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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir v2 unites the world through technology



Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir v2 "Sleep" video made it's debut Thursday night in New York and immediately was posted on YouTube. The video features stunning graphics that feature the 2052 singers floating in a celestial atmosphere, attached to gold globes representing the 58 countries with members of the choir. The globes are attached by shimmering strings of light that to me represent the fiber-optic cables and Internet on which the choir's performance, and modern society, are so dependent. At the center of it all is Whitacre, dressed in black, calmly and expressively conducting in the Virtual Choir's "Universe." The lyrics for the piece, a poem by Charles Anthony Sylvestri, fade in and out on screen throughout the video. The imagery creates a strong connection to Whitacre's #1 Billboard album, "Light and Gold," on which a professional performance of Sleep is included.

When you consider that this performance was made from 2052 videos with varying levels of quality and that it would be really difficult to get so many people to sing together even if they were on the same stage, the quality of the sound is really amazing. Yes, there are some flaws here and there. The composition uses the "s" consonant repeatedly and that produced some challenges with so many voices. Some entrances are a little slurred with "S,s,s,sleep" instead of a collective "S." In a few spots, mostly at the ends of musical phrases, individual voices can be heard hanging on past the cutoff (around 2:03 and 4:05). I'm sure these things could have been fixed to make the performance more perfect, but they weren't. To me this speaks to the integrity of Whitacre and the team who assembled the final piece. The Virtual Choir was open to anyone who wanted to sing with the promise they would be included if they sang their part, mistakes and all. And that's part of the charm of it, really.

During the live-streaming event from New York Thursday night, Whitacre said a core sound was produced using the audio tracks from a group of the best singers in the choir, and once that was established the remaining voices were added. The audio track was produced by Floating Earth in the United Kingdom.

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The video pans around showing closeups of the individual globes and shots of Whitacre conductiing, then as the piece reaches its climax the view pulls back (at about 3:42) to reveal three rings of singers encircling the connected globes. A slow zoom leads to panning from the center around the rings, giving each member of the choir a chance to find themselves, even if only for a second or two. As a video editor I continue to look at the graphics and know how much work it must have been to put the final video together. The concept and storyboarding were done by rehabstudio with graphics and digital production by Cake TV, both in London. The piece was produced using Adobe After Effects and the final video render took several days! A complete timeline for the project can be found here.

As for me, I was stunned to easily find myself about 22 seconds into the performance with some of those shimmering, fiber-optic cables seemingly emitting from my video. Cool!


This is one of the best uses of technology and the Internet I've seen yet. When you realize more than 1700 people from around the world spent time alone using computers or cell phones to make their individual videos, it's amazing how well it turned out. Whitacre has said it's like being alone, together. After participating in the process I tend to agree and feel as if the Virtual Choir is proof that one person can make a difference.

[Last modified: Friday, April 8, 2011 8:20am]


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