Einstein on the beach

Already before launching the first preparations, a basic principle of the staging was established: everything will be steered and controlled by the music. Video projections, stage action or use of lighting should not only illustrate the music but should be linked with it in real time: the continuous, subtle variations and phase-shifts of the music, as well as its individual layers and elements, are translated into visual impulses. The production, therefore, gains an element of proper synesthesia and allows the perception of time and space to become relative – aptly fitting to the hypnotic music and to the character of Albert Einstein.

Director of Artistic Development and Visual Experience Design

Kay Voges' directorial debut of Philip Glass' opera, Einstein on the Beach, at the Dortmund Opera House in 2017, was a revolutionary milestone in American avant-garde and Minimal Music. The production's central principle was that everything would be guided and controlled by the music, creating a synesthetic experience that rendered time and space relative. Video projections, stage action, and lighting were not merely illustrations of the music but were linked with it in real time, translating its subtle variations and phase-shifts into visual impulses.

To achieve this unity of music, language, and visuals, the team developed specialized software, including several shader applications that utilized up to 100,000 simultaneous processes to generate effects, outlines, shapes, and textures for the projected video data, all meticulously timed to the rhythm of the music. The musical director's movements were captured by a Kinect camera, then transformed into distorted 3D video signals, while the choir's text was synchronized with projected film footage.

Moreover, virtual landscapes and point clouds with over 50 million data points were projected in real-time using an OpenGL-Renderer developed by Ullrich and mathematician Dr. Frank Génot. These virtual effigies were triggered by the structure of Glass' music, such as Italian landscapes in the piece Train or an apparent helicopter flight through the giant, virtual skyline of the Japanese city Osaka.

The production's aesthetics and philosophy were further enhanced by the fraying of the video image of the conductor, exclusively digital cityscapes, and costume design by Mona Ulrich, which evoked animals and post-human cyborgs. The fading humanist era and the notion of human art in a mechanical, non-human fashion were recurring themes in the multi-hour performance. This concept was also present in the "Nano Flight" videos, which reconstructed 2D electron-microscopic footage to 3D based on pixel movements and color changes.

The video signals were projected onto a large screen on stage, as well as onto six transparent curtains of surgery tubes via front projection, embedded into the stage. The control interface allowed individual curtains to be moved spontaneously or along predicted, programmed directions within the stage's rail system.

Vision for Einstein on the Beach

The production's central principle was that everything would be guided and controlled by the music

The production received critical acclaim, winning the 2017 critics poll of Welt am Sonntag NRW for the best contemporary opera production in the state. It was also ranked #1 in the renowned nachtkritik.de charts during its six-week run. The WAZ newspaper likened the performance to:

"A perfectly built, non-addictive but tremendously well-working drug trip. It’s a happening that dives through countless cultural layers and ends with a wonderful place of rest."