Charlotte's Ulysses Festival focuses on technology in the arts

04/05/2013 12:00 AM

04/05/2013 9:47 AM

With the way technology permeates our culture, it comes as no surprise that arts organizations have tapped modern platforms to present opera, symphonic music and visual arts.

Charlotte’s Ulysses spring arts festival has embraced the role these platforms play, evident from their 2013 theme, “Brave New Worlds: Technology and Art.”

Local arts groups planned to begin presenting performances Thursday evening with a panel discussion, “Technology & Art: Gimmick or Transformation?” at UNC Charlotte Center City. Other performances include two symphony events and Opera Carolina’s “The Pearl Fishers.”

Ulysses began in 2012 after similar programming between the opera and symphony illuminated the potential for a themed festival.

The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra uses technology as an avenue into contemporary music. Their KnightSounds concert features works that involve electronic sounds. For instance, Mason Bates’ “Warehouse Medicine from The B-Sides” plants a DJ with a laptop among the strings, cuing pre-created tracks with the orchestral score.

The symphony also incorporates technology into the audience’s response with “tweet seats” at Knight Theater. Attendees can ask for the seats when they reserve their ticket and are invited to tweet during the performance, using hashtags #KnightSounds and #Ulyssesfest.

In their Tuesday performance of “Mill Village: A Piedmont Rhapsody,” a multimedia presentation accompanies musicians as they perform David Crowe’s work honoring the people who worked in mills. “I think the audience will experience a whole other layer of emotion drawn from seeing the images of mill towns,” said Tanya Davis Sparks, the symphony’s director of artistic planning. “There’s a separate level of connectivity, education and historical background.”

Opera Carolina general director James Meena sees this festival as a new opportunity for Charlotte audiences.

“If someone’s coming this year,” Meena said, “they can go to a lecture on digital technology and its use in design, and then if they go to a dance performance or opera, they’ll see that technology. Technology as a common thread gives us a platform for dialogue with audience that’s a little more in depth.”

Opera Carolina’s Ulysses performance of “The Pearl Fishers,” Bizet’s lesser-known opera, is set in ancient Ceylon. Traditional painted backdrops and scenery have been replaced with digital projections to give the distant land a more realistic representation.

“What projections allow us to do is change the visual elements as the story is progressing – something much harder to do with simple drops and lighting,” Meena said. “If the scene opens in the morning and ends in the evening, this scenery can now make that journey. It heightens the realism and helps make the art form more dramatic.”

The Light Factory’s exhibition, “Connected There but Not Always Here,” focuses on social media. Seven artists’ photographs and videos depict Facebook, Twitter and blogging as lifestyles, focusing on what participants look like interacting in cyber society.

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