A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Technical Design

This project, commissioned by New Place Players, a theatre company based in NYC, consists of a prototype system for performing music and sound design live, created with Max/MSP and Ableton Live, and programmed around the Numark’s Orbit wireless DJ controller. The system was originally created as part of the production for A Midsummer Night's Dream, performed in NYC throughout 2017.

The play takes place between the city of Athens and an unnamed forest. It features various weddings and coming togethers that are (or not) about to take place: between the Duke Theseus and Hippolyta, between two pairs of lovers, between the king and queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania, between two characters in a play, Pyramus and Thisbe, played by a group of rude mechanicals. Somewhere along the way, Nick Bottom, the weaver, is transformed into an ass and Titania, the queen of the Fairies, falls in love with him; the pairs of lovers (Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius, & Helena) are crossed and in more ways than one! Things go haywire when Puck, Oberon's jester, mistakes his subjects, as he is to perform a number of magic spells on them.

This sound design project started with the idea of the spirit of the Fairies existing inside a sound world, that their doings and tricks would occur in the sound/music domain, so to speak. So, for example, with a finger snap, ‘other-worldly’ sounds would surround the fairies' subjects and envelop them with their magic.

Initially, I envisioned the actors using special ‘wearable’ sensors, for example, a special ring or gloves, or sensors attached to their clothing–an idea that I didn’t get to realize in this production, but which I think is still worth pursuing. At any rate, in the process of developing this particular rendition of the play, the director came up with Indonesian-style puppets that were to play the fairies, and all along I was in charge of following their actions (and those of their masters) with sound and music, live.

While doing my research, I learned about Numark's Orbit, a wireless DJ controller, which proved to be a successful prototype, for the following reasons:

  • It comes with an independent, proprietary wireless system, and it is small and portable: an actor or performer could use it while moving relatively free onstage.
  • It has 16 programmable buttons.
  • It has a volume knob that can also be programmed to control up to 4 various parameters.
  • An accelerometer that works over two axis points–vertical and horizontal–which provide 2 more independent controls that are also highly responsive to broad body movements.
Orbit BW Diagonal

Before I proceed further, it might be easier to understand how this device was used by watching a video of the gadget in action...

So, how it works: I programmed the Orbit using the following logic…

Orbit Schematics 4b

Here are a few screenshots of one of the Max patches I created for the purpose...

Here is an overview of the device itself: it has 4 banks (the Pad Bank black buttons 1 - 4) of 16 buttons each (white buttons labeled 1 - 16). It has a volume wheel in the center, which can actually control 4 various parameters (besides volume, by using buttons K1 - K4), and two buttons (SB1 & SB2) which activate the accelerometer controls (horizontal and vertical)...


Here is an excerpt of the control map for the 16 buttons, plus volume control (K1 - K4) and accelerometer buttons (left and right), and what they're programmed to perform in each particular scene...

Orbit Map

For example, in scene 1.1, 8 of the 16 white buttons have been programmed to trigger various sound cues:

  • (From left-to-right, top-to-bottom) Buttons 1-5 will sound various "trumpet fanfare" sounds
  • Button 6 will sound Mendelssohn's Wedding March from his A Midsummer Night's Dream orchestral suite
  • Button 7 will sound an excerpt from Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber
  • Button 8 will sound a sample treatment based on a song by the band Love and Rockets, from their album Lift
  • Button 16 will stop any sound that's playing
  • The volume control does just that, controls the volume for any of those sounds.
  • The accelerometers don't do anything in this scene

In another example, scenes 2.2 through 3.1 have been mapped into three sections:

Section 1

  • Buttons 1 and 4 will advance a piano sequence
  • Buttons 5-8 choose from 4 different note sequences
  • The right accelerometer button will change each note's strength (velocity)

Section 2

  • Buttons 2, 3, 11, 12, 15, 16 trigger a variety of sound cues for various characters and situations

Section 3

  • Buttons 9, 10, 13, 14 play different randomized "bubble-like" textures

Here's a screenshot of Ableton Live's sampler, hosting the set of sound cues that belongs to scene 1.1:

Ableton Live Sampler

Here's a screenshot of the Max patch that controls the piano sequence in scene 2.2:

Max Piano Note Sequences

This is a work in progress! More coming soon...