#1135: Combining Opera, Theatre, & Long-Distance Walking in VR for “Eurydice: Descent into Infinity”

Eurydice: Descent into Infinity sets out to combine theatrical staging with opera with walking incredibly long distances in VR to reimagine the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus. The take-away feeling that I had from this experience was a deep and visceral sense of embodiment after taking what felt quite literally like a descent into infinity complete with moments of confusion, feeling lost, and generally being somewhat stuck within a liminal space. Turns out that this was somewhat by design as creator Celine Daemen wanted to lean heavily into the more confusing in-between aspects with throwing in a few impossible spaces in the experiences. But there was a lot of emphasis put upon the unfolding opera song as the primary focus while the visuals leaned more towards a somewhat repetitive series of loops of point-cloud representations as you circle around down to the bottom… or to the top. There are some choices that the user can make on their journey that will ultimately lead them to the same destination. There were also some elements of how the original myth of Eurydice and Orpheus plays out that were changed in this version, and so I’m not sure if it the story completely translates as I still have a lot of confusion around it. But there is a lot of room to take other opera songs and translate them into embodied experiences like this can amplify a whole mood, vibe, or visceral embodied experience that’s inspired by the music.

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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. It's a podcast that's looking at the structures and forms of immersive storytelling and the future of spatial computing. You can support me on Patreon at patreon.com slash voices of VR. catching on in my series of looking at different immersive stories from Venice Immersive 2022. Today, we'll be taking a deep dive into Euridice, Descent into Affinity by Celine Daman. So this is a piece that is taking the myth of Euridice and Orpheus and kind of doing a switch and swap around of that story. And you end up doing this walking down a spiral path in this way in which Euridice is singing this really beautiful opera song. And for me, it ends up being a lot of this embodied experience of walking around this space, trying to chase and capture your DJ. And yeah, in this piece, there's a lot of different dimensions of both the embodied experience and the story. And there's a lot of discussion that I have with Celine of What parts of this piece worked for me what parts didn't and just get a little bit more context of bringing in this theatrical? Insight into blending in different dimensions of opera and then having this embodied immersive experience and having these three different intersections of theater Immersive storytelling as well as opera. So that's what we're coming on today's episode. Otherwise severe podcast So this interview with Celine happened on Sunday September 4th 2022 at Venice immersive in Venice, Italy so with that let's go ahead and Dive right in.

[00:01:42.511] Celine Daemen: I'm Celine Dame. I'm a director. I'm originally from the perspective of theatre. I graduated in performative arts. And then when I graduated four years ago, I started making immersive work. And I'm here on the festival presenting my work, Eurydice, A Descent Into Infinity, which is an immersive opera actually. So it's still on kind of the crossover between those media.

[00:02:06.789] Kent Bye: Maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into doing these type of VR and immersive storytelling pieces.

[00:02:14.410] Celine Daemen: Well, I already like in school started experimenting mostly on immersive storytelling, which for me also kind of arose from the combination of music and VR because it both touches an audience in such a direct sense. Like if you listen to music or listen to a song, you can always like kind of feel like, oh, this song is really about me or the heartbreak that I'm going through or You kind of experience yourself within that song and for me that's what I found interesting in VR as well, that it somehow puts the audience at the center of it, making the audience experience themselves more than they experience like a dramatic character or something like that.

[00:03:00.736] Kent Bye: So was this your first VR piece or have you created other works as well?

[00:03:04.782] Celine Daemen: This is kind of my fourth piece, but it's maybe a bit the first big one that I really bring out.

[00:03:13.026] Kent Bye: What was the point where you started to get into VR? What was the catalyst that you decided that you wanted to start to get into this immersive media?

[00:03:20.533] Celine Daemen: I think in my graduation project I built this box. It was like a three-sided box and it had like screens everywhere. So it was looking back that might be like a primitive form of building a VR headset that the audience kind of had to go underneath it and put their head into this box. So I kind of grew into it. It wasn't love at first sight with VR, but it was something that I slowly came closer to just because of me being drawn to this idea of immersion. So it's not like a sudden thing that I decided that I wanted to get into it.

