The Johns Hopkins Gazette: November 8, 1999
November 8, 1999
VOL. 29, NO. 11


Making Millennium Music

Times Square event will ring in New Year to sounds from Peabody

Public Information Office
Peabody Institute

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Times Square will welcome the new year, century and millennium with an original work by a Peabody Conservatory composer, performed by a solo artist creating the sound of a symphony of instruments with a "Virtual Orchestra" also developed at Peabody.

As New York's famous New Year's Eve ball plummets toward the turn of the millennium, Charles Kim's "Anthem for the Millennium" will be conjured as if from thin air by Peabody computer music artist-in-residence Forrest Tobey, standing alone on a stage in Times Square armed only with a pair of infrared light-emitting wands.

Both Kim, 27, and Tobey, 44, are double-degree graduates of Peabody. Kim also holds a computer science degree from the Whiting School of Engineering.

The computer music group takes a break from working almost round the clock to meet deadlines for the Times Square celebration. Back row, from the left: Geoffrey Wright, Forrest Tobey, David Wetzel, Charles Kim. Front row: Jer Walter, Gustavo de Andrede, Larry Schugam and Sumi Yun.

Tobey, a composer, conductor and creator of the Virtual Orchestra software, will reach the wands into the open air surrounding him. Each movement will activate and play noncorporeal instruments, generating a live, note-by-note and chord-by-chord performance of the work chosen in a national competition to be the last music heard in Times Square in the old millennium.

The performance will combine the gestural expressiveness of a symphony conductor with the physical excitement and exertion of a percussionist and the subtle movements of a t'ai chi practitioner. Tobey treats the computer as an expressive instrument that responds to the subtleties of his physical movements, just as if he were playing a violin or a piano.

Employing his software to translate gesture into sound, Tobey creates a host of virtual instruments, some of which resemble traditional instruments and others that are new and unique.

Downward strikes may conjure up a marimba. Sideway flourishes may call forth the sound of a tree of hanging bells. Still other spatial gestures play elaborate melodies on hybrid instruments of breath and electricity. The location, direction and speed of the baton through space are tracked by an infrared receiver and translated into digital information sent to a computer. The light-emitting batons are part of a unique musical instrument known as the Lightning, developed by Don Buchla and Associates of Berkeley, Calif. Buchla has custom redesigned his device to withstand the intense signal saturation of Times Square.

The 24 hours of New Year's Eve festivities currently being developed by the Times Square Business Improvement District, which owns the One Times Square building and its New Year's Eve ball, will be televised to an estimated audience of up to 50 million in the United States alone and more than a billion around the world.

With a running crew of 1,000; more than 400 dancers, actors, musicians and puppeteers; scores of multimedia special effects; hourly celebrations; and a glittering new New Year's Eve ball that is 6 feet in diameter and weighs 1,070 pounds, Times Square 2000: The Global Celebration at the Crossroads of the World will be the largest New Year's celebration ever held in Times Square's 95-year history.

The world premiere of Charles Kim's "Anthem for the Millennium" will begin at four minutes to midnight on Dec. 31, with the millions expected in Times Square surrounding a stage on which Tobey will stand alone. The heroic sounds of "Anthem for the Millennium" are a blend of old and new, featuring a combination of the Peabody Institute's magni-ficent Holtkamp organ played on a recording by Peabody faculty member Donald Sutherland and the Peabody Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Hajime Teri Murai, with the new timbres and textures of an electronic orchestration with the Virtual Orchestra.

The Times Square Business Improvement District was attracted to using Peabody's Virtual Orchestra because of its mix of high-tech sophistication and amazing human expressiveness. The Virtual Orchestra demonstrates how, in the next millennium, computers will be used more and more for creative purposes.

"The performance of the Virtual Orchestra worked well with my vision to present an artistic, human face of technology as we all pass over horizons to the future," says Geoff Puckett, creative producer of Times Square 2000. "In this form, the computer becomes a single instrument, masquerading as many, and the conductor, in turn, masquerades as a symphonic magician."

Tobey's own original compositions for the Virtual Orchestra will also be heard at Times Square, including a work titled "Times Circle," to be performed at the 7 a.m. EST launch of the 24-hour show. The composition's theme mirrors BID's plans to travel by satellite television round the globe as the new millennium dawns in each of the world's 24 time zones. As the first zones to celebrate the New Year include Pacific islands like Fiji, New Guinea and Australia, Tobey's composition begins with aborigine-type instruments evoking drums and hollow logs and moves through an ethnic spectrum to Debussy-like sounds of Western classical music.

