Joe Mattingly: Final Project

Final Creative / Research Project Proposal

Submitted Sept. 22, 2015

• Working Title: An Ethnography of Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir.

note - the term Virtual Choir, when in italics refers to Whitacre's project; when not italicized is used as a generic term for any similar project or experience

• Description of project:

Eric Whitacre is a choral composer deeply embedded in the internet Internet age. His works have been performed internationally to critical acclaim, and he has garnered numerous awards, including a Grammy Award for best choral recording in 2012 for the album Light & Gold. Among his many projects is the Virtual Choir. This project consisted of a choir recording comprised of 185 singers from throughout the world, all contributing via the internet in a collaborative choral recording (and video) of Whitacre’s composition Lux Aurumque. Since the first Virtual Choir in 2010, Whitacre has repeated the project three more times. My ethnographic study of Whitacre’s project will explore and contrast the Virtual Choir with a more traditional choral experience. Areas to be explored will include:

  1. Virtual choral singing vs. traditional choral singing.
  2. The social bond of choral singing: virtual vs. live.
  3. Audience and exposure: the traditional choral concert vs. the you-tube phenomenon.
  4. The role of the conductor online vs. live.
  5. Audience as performer – a blurring of the line.
  6. The experience of the performer online vs. live.

This study will focus on a number of issues relevant to the material in Music and Cyber-culture:

  1. Music, specifically choral music, as an online experience.
  2. The collaborative assembly of a musical choral ensemble via technological means – essentially, we can compare a virtual choir in some respects to the creation of music via other mechanical and technological systems: digital and analog recording, player piano technology, synthesis, etc. Thus in some respects each singer in the virtual choir, although a living human, functions as a piece of technology, with their purpose being to contribute or “synthesize” their role into the whole.
  3. Garage Band creates new works by assembling small components (i.e., loops, audio files, etc.) into a composite. The virtual choir functions similarly. How do these systems compare and contrast?
  4. In professional recording situations, performers, whether paid or not, typically sign releases that free the composer, record company, publisher, etc. from any future financial obligation to those performers. How was this handled in the case of the Virtual Choir, if at all? Whitacre is obviously benefitting from this project; do the members of the Virtual Choir sign releases? Do they receive royalties, percentages or points?
  5. To what extent is the Virtual Choir an example of ‘virtual collaboration’? Compositionally the work is Whitacre’s, but clearly each individual performer, as in any choir, contributes their energy and experience into the whole.

In addition, this study will relate to my concomitant research and creative work:

  1. Research into academic writing and commentary on Whitacre and the Virtual Choir.
  2. Research into online commentary (i.e., blogs) regarding Whitacre and the Virtual Choir.
  3. Exploration of spin-off projects, whether those of Whitacre or other artists and composers. Was Whitacre the first to create this style of virtual collaboration? Who were his sources? Did he model this project after the work of others?
  4. Creatively, my goal is to construct, albeit on a more modest scale, a virtual choir of my own. Using a simple work of my own, I plan to enlist the talents of 5-10 singers and create a similar project.

• Description of methodology:

The methodology will include (although not necessarily in this order) the following:

  1. Research into any literature, academic writings, reviews, etc. regarding the following:
    1. Eric Whitacre.
    2. Virtual Choir.
    3. Online musical collaborative systems and processes.
    4. Choral singing as a social experience.
  2. Sources for the above will include:
    1. Books, journals, reviews (specifically of Whitacre).
    2. Blogs relevant to the Virtual Choir.
    3. Interviews (if possible) of those involved in the Virtual Choir.
    4. You-tube YouTube videos.
    5. Websites: Whitacre, choral singing websites, etc.
  3. Composition of a work suitable for virtual treatment:
    1. Create the work.
      1. A simple, tonal work (to increase participation).
      2. Basic accompaniment.
      3. Inclusion of pdfs of basic choral harmonies.
      4. Lead sheets with guitar chords and basic dynamics and musical directions.
    2. Recruit the singers (via social media).
    3. Receive and mix wav files, videos, etc.
  4. Assembly of the research and composition into the final submission and presentation.

• Description of proposal for final submission:

The final submission will include two parts:

  1. A research based paper, including a thesis based on that research and the Virtual Choir experience.
  2. A multimedia component recreating, on a small scale, the Virtual Choir.

• Description of proposal for final presentation:

The final presentation will include:

  1. Highlights of the research, including questions posed and how the research answered.
  2. Examination of Whitacre’s Virtual Choir, both the substance and process.
  3. Multimedia presentation of an original virtual experience.
  4. Comparison of the two experiences (Whitacre : Mattingly).
  5. Conclusions – is this the future of choral music?
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