[00:03:58.807] Kent Bye: So what was the catalyst for this project? Where did you begin with this as an idea or project?

[00:04:05.924] Celine Daemen: I think for me at the core of the project is the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, which is like a classical myth. We know a lot of different versions of it. It's been something that was always on my mind and I really was fascinated by that kind of place in the space after death. So somewhere between life and death maybe. It's an in-between space, which I thought was a very inspiring place to ask myself the question, is that place, is it something very intimate? Is it something that we come home to when we die? Or is it something that is very far from me as a human being? That was the question that we worked around and became kind of the core of the concept as well, that it might be like a paradoxical place somewhere that you are lured into. You really want to go there, like staring into this void that attracts you, but at the same time you also resist to this feeling of desire for that place.

[00:05:07.534] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'm seeing a lot of VR pieces that are really exploring this liminal space idea, different places that are the in-between places where you have a destination and a journey where you want to go, but then the places that you have to go that are in between there that you're just passing through. And so they're those in-between spaces. So I'm curious if you had looked at any liminal spaces or what was your research process to come up with an aesthetic for these in-between liminal spaces?

[00:05:33.471] Celine Daemen: Well we've been experimenting a lot with VR and maybe also more specific point clouds to make this luminal space. I think it's something like you said it's something that by a lot of VR artists is touched I think also because in VR there is a lot about immersion right like being there but there is always the sense when being in VR of being still in this physical space so you are kind of in a luminal space I think VR and this theme are very close friends. So we started experimenting with point glass because it's all photogrammetry scans of reality that we made, because it's still showing reality, but also in a way that is not really to be touched anymore. You cannot really reach it. You are not really there, but you're some kind of in-between world.

[00:06:25.688] Kent Bye: Maybe you could talk a bit about the music and the opera as a part of this piece because it seems to be a pretty distinct part of the experience is the musicality of the piece and so talk a bit about the music and giving a voice to Eurydice through this opera.

[00:06:40.697] Celine Daemen: I wanted Eurydice to become a character that is kind of luring you into the nothingness or into the void. So I wanted to give her a very soul-like, from within sound. So I asked a composer, Kate Moore, who's known for her very natural, timeless melodies that she's writing. and she wrote an infinite melody, so it's a melody that goes on and on and on. It has something meditative to it, maybe something that is attracting you and making you somehow lose grip of the feeling of time. But I combined this composer with another composer who made all the sound layers that you hear and also the spatial design of how this voice acts within the space. Because Eurydice is the kind of character that she's always in the next room, you see her slip away into the door and you follow her but you can never really reach her. So we made the spatial sound design where You also hear her slip away all the time into this large world with a lot of very nuanced sound layers, but it's so much that you could never hear it in total. It's all these little sounds happening around you, also nice bass sounds to really give this feeling of this underworld. In that sense, almost the sound design is really A sound composition, not only giving you the feeling that you are in some kind of reality, but really drawing you in an experience. In that sense, the sound design is really on the core of the experience layer of the piece.

[00:08:17.698] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think the experience of that chasing or going after it worked quite well, gave the motivation to reach this destination. So it's like you are trying to reach something that it keeps getting pulled away. But I'm curious if you could talk a little bit about your inspiration from this myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and, you know, coming across this and maybe kind of elaborating on that myth as a starting point.

