Enlightenment (2006 DOWNIE KAISER)

Enlightenment is a public artwork that actively investigates, visualizes, and reconstructs the deeper musical structures of Mozart by means of artificial intelligence and realtime graphics. It runs live on a cluster of 10 high-resolution displays and audio speakers.

Enlightenment was commissioned by the Mostly Mozart Festival of Lincoln Center to commemorate Mozart’s 250th birthday. Installed in the facade of Avery Fisher Hall, it opened on July 28, 2006 and ran continuously, night and day, through September 5. As befitting a performing arts center, the installation was a live performance, with the artwork generating itself in real-time and never repeating.

Enlightenment recasts our view of classical music, looking beyond its stereotypical trappings (quill pen, powdered wig – even concert hall) to examine its underlying processes. It applies Information Age methods – akin to DNA sequencing and data-mining – to make new sense of Mozart, a quintessential figure of the Age of Enlightenment. More precisely, it solves a problem of its own making – to intelligently reconstruct Mozart’s most intricate musical structure (the coda to the “Jupiter” symphony) with a minimum of prior musical knowledge.

Our intent is to create a new kind of interplay between sound and image, one in which the images think about how the music is put together – with the effort of that thinking fully visible. This entails slowing down what computers normally do blindingly fast so that the processes of searching, sequencing, modifying, and transforming can be apprehended by the viewer, who gets to see not just the perfect results, instantly rendered, but also the mistakes, side-tracks, and detours.

We make this process visible by means of notational and gestural images, which draw on the score and on video fragments of the musicians playing their parts of the passage. Enlightenment generates new diagrams of understanding at each moment of its fleeting existence, simultaneously playing back its ever-closer approximations of the music. This audiovisual search is itself the work of art – our aesthetic response to Mozart.

Enlightenment is a deeply hybrid artwork, blurring the lines between the analog and the digital – between actual musicians and autonomous software agents, between human and machine intelligence, between musical performance and visual installation, and between vastly different eras: the years 1788 and 2006.