuming character, the creative team decided that parameters of the animated video projections should respond to the sound of the performer's voice.

"The pitch of the voice might change, say the color of the video, or the volume might change how fast it was moving," explains Dan Murfin, the lighting control supervisor at The National. "Every time they said a word, you would get a flash of video and change color in time with the speech. So that was the start of it, and then we thought - well how do we actually do that?"

Luckily, the National is a beta-test site for ETC's Eos® software, and Murfin was able to use features in the new v2.3 software and an Eos Ti® desk to solve the team's interdisciplinary dilemma. The software update enables data to be sent and received via OSC (Open Sound Control), a networking protocol developed at Berkley in the early 2000s for electronic music performance. The protocol is increasingly used across show-control disciplines, because - unlike MIDI - it allows for bidirectional communication and control between devices.

"MIDI is quite a blunt instrument," remarks Murfin. "All you're able to do is to say 'go now.' Whereas the advantage of OSC is that it can get feedback. You're able to query things - 'if this, then go to cue.'"  

The team uses a program called Ableton Live to turn the parameters of the actor's voice into OSC commands in real time. Those commands are then sent into Eos, which applies them to parameters in the Catalyst video server. "Anything you can analyze within the sound - you can map that to anything.  You could map the volume to the color," says Murfin.

Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith

The addition of OSC capability in Eos has allowed the team to centralize their control and content-creation workflow. "In the past," Murfin explains, "you would set everything up in Catalyst, and then trigger it using Eos. Now, Catalyst is managing getting the content onto the projectors, but all of the artistic side - the cueing, what content is displayed on what layer, the intensity, the color - all those things are directly manipulated through Eos."  

As technology develops, the tech process is also changing. "You've got the ability to control each other's systems, which is something we've never really had before," says Murfin. "You have to talk a lot more when you're in production, because the sound is now directly impacting the creativity of the video. If the sound turns the volume up on an output, it could change the color of the video." With the video and the lighting integrated, Murfin adds, a single operator can run both elements of the show.

Murfin is eager to explore more applications of Eos' new OSC capability, from integration of lights, video and sound on upcoming shows to the use of custom applications that utilize OSC to interact with the lighting system. "Anyone can develop an app that can do anything. We can now have a bit of software that documents your rig which can talk directly to Eos. Every time you make a change on Eos to the patch, that information can be reflected in your documentation without any import or export."

"The possibilities are pretty much limitless."

To download the new Eos v2.3 software update, visit https://www.etcconnect.com/Products/Consoles/Eos-Family/Eos-Ti/Software.aspx . To learn more about OSC programming with Eos, check out the updated Eos Family Show Control User Guide, available for download at https://www.etcconnect.com/Products/Consoles/Eos-Family/Eos-Ti/Documentation.aspx .

Photo credits: Richard Hubert Smith