[00:08:40.768] Celine Daemen: For those who don't know, the myth is maybe good to describe. It's an old myth in which Orpheus loses his lost love. She steps on a snake, she dies and he is so sad about that that he turns to the gods and asks them if he can get back his lost love from the underworld. go down there and get her back. And he does so by using his beautiful voice. He's a singer and a poet. And by using this melody and using his poetry, he convinces those gods. But they say to him, like, there is one thing you cannot look back to her. She should just follow you and you have to not look at her until you reach the world again. And unfortunately he does look back and he loses her forever. And then there is this huge discussion going on when we tell this myth about why did he look back. Some people think like he just couldn't wait, he loves her so much he has to look back some. People think he doesn't have the trust that she's truly following him, but no myth really asks what Eurydice thinks of this. The whole myth is kind of about Eurydice, but she doesn't really have a big part in it. She says mostly things like, oh no, Orpheus, what are you doing to me? But she doesn't really have agency and we wanted to give her back. some agency and to kind of listen to her in the sense of what would Eurydice want? Is this a place maybe where she would also want to stay? So that was also kind of a starting point to ask what this place where she is would be like for her and to change around the story that Eurydice had to follow Orpheus out of this place but the audience is kind of following Eurydice into this place so it's kind of swapped around.

[00:10:29.448] Kent Bye: Okay, yeah, so just to clarify from the myth and the experience. So from the experience, you're embodied as Orpheus, right? And you're following Eurydice, but in the original myth, Eurydice is following Orpheus. So how does he look back and see her? Like, because in the experience, I am embodying Orpheus following Eurydice. So she's in front of me. And so what's it mean for him to be looking back in the myth? Because it doesn't make sense when I see your experience. So I'm just trying to figure out what the myth is.

[00:10:58.611] Celine Daemen: Exactly. Now in the myth it's like he has to pick her up from the underworld and she is following him behind him and he cannot look back to her while they do so. So she just has to follow him and he cannot look back to look at her to see if she's still following him. So if he looks back then she kind of slips away into eternity again.

[00:11:24.241] Kent Bye: Okay, so in that version of the myth, it sounds like that Orpheus has to try to resist his temptation to look at her, and he does, and then he loses her forever, right? And then in this piece, you're following Eurydice, but you just follow her down into the bottom, and then... So yeah, I guess the original myth seems to be the theme of resisting instant gratification, or to delay what your desires are. And so, how do you take that core essence of what I take from that? original myth into what themes you're exploring in this myth.

[00:11:55.052] Celine Daemen: Exactly. I think for me it's about what is human because you can also look at the looking back of Orpheus, like why did he look back question. You can look at it like maybe he made the decision of a poet and that's the decision of also choosing to lose something or choosing the human quality of that. So we live in a reality in which things are in a constant process of evolving, ending, construction and deconstruction. Everything we know from the material world is passing by. So somehow that's also a very human or it's something that is in the core of our human being and I think that's interesting that he maybe also is trying to fight his human side by thinking I have this desire for this eternal love, this desire for infinity kind of, but at the same time you can ask yourself if this idea of an infinite soul is something that is human or is something that is a part of who we are. And I think it's somewhere in between. The piece we made doesn't really take a stand in that. I think there is this desire on the one hand and there is something very true to the human soul as well in infinity. But there is also something that we are home in, that is in the material world of ending and constructing and deconstructing.

[00:13:29.467] Kent Bye: And so I guess I'm trying to get the essence of the... I'll share my experience of the piece, because, you know, as I'm going into the piece, I'm going in and I see Eurydice on the floor, and then I'm walking, and I think I said in my wrap-up that I'm pretty sure that this is the furthest I've ever walked in a VR experience, and I don't know if you have... if you have any metrics of how long you have people walk through this space but it was like a long long long time walking and by the end of it I really felt like I had gone in a whole journey and it was a descent and so the environment around me was kind of like being forced down because I'm not actually walking downwards and so you have to kind of trick it a little bit by being on a level surface as you're walking around but you know giving the visual impression that you're actually walking down so there's a little bit of having to push down the world as you walk down which can be a little bit of eye strain or fatigue or kind of motion sickness inducing to have like a disconnect between what's happening in the world from what I'm expecting and experiencing in my body versus what I'm seeing and so it was a little disorienting in that way but as I get through I felt more viscerally embodied as an experience of taking this journey when I got to the end, but I didn't understand in the story what happened after I got to the end. It was a visceral embodied experience, but I didn't quite understand in terms of the story perspective of what happened when I actually got there. When I hear the myth, I hear that it's all about Orpheus sort of looking backwards, but because Eurydice is in front of me, then there's this question of like, what is the story about? Then at that point, if you're doing the swapping, then what is the focus of what's the point after I get to that point, then what happens?

