the nature of intelligent life is to destroy itself

This project, my Master’s thesis in music theory, put me at the head of a yearlong collaboration between the Yale Music Department, the Center for Collaborative Arts and Media (CCAM), and the Yale Symphony Orchestra (YSO).

My first step was to design and build a cubic ambisonic array at the CCAM’s Blended Reality Lab. A cubic ambisonic array is a matrix of eight speakers, programmed with a set of subtle filters and delays such that their combined signal creates the impression of localized sound in three-dimensional space. This process involved a great deal of trial and error, including various different solutions for minimizing reflections. I set up an in-DAW control interface using Envelop Tools for Live, which allow for spatial coordinates to be set in real time during a performance.

While I was setting up the array, I drafted a composition specifically for the space. With help from my advisors Kathryn Alexander and Konrad Kaczmarek, I conceptualized an orchestral tone poem based on the Fermi Paradox. Physicist Enrico Fermi proposed three potential reasons as to why humanity has discovered no intelligent life beyond Earth: (1) we are alone in the universe, (2) the nature of intelligent life is to destroy other intelligent life, (3) the nature of intelligent life is to destroy itself. With its recurring motifs of rising oceans and crumbling glaciers, my composition explores evidence for this third option, and grieves the trajectory of our changing climate.

At the halfway point of the project, I built and presented a proof-of-concept experience in Unity, which I hope to polish and turn into its own video game micro-opera in the near future. This experience originally had a MIDI realization of my piece, but this demo video has recorded audio.

Next, I worked with the Yale School of Music Media Production Studio to design a microphone rig whose output could easily transfer to an ambisonic mix. In addition to our left and right overhead microphones, we set an omnidirectional microphone in the center of the recording space, and additional spot mics in every section of the orchestra.

Finally, I cleaned, mixed, and mastered my recording for the ambisonic array. With generous funding from the Music Department, I was able to host a three-day installation and exhibit. I was also invited to present my work as a Pauli Murray College Mellon Forum.

If you’re interested in hosting an installation or performance of the nature of intelligent life is to destroy itself, or sponsoring a more polished interactive experience, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!