"From my initial meeting with Forrest Tobey, I felt his wide-ranging, intricate knowledge of world instrumental sounds and their specific arrangements would complement my overall concept for a place that reintroduced the world to itself by electronic means," says Puckett, president of EffectsDesign Inc. and a former Disney Imagineer. "Throughout our collaboration, I've had no doubt that Times Square would become that very place."

Because this millennial celebration takes place in America, BID requested that the Virtual Orchestra also play something uniquely American. Tobey therefore will perform Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man." (The Aaron Copland Centenary is also being celebrated in the year 2000.) By arrangement with the Aaron Copland Foundation, Copland's most famous work of the old century, which has become "America's other anthem," will be conducted live on virtual instruments. "Times Circle" will end on an open chord, before Tobey launches into the stirring opening notes of the "Fanfare."

Enormous technological sophistication and logistical support are required to perform live at Times Square on New Year's Eve, with all the potential hazards of weather, massed crowds and electronic interference. Making the sound of the Virtual Orchestra work on an outdoor stage in an arena of skyscraper buildings with the necessary split-second timing "is the computer music equivalent," jokes Peabody team member David Wetzel, "of Evil Knievel jumping the Snake River Canyon." In fact, though the in-house name for the Virtual Orchestra is HECtor, for Highly Expressive Conductor, Tobey jokes that it also stands for Hugely Egotistical Conductor Taking Outrageous Risks.

HECtor is named after composer Hector Berlioz, who was the first to use technology to cue a backstage chorus during an opera performance.

Wetzel, a Peabody graduate, is helping Tobey program the individual "virtual players." The midnight Times Square Peabody performance, and others throughout the BID broadcast from Times Square, is under the artistic direction of Geoffrey Wright, director of Peabody's Computer Music Department and of its Technology Transfer Office.

Peabody's Tobey, Kim, Wetzel and Wright; Goucher College technical assistant Jer Walter; and intern Gustavo C. De Andrede will team up in Times Square with another Baltimore group, this one from Maryland Sound Corp., led by the firm's president, Robert Goldstein. The company will provide a 16-channel sound system.

The Peabody team will take up residence at Times Square from the night of Dec. 30 and work around the clock. A crowd of more than 50,000 people is expected to gather in Times Square even before dawn on Dec. 31, swelling to several million by midnight to usher in 2000 in the Eastern Time Zone.

"With Forrest's live appearances across the 24-hour event, I have created very special moments where the Virtual Orchestra will highlight emotional crescendos," said Puckett, the producer of the pageantry of Times Square 2000. "The image of a real person weaving a web of sonic threads--and the resulting live human response--will carry a message that all creativity truly starts with a single gesture. Essentially, the 'instrument barrier' is removed and people communicate directly with people in a language everyone understands."

Peabody's Computer Music Consort, featuring Forrest Tobey and his Virtual Orchestra, will perform at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 10, at the Maryland Science Center. Admission is free but call 410-545-2983 to reserve tickets.

'Times Square 2000':
Key appearances of the Virtual Orchestra

The Virtual Orchestra, developed by Forrest Tobey at the Peabody Institute, will perform at key points during the 24-hour festivities at New York's Times Square as the world counts down to Jan. 1, 2000. At press time, exact timing was being worked out, but the orchestra was scheduled to appear as follows.

6:50 a.m., Dec. 31
Opening ceremony: Raising of the ball above Times Square, marking Earth's first turn into the new millennium. Forrest Tobey's original music composition "Times Circle" will lead into Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," both conducted by Tobey live with the Virtual Orchestra.

3:45 p.m.
Ceremonial lighting of Times Square at dusk with music from the Virtual Orchestra.

11:45 p.m.
Introduction of New York City mayor Rudolph Guiliani. Peabody composer Charles Kim's "Anthem for the Millennium," conducted by Forrest Tobey with the Virtual Orchestra, will be performed in the last three minutes before the one-minute countdown to the new year. "Anthem for the Millennium," which will be prerecorded Nov. 19 by the Peabody Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Hajime Teri Murai, features Donald Sutherland on Peabody's Holtkamp organ.

7 a.m., Jan. 1, 2000
Closing ceremony.