[00:15:08.543] Celine Daemen: So in the beginning scene you see these two entities kind of apart. So at first you arrive at the dead body of this young woman who is for us our Eurydice. And then she kind of bursts. So her skin bursts from her shadow, from her soul. And this singing shadow, she disappears into this doorway that you follow down your path. And then in the end scene, or actually way before that even, you keep losing this infinite soul. You kind of lose track of her and get on a path that goes more uphill. And you walk back to the beginning scene. You end up back at this door where light falls from this door. And there you reach a water surface again, the water surface of the beginning scene. where you only see her skin left. So that's a bit like these two entities that parted, the infinite soul that we lost somewhere in this descent, somewhere in these depths and in this void we leave her behind. And we get back to only the material side of her, which we envisioned in a way that it's just the skin. It's like an empty skin that is flowing in the water. So it's only the material part of her that remains.

[00:16:25.713] Kent Bye: So was I supposed to start to walk back upwards, is that what you're saying? Because I kept walking downwards until the very end. I reached an ending that was down, but I was supposed to turn around and go back up?

[00:16:35.761] Celine Daemen: Not really, not really. Some people do, some people don't. In the end, they all kind of end up in the last scene, which I think is nice. We build in a lot of freedom for the audience, so it's really their journey and not really the journey that I would predict. That's like the tension, of course, when working on it. But you can either make this infinite descent and still just end up with only her skin left, or you can start walking up. Some people do, some people don't. But in the end, for me it was important that all paths lead back to only this material side. Because I think somehow in the middle part people, also due to the sound design, get really a bit dizzied by all these voids and all these echoes hanging around you. I do think like on an experience level everybody feels like they get to a more quiet place in the end and they reach this point where only there is the skin either if it's like upwards or downwards that's maybe the audience's choice where they end up.

[00:17:39.290] Kent Bye: Okay, okay that helps explain a little bit of what happened in the middle of the experience for me where I got a little confused because I was chasing Eurydice around the corners and then looping and looping and looping and then And then it switches the architecture where there was a little bit of almost an impossible space. I don't know if it was actually impossible, but it was confusing as to which direction I should have been going because I no longer had Eurydice as the pointer for where I should go. So does Eurydice disappear in the middle for everybody and then you have to kind of make a choice as to whether or not you go up or down?

[00:18:08.896] Celine Daemen: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah, that's true. That's true.

[00:18:12.866] Kent Bye: Okay, so then I went down and got all the way down and part of the experience that I had is that there's a little bit of a looping that's happening. And so visually, I'm basically seeing the same corners again and again and again. But what made it still interesting and engaging for me was the beautiful singing that I hear echoing in the background. And so it was for me a little bit of a motivation of, okay, there isn't anything that's happening visually that's interesting in terms of like changing or dynamic. And I'm walking and walking and walking. But I want to know what happens once I find the ending and get to that point of hearing where the song was going, and then because of the shifting and losing your rudency, I actually didn't know if it was broken or if it was going up or down. I was sort of in this confused liminal space, and I don't know if that was part of the design to have something clear and then have the audience be a little bit thrown out of what they're expecting, because there's a part of me that's like, I don't know if this is broken, I don't know if I'm going the right direction, should I stop, do I keep going, is this ever going to end because it keeps repeating, So I'm kind of in this state of confusion or frustration but also at the same time wanting to know how it's going to be resolved because I don't want to miss it. So that's kind of like what my experience was near the end of the piece.

