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Interview— 1699 in Noisey (VICE)

We Became Digital Characters in Montreal's Baroque Opera

by Greg Bouchard

We got digitized for an epic Montreal 3D musical opera that operates in every possible dimension.

It was a hot summer day in Montreal—the kind where the air's so thick, you could swim through it. There I was, sitting next to my history professor, getting caked in makeup and dressed in frilly baroque attire that would make Prince jealous. We were getting digitized for Le Pop d’époque, a digital baroque opera featuring a cast of several dozen performers, cutting-edge artwork, and music by some of Montreal's indie luminaries like d'Eon, Matthew Otto from Majical Cloudz, Caila Thompson-Hannant of Mozart's Sister, ¡FLIST!, Year of Glad, and Syngja. It's one of the most innovative, immersive, and outright entertaining multimedia productions going right now, but also one of the most unusual and difficult to explain.

When Noisey reached out about how the whole thing works, creative directors Frances Mckenzie and Aleks Schümer did us one extra: they said they would digitize us and put us in the show. Since the opera is set in the 18th-century, I naturally brought along my 18th-century British history professor and dissertation advisor, Brian Cowan, because costumes and makeup are totally what higher education is about.

We made our way to Mckenzie and Schümer's loft and found two empty chairs sitting ominously in front of a massive green screen pieced together from dollar store poster board. The ground was littered with boxes of wigs, jackets, plastic jewellery, and makeup kits. We were going to wear it all.

As they transformed us into a couple of 18th-century revellers, they explained how the digitization process worked and where we would fit into the larger production. Once we were ready, we were going to perform a three-minute bit while they recorded us digitally, and then our images could be moved around, resized, and placed wherever they needed. We were going to play two members of the audience, kind of like Statler and Waldorf from The Muppets, and our projections would be placed out in the production's 3-D space.

That's where things get mind blowing in Le Pop d’époque: the whole thing is happening in 3-D inside of a giant dome at Montreal's Société des Arts Technologiques, with both digital and live performers, musical accompaniment, and even food. Yes, instead of emulating a decadent 18th-century aristocratic feast worthy of Marie Antoinette and all of her bored, beautiful, endlessly wealthy friends, they are actually putting one on. But this is just a small part of the sensory spectacle, as attendees will see the whole show unfold around them on the SAT's dome and its 157-speaker surround sound system.

Getting back to me and the good Professor Cowan, we were decked out and ready to go, and the film started rolling. Our characters were Jeremiah Rakewell and Adam Fopsworth, two jacobite aristocrats from London who fled England for France to join the revolution but couldn't find the king. We each thought the other had made sleeping arrangements for the night. We couldn't find any snuff. It was a rough time.

Between now and November 21, we'll be there in digital form, watching as a revolving group of performers bring the greatest excesses of the baroque period into the 21st century. Go say hi to us between sets, and, if possible, let us know where we can find the king.

Le Pop d’époque is running at Montreal's Société des Arts Technologiques until November 21. All performances include live musicians and 18th-century snacks prepared at the SAT's food lab.

Friday, November 14 With ¡FLIST!, Hua Li, Marc-André Roy, and Nick Schofield Wednesday, November 19 With Ohara and Hua Li Thursday, November 20 With Year of Glad and Syngja Friday, November 21 With ¡FLIST!

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