Community Playdate: Autonomous Robots in Opera

Friday, February 14, 2014
Location & Time: 

Moss Arts Center - The Sandbox (8:30-9:30am)

Join us as we hear from Maurice Wright Professor of Music Composition at Temple University's Boyer College Of Music and Dance.

Maurice Wright will discuss his collaboration with computer scientist Dr. Rolf Lakaemper, and how they presented "GALATEA_RESET", an opera in two acts for three autonomous robots, 5 singer/actors, dancers and chorus, in September 2013. Programmed in PureData and JAVA, all musical sounds in the performance except for the human singers, were realized in real-time with minimal reliance on pre-recorded audio. Beginning as an etude involving spatial manipulation with moving sound sources, the work evolved into a work of lyric music theater. Each robot was imbued with a persona resulting from a confluence of kinetic sculpture, musical characterization, lighting and movement. The performance score, encoded as a series of text files, contained directions for musical sound, lighting effects, and movement commands. A special set design provided geometric landmarks for the robots, which navigated with laser rangefinders, and dead reckoning. Navigation sensing, motion control, lighting control and sound synthesis were accomplished locally using a single laptop computer connected to a central data source.  Another laptop controlled projected images, including supertitles.

The initial design called for the music synthesis for each robot to use less than 10% of the CPU to provide adequate computing power for range-finding, shape recognition and motion control. The network design called for limited-band data flow (e.g. no audio or video, rather simple text messages), and for a robust system that allowed for robots to drop off the network without disrupting it. A UDP protocol proved both flexible and reliable. The opera was presented three times with no major errors. Maurice will play several brief excerpts of an edited, super-titled recording of the performance.


Maurice Wright was born in 1949 in Front Royal, Virginia, a small town situated between the forks of the Shenandoah River near the Blue Ridge Mountains. He received a doctoral degree from Columbia University, where he explored diverse interests that included music composition, computer science and film.

He has been commissioned by outstanding ensembles and soloists across the United States, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Emerson String Quartet, the American Brass Quintet, the Riverside Symphony, and the Berkshire Music Festival at Tanglewood. The American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Fromm Music Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts have recognized and supported his work. Six CD recordings on New World, Innova and CRI include his compositions.  He is Laura H. Carnell Professor of Music Composition at Temple University's Boyer College Of Music and Dance. 

His interests in image surfaced into two electronic operas: The Trojan Conflict (1989), and Dr. Franklin, an opera about Benjamin Franklin, produced in Philadelphia in 1990 as part of the Electrical Matter Festival. In both works a video screen was embedded in the set, and short scenes written and directed by Wright were integrated into the operatic fabric. He began experimenting with visualization of musical sound and with digital animation, making his first professional presentation as an animator in 1996.  Since then his visual music works have garnered wide acclaim, chosen by juries for the Society for ElectroAcoustic Music in the US (SEAMUS), and for the International Computer Music Conferences in Dennmark and Great Britain. Most recently he composed and produced an opera featuring robots and humans, GALATEA_RESET, in collaboration with Rolf Lakaemper. Read more about his work at



"Community Playdates" are open discussions of topics and ideas from ICAT, Virginia Tech, and the community. We welcome any interested students, faculty, and community members to join these discussions, and enjoy coffee/pastries from the Next Door Bake Shop!