[00:19:21.573] Celine Daemen: Yeah, I like that there is a kind of not knowing where to go because I think like what I'm trying with the piece is to at first lead people through it so they really kind of feel mostly this desire of wanting to get closer to her so they start walking a lot like you said like some people even start running to get as deep as possible to descend as much as possible and then at one point I take away this character that kind of has drawn you in So you kind of focus more on yourself. We tended to give a lot of attention to this character that we follow. By taking her away I hope that the experience is more on the being lost of the audience themselves, to kind of confront them with themselves. I hope in the end people go in following Eurydice but go out finding something within themselves. It's a bit like what backpackers would do. They go to some world that they haven't discovered yet, they get lost and in the end they find themselves. That's like these backpacking clichés that I think apply pretty well to what we are trying with Eurydice too.

[00:20:37.322] Kent Bye: Yeah, one question I have is like how many levels are there to get to the bottom? Do you know how many loops they have to go to to sort of get all the way down to the bottom?

[00:20:47.025] Celine Daemen: I think we made it is using this system of impossible spaces like the technical side of it and there is like four rings that are looping but according to time we without the audiences notice the switch we switch to the next phase so there are four loops that you walk without you feeling that we switch to the next phase, but that's when the environment changes and when the soundscape they change into this next phase of the descending.

[00:21:21.905] Kent Bye: Okay, so as I'm remembering now, I do remember that there was a, almost a melting away of the point clouds. It's like there's point clouds that I can see what the structure is, but it's kind of like falling down. But as I progress down, it's like falling down slowly. So I guess that was another clue that there is some changing in the visual environment that is like I'm making some progress. But how do you trigger from going from one phase to the next? Is it a matter of how many levels they go down or is it just a base of how long they're in there? So if they just stood there for 10 minutes, they could go down and still go down each of the phases. So how do you trigger going from one phase to the next?

[00:21:55.380] Celine Daemen: It's a hybrid form between that. So there is a part of the visuals that is reacting on how much you descend, and a part of it is according to how long you are in there. So in the end, the audience members, we also play a lot for a theater audience. You can imagine that people we meet here on the VR islands, they run down. But you can imagine that some people that are more used to go to classical opera, they walk very, very slowly. And in the end, We wanted to give all the audience members a full experience, so they all reach the same phases, but some just walk only four spaces, and some walk a hundred spaces, ten thousand steps down the underworld, but they all kind of reach the same phases.

[00:22:44.307] Kent Bye: Okay, I'm probably on the realm where I was doing a brisk walking, so I was probably 30, 40, 50, I don't know how many. I lost count. It was a lot. It was certainly a lot. So it's sort of interesting that I could have just stood there and I would have been able to see the same. Yeah, I think that's the thing is like there was four phases and as I'm going through each of those phases there's like anywhere between 10 or 20 levels that I'm going down for each of those four phases so it feels like quite significant and there was times that I just wanted to nope out but the thing that was keeping me driving was the music that was so interesting but also those phase shifts that happened every so often unpredictably so I feel like that's a challenge in a piece like this is like at what point is too much and I don't know if you're tracking if people are quitting before they get to the end but yeah I guess that would be my feedback in terms of like what is the sweet spot between having enough to give some of that lost feeling, but not too much as to feel like it's just kind of like an endless, infinite road to hell that we're kind of like recreating.

[00:23:40.876] Celine Daemen: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get that. Yeah, sure, sure. Yeah, it should definitely stay on the artistic side of that. Like, I really try to make the experience that people have the most artistic or that they really read it as a part of the experience. It shouldn't feel like it's like something that is not working.

[00:24:01.614] Kent Bye: Well, I'm reminded of the subtitle, is it A Journey Into Infinity?

[00:24:05.623] Celine Daemen: Is that it? The subtitle is A Descent Into Infinity, so yeah, a lot of it is really meant to happen, yeah.

