“The nth Art” of Peter Torpey and "Luminosity"

by Deborah Greenman


On October 22nd, The Boston Cecilia will present the Boston premiere of James Whitbourn’s Luminosity as the centerpiece of a concert celebrating illumination in the time of darkness. Composed for the Westminster Choir College and the Archdream Dance Ensemble, Luminosity is scored for chorus, dancers, viola, tanpura and tam-tam. Conductor Colin Lynch had seen Peter Torpey’s elegant lighting design for the Boston Camerata’s performance of The Play of Daniel, and asked if Torpey would collaborate with Cecilia on Luminosity. I talked with Peter Torpey about his work and his plans for the concert.

Peter Torpey describes himself as a “Media Experience Artist.” His consulting company, “The nth Art”, provides services that span the possibilities of integrating technologies into live performance and artistic experience.” Torpey studied theater and film as an undergraduate, and went on to earn a doctorate from the MIT Media Lab where he was part of the Opera of the Future group. Interested in working across disciplines, Torpey uses his deep immersion in the visual arts and technology to interpret musical works in a visual way. For example, with Opera of the Future group, he worked on the City Symphony Project. Citizens of different cities - to date Toronto, Detroit, Edinburgh, Perth and Lucerne – collaborate with a composer and visual artists to create multimedia symphonic events. In the case of the Toronto Symphony, sounds of the city of Toronto as well as musical ideas contributed by Torontonians were incorporated by the composer, Tod Machover of the Media Lab, into a composition that integrated the music with a light show. The visual effects culminated in projections of colored light onto Toronto’s landmark CN tower.

When I talked with Torpey about his plans for Cecilia’s performance of Luminosity, he told me that for him what is key is that the lighting not be an add-on; but rather, like the instruments and the singers, an integral part of the piece. To write the visual element of the performance, he will sit down with the score and create a new part, a visual accompaniment to what he sees in the score. He will work to “translate” the structure and melody of the musical composition into visual terms. He is particularly excited about the opportunity to work on Luminosity because it is the rare choral piece actually written to include a visual component . Torpey plans to use the chorus itself as a “sculptural object” filling the space of All Saint’s Parish with light and shadow. It will illuminate not only church and performers but the experience of the concert for performers and audience alike.