The "Chandelier"

by Steven Pliam

A New Musical Instrument for an Opera of the Future

The developing design of a musical chandelier will be a central set piece in a new opera by Tod Machover called "Death and the Powers." The chandelier is both a sculptural object which embodies several important ideas in the opera and a new kind of musical instrument. Much of the thinking that went into the design has been concerned with the impact that the chandelier, as a prominent physical presence, would have as a performance object. It is designed to move and change shape in order to coordinate with narrative and musical material consisted in the opera. The result of this design, it is hoped, will contribute significantly to the overall operatic experience through giving physical form to these ideas. The evolution of the chandelier design connects closely with the work of others whose influence is felt throughout the entire set design. Some of these artists would include Naum Gabo, Louise Nevelson, Rachel Whiteread, and Georgia O'keeffe. Much of their work deals with certain themes such as birth and rebirth, negative space, organic consciousness, and metamorphosis, all of which are important for this opera.

Another significant aspect of this set piece is that it physically produces musical sounds through electromagnetic excitation and other actuated stimulation of piano-like strings. Steven Pliam and Mike Fabio have collaborated very closely to research new ways of generating sound physically using many long and possibly interfering strings. The notion of an extended timbral range rather than the more conventional control of a distinct set of pitches is emphasized.

[Click HERE to see movie of concept]

[Click HERE to see movie of current design]

[Click HERE to see movie of physical model]   [larger]

[Click HERE to see movie of the "Death and the Powers" set]

Sonic Mock-up of the Chandelier

[Click HERE to see and hear sounds of the mock-up]

[Click HERE to see movie of mock-up]
Building the Opera Set Blog
Death and the Powers
The "Chandelier" Project
Masters Thesis of Steven Pliam

contact: pliam [at] alum [dot] mit [dot] edu