[00:24:12.495] Kent Bye: Okay, well, I guess I can vouch that it does feel like a descent into infinity, which you can kind of imagine that. So, and also the, like, the four phases... I don't know, like, maybe I wanted, like, six or seven phases, but quicker going between them, because it felt like I was in one a lot, and it got a little bit repetitive visually in that sense, and not as interesting. But again, the thing that was keeping me going was seeing Eurydice and the music and those phase shifts, and so... When Eurydice went away, I could still hear the music, but then the phases weren't working. That was when at the moment that I was like, okay, what is happening here? And then at the end, I felt like I wanted some sort of like, what was the resolution of what that was all about? Because it was a little bit unclear as to how that was being resolved once I got to the end. And so I guess, like, can you explain again the ending? Because, like, when I got to the bottom, I didn't connect to the story. Like, the music had stopped, and it's in opera, so I don't understand what the words are being said. And so when Orpheus gets down to the bottom and meets Eurydice again, then what happens in your story?

[00:25:12.895] Celine Daemen: So in my story Orpheus or actually the audience like they are Orpheus but they are mostly themselves so they are just someone who has a certain desire to get to Eurydice but in my story the audience or Orpheus they are led back to met reality so to reality as we know it and they are led back to only the skin of Eurydice so you reach this point where it's a kind of memory to the first scene that you got into. So the first scene you saw Eurydice lay in the water, a bit like Ophelia. So she's a dead woman's body in a kind of pond. And then in the last scene you are again standing in this pond looking at her body, but then the body is empty. So the soul has left her. It's only the skin that is left there.

[00:26:05.187] Kent Bye: Another part of this experience is that you have like a booklet that has a lot of information and explaining and maybe could expand a little bit about the song that's being sung. I don't know if there's lyrics because when I'm in the midst of being in the experience, I don't understand the words, but maybe you could briefly explain what Eurydice is singing back to Orpheus as she's descending into infinity.

[00:26:27.315] Celine Daemen: Like you said, we also have this booklet, which indeed, the libretto is written in there, the song text, or actually the translation of it, because it's all sung in Dutch, so you didn't understand the rest. That's how most people experience it. We chose to not use subtitles within the experience, because it would take away some of the very direct way of communicating of the music, because I think music is very good when you don't really need to hear the words to understand it, but it's still in there. But the things she is singing is, you just said like she's singing to Orpheus, but she's also singing to herself in a way, because she sings to herself as also this parting of her metaphysical being and her physical being. So it's a very interesting text that was written by a poet, Charlotte van den Broek, and she uses words that are kind of passing by a bit. It's not a text like you should hear every word but it's this poem about the darkness and the coolness and she's trying to grasp where she's in and singing to herself to comfort herself maybe as well because it's a quite lonely poem I think. She's in this space trying to make sense of it maybe.

[00:27:46.917] Kent Bye: Yeah, when I was watching all the different pieces and competition here and trying to figure out the center of gravity of what the experience for me, what I'm taking away, for me this experience was much more about the embodied experience of taking this long journey and the environment that I'm in. and you know there's other elements there of the story but like I said there was a little confusion of interpreting what the story was because there's not a lot of written text to understand and so it's all done through spatial metaphors of moving through the space and the music that's being sung I can't quite understand it so maybe people who are Dutch could maybe pick up a little bit more of those aspects so there is an emotional quality there in terms of like the emotion of the song stills coming through like I can hear that there is this tenor of that and the other sound design and also the fact that you're in this void like space as you're walking down the point clouds and it creates a mood that is the liminal space and then the agency is that like you're deciding where to walk you do have some choices to make whether you go up or down and I did actually go up once but I was like I don't know if, like, I want to go all the way back. Like, I was like, so then I was like, well, I should probably keep going into the place. And so there is in some ways a mental state of confusion or frustration or like being lost. That's probably one of the first times that I've been in a VR experience where it's like genuinely felt like I was a little bit lost. And so that's a unique design thing to achieve. But the agency was just the choice of where to go, but to decide to continue to go down. But all those things are part of it. But for me, the thing that I'm left with is sort of the embodied visceral experience. So I guess as I listen to you, there's a part of your design intention to create some of those lost feelings. So part of me is like, oh, I'm feeling lost or frustrated. And so there's a bit of like frustration, but then it's like, oh, you were trying to do that. So then it's like, okay, well, you're succeeding. So I'm like, there's this kind of moment of like the communication of what you're trying to do, what I'm experiencing. And so I'm just curious to hear, as you hear me describe that, if that's on point or if there's other things that you're also trying to do with the piece in that sense.

