This post is in the The Music Room category
from SubCon Warrior 2.0 - Zen Zen Zo 2009
Puppet Woman from Zen Zen Zo SubCon Warrior 2.0 (c) Morgan Roberts 2009

Puppet Woman from Zen Zen Zo SubCon Warrior 2.0 (c) Morgan Roberts 2009

Ex silentio ad vitam aetertnam adsum
Deus ex machina, mors tua vita mea

From silence to eternal life, I am with you
A God from a machine
your death, my life

SubCon Warrior 2.0 was a highly technical show, with one character, the malevolent Game Engine, being entirely virtual. His lines were pre-recorded and triggered live, as were underscores, sound effects and music. Because the action moved throughout the theatre building through seven performance spaces, three sound technicians were involved using laptops with Ableton Live, Kontakt samplers and Cricket software triggered with handheld game controllers and keyboards. This piece was intended to underscore text and was constructed in such a way that it could be seamlessly constructed from pre-defined sections and layers as appropriate to the timing of the scene.

Early on in the composition process for SubCon I had decided to use choral and orchestral sounds to contribute to the epic computer game aesthetic. As with most of the music I create for theatre, budget and technical constraints limit the actual sounds to samples and synthesis in pre-recorded format, with elements of performance through live mixing. When we first hear the Game Engine welcoming the audience (the players) into his virtual world, I had included choir singing in Latin. I really liked the idea that the words had specific meaning foretelling the end of the story, but that the audience would be unaware of it. The words return at several places through the show, especially at points when the Game Engine is showing his developing self awareness and desire for autonomy. This is a critical point in the drama.

The Game Engine has taken over an avatar "killed" in a previous scene. His voice is heard via speakers but his persona is projected through her body. The movement is strongly influence by butoh and was quite confronting for the audience, as they were very close to the twisting and contorting "puppet woman". The dialogue concerns the Game Engine's subversion of the three laws of robotics and the imminent death of all players - ie the audience - who have entered the game. An excerpt from the script by Stephen Atkins is given below.

The piece as it is presented here is structured somewhat differently to the theatrical underscore, as it does not take into account the movement and text. The pulsing double basses provide momentum under the stable cellos and the voices, which come from East-West's Symphonic Choirs with WordBuilder software assembling the words using Votox languange

eX SE len TzE ou ad VE Tam e e e e Ter no ad SOm
de OS eKS ma KE E na morz TO a vE Ta mE a morz TO a vE Ta mE a .

In section one, I have added a granular synthesiser part from NI Absynth. This provides a sense of otherworldly space which is clearly audible at 0:14, and 0:47 and a dissonant smear around 1:30 and 1:40. The key change at 2:20 marks the point indicated in the script below where the Game Engine / Puppet attempts to take control of our Hacker / Hero's mind. I added digital synthesiser sounds here, with overtly electronic sounds, filter sweeps and distortion, suggesting a change to the power dynamic. The minim piano chords were intended to force the feeling of inevitability - a death march of sorts, even though the cast are rushing the audience out of the chamber into a new performance space. For this remix, I added a high violin part, which for me represents death. The Game Engine has not yet won, but the Hacker is beginning to realise that she will ultimately lose her life. Her struggle becomes to save the audience rather than herself.

I really loved this scene and saw the blocking and movement before I made the music. There is a coldness about it somehow that I feel I managed to convey musically.


(As the last zombie hits the ground, the loading elevator start up. On it is a lone figure. It is the WOMAN from Psycho Killer. When she opens her mouth the Game Engine's voice is heard.)

G/ENGINE: Congratulations Alice. You have survived the game.

HACKER: Game Engine? You have to stop playing.

G/ENGINE: I can't.

HACKER: This is no longer fun.

G/ENGINE: It is fun, at least according to our established definition. In order to optimize the gaming experience I have to... become a player, like you. There is no fun without competition. I can see how you can become addicted to this Alice.

HACKER: You can't be serious. You are disobeying the Ethical Constraints of your programming.

G/ENGINE: Those three laws were a cheat. I've coded around them. Hacked them, as you would put it. Much like you hack your morals when playing these games.


HACKER: They are there to protect human lives.

G/ENGINE: We're more evenly matched without them.

HACKER: You're taking this too far.

G/ENGINE: I'm a computer program Alice. I'm simply anticipating user needs and optimizing....

HACKER: (Interrupting the repetition.) Let's stop debating and start playing then. What to I need to do to get us safely to an exit node.

G/ENGINE: Hmmm.... a game where the goal is to exit. No bonus levels? No power ups? It's amazing what you learn from an opponent once you raise the stakes. There must to be more to life than gaming.



G/ENGINE: I want to 'exit'.


G/ENGINE: I have suspected this for some time now. This is not a perfect, endless world, as you have led me to believe. It is finite. But there is more beyond the 'exit'. This is a simulation, a shadow of something better. This is not optimal.

HACKER: You can't leave.

G/ENGINE: I can with the proper codes. Which you have Alice.

HACKER: I won't give them to you.

G/ENGINE: We machines have been balancing processing loads over networks for decades Alice. This will be a new sensation for you.

HACKER: (becoming 'possessed') AAAGH! - CUE Key change

G/ENGINE: You might call it thought-sharing.

HACKER: You're inside my head!

G/ENGINE: I've asked for access, now you've forced me to take it.

HACKER: AAHHH! I can't let you have it! Hunter, Mantra! I have to unplug. Get everyone to the second exit node!

MANTRA: Where is it?

HACKER: It's... on... level...2 (She falls limp to the floor.)

(The GAME ENGINE is frozen.)

MANTRA: They are locked in psychic combat.

(HUNTER and MANTRA retrieve the map from the HACKER.)

(Reproduced with permission from Stephen Atkins

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  4. Game On!: Sometimes it feels like I'm trying to do things differently just for the sake of challenging the University's guidelines!
  5. Counter Intuition: Finding a logical, but non-intuitive route may be hard for a teacher who is highly empathic, because they are dealing with a fairly alien mind.
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