[00:29:43.655] Celine Daemen: For me, this is a huge compliment, the way you describe it. For me, there are a lot of layers in understanding a piece in this very direct way. In normal opera, it's very rational sometimes to talk about an opera. You have to understand what they are trying with it. It's unique in VR that that's not the case. It's this super direct experience of it. And the audience is always right in that sense. And in this experience level, there is a lot of nuance or a lot of layers to it that is, I think, very interesting and very personal for everyone. We have had people in there who really are very emotionally touched as well. And that's all about things that I could never predict as a director. I can hope for it, but I can never predict the way that you experience it. And of course, I tried my best to guide you. And as I hear it, I succeeded quite well. But at the same time, I think it's so personal for everyone. We've had people in there saying like, oh, I really have to think back of this time as a child. I was very afraid of darkness because there is no end to this darkness or the black void. Like when your mom turned off the lights and you're lying in your bed, you get afraid of the infinite space in your own bedroom. Like these associations, they arise from a question that is quite universal or philosophical. So also in this booklet, we describe a bit of these philosophical backgrounds, but at the same time, I think it's way more important that people experience it on this very close by level in, oh, I'm feeling a bit frustrated in this space. And in the end, that's like this personal association on a philosophical, very big question sometimes, but without the whole making it rational or making it very far away from people experiencing an art piece.

[00:31:47.250] Kent Bye: Yeah, that totally makes sense. And I'll have to go back and do a real deep dive after having this conversation. But there's also one other part that I should also mention was the fact that I did get to the end. I didn't know if I was going to get to the end. And so there was this, like, not knowing of taking this long journey. And there was a bit of a satisfaction that I got to the end, that I did finish it to that point. I was able to see how it unfolded. As you move forward, have you thought about how you want to take the lessons that you've learned in a piece like this and kind of expand out or do something different or explore other themes within the medium of VR?

[00:32:20.213] Celine Daemen: Yes, definitely. I'm going to start with my new piece in two months, so I'm really happy to hear all these reactions now. I find it always the most inspiring. At some point I develop some kind of critique on my own work and that's mostly the biggest inspiration for my next piece. And the next piece we're going to create is an apocalyptic opera. So it's again a combination with music because for me this match of opera and VR is like a match made in heaven. So we'll continue doing that but using all the reactions now of the audience again to keep searching for the perfect form of immersive storytelling for me. and then in a bit of a different context, but maybe also it's still somehow the same themes. It will still be somehow about losing space and time, maybe getting lost a bit in this deconstruction of reality.

[00:33:12.317] Kent Bye: And so maybe you could talk a bit about your relationship to opera and introduction and journey with appreciating opera as a form, but also using it within your artwork.

[00:33:22.586] Celine Daemen: Like I said, I studied at a theatre academy and I got this course in opera. For me, funnily enough, that was the first time I really felt like I was very touched by it. Opera, for a lot of people, is quite distant or something. It's these people with these very big emotions. But funnily enough, in theatre, I didn't feel like it could touch me because I thought, oh, I'm listening to all these people with these problems, fighting to their tears on the stage. I don't know, it feels very far away or not very intimate. And then in opera, I felt like, The tears themselves are something that spoke to me. So in music it's not about these references or these very intellectual things that they are communicating, but it's the voice that is always so honest and so from within or from the soul that it immediately touches me if it's done right. Some operas can also be very distant, but for me in music this is done best. And I at the same time found something in virtual reality that does the same, that comes so close that it touches me in a very direct sense, that if I stand on a balustrade and I look into a void, it does something immediately to my body and this reaction that I have to it is so personal, so intimate that nobody on a stage talking about their problems could ever touch me in the same way. So that's why I really want to combine those ways of telling a story that it's almost not about telling a story, but it's about experiencing it and being a part of it in the most direct way possible.

[00:35:13.243] Kent Bye: Yeah, there are a number of times that I would stop and look over the edge and look down and peer into the void. So using the point cloud representation to kind of give that sense that it just disappears at some point, but it keeps going and going and going and no matter how far I was going down through all the phases, it would still be an infinite void, which was sort of like, oh, I don't seem to be any closer to the bottom. So it was a relief that I actually did reach the end because it was like, there's no other environmental cues that I was getting close. But yeah, that's interesting because like, if you imagine how opera is usually presented, it's people sitting in a proscenium stage and they're listening to it. But to be able to use the medium of VR, to use the spatial affordances, to still use the emotional quality of what happens in opera with how it fits in the larger genre of music of being able to communicate with the voice in a very specific emotional way to translate that into rather than the people sitting in a seat and passively consuming it they're actively engaging their body so what are the different affordances of both the environmental design can you do but also what you're doing with your body to be able to engage and match And I would be curious to see as opera goes through different phases, like a person's capacity to go through an entire opera performance through a variety of different spatial experiences and embodied experiences as they go through. So it sounds like that's an area that you're interested in exploring.

[00:36:27.240] Celine Daemen: Yes, definitely. I think it's weird that we kind of forgot about the body for such a long time. Just putting people on a chair and only reaching the head of people, the rational part of it. But I think the body is something that is much more connected to this emotional experience. Indeed, giving people this very physical experience of the opera is such an interesting field. Having people descend, like you said, this descent is really something that you experience within your body. So if you come back to reality, it's something that you've been through with your entire body, tummy that feels a bit like, oh, where have I been? And that's such a, like I said, such a nuanced and personal and intimate experience that I'm really interested in that.

[00:37:17.564] Kent Bye: Yeah. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling and opera might be and what might be able to enable?

[00:37:30.236] Celine Daemen: I hope that it will be a way to get also to the audience in this very intuitive soul-like field or to touch them in this way that we just talked about. For me, I hope that we will get there and at the same time I also feel like in VR we really have to think about what are the stories that we want to tell and what are the visuals that we are creating because sometimes I feel like it's also very hard in VR to make something that is about this very intimate and human themes because it's also really hard to create that sometimes in VR. But I think the virtual space is also something that is quite close to it because it's this space where you cannot really grasp stuff and you it's very close to the consciousness or something or the dreamlike world. So I think We should try really hard to make VR a space that is this very interesting, intimate human place. And I hope that we will make more experiences that touch us in that way.

[00:38:38.994] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[00:38:46.499] Celine Daemen: I think we covered it quite well. Yeah, I'm really curious to show the piece to more people. I'm really looking forward to meet the community more. It's like also a bit my first because we're presenting a lot in theatre festivals and like my network. So it's really my kind of first step into this world, which is very very interesting to meet people that are like in the same materials that I am. So it's really nice.

[00:39:11.288] Kent Bye: Awesome. Yeah, it'll be interesting to see how it goes out to the theater community and potentially beyond. Yeah. And thanks for joining me here today on the podcast to help unpack this Eurydice Descent Into Infinity. So thanks a lot.

[00:39:23.945] Celine Daemen: Thank you. Thank you.

[00:39:25.467] Kent Bye: So that was Celine Damon. She's creator of Eurydice Descent Into Infinity. So, if you want more context for the wrap-ups, then I'd recommend checking out the episode 1121, where I talk about all the 30 pieces in competition. And in episode 1144, there's an immersive panel that I did at Venice with some other immersive critics talking about the art of reviewing immersive art and immersive entertainment. I recommend checking that out in order to dig into a little bit of my own process of what I'm trying to do with these larger series and trying to unpack and discuss the art and science of immersive storytelling with a lot of these different pieces that we're showing at Venice Immersive 2022. So that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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