On March 23, as the sun sets outside, chamber players begin Seattle Symphony’s 24-hour Contemporary Music Marathon in Octave 9: Raisbeck Music Center—a new performance space opening in Benaroya Hall this March. They play another, then another. When evening gives way to night, as concertgoers sleep, composer Marcin Paczkowski offers a seven-hour sound installation. At 7am, viewing screens descend and on them the sun rises. John Luther Adam’s songbirdsongs flutters into the space. Then musicians play on until 5pm. While the event isn’t the first in the space, the marathon will fully flex Octave 9’s technological bona fides.
In 2012, Benaroya’s Soundbridge learning center had outdated tech. The symphony looked to rejuvenate the space and expand its performance potential while maintaining an educational element, and that search resulted in Octave 9. In it this spring, the symphony will present five world premieres and work by over 70 composers and instrumentalists, while using technology to forge immersive experiences.
The venue’s design includes Meyer Sound’s constellation acoustic system, a combination of microphones, software, and speakers that sample and digitally edit a room’s acoustics, meaning the small space (it holds 100–125) can aurally stretch from lounge intimacy to concert-hall capaciousness. Curved screens around the room create a sort of collective VR experience. Maybe the screens will transport the audience to an Italian cathedral to create visual analogue for a Baroque period work. Or they might display abstract images—particles, watercolor blooms—that respond to sound, like an amped-up version of screensavers where ribbons of galactic light pulse with music.
Seth Parker Woods, a New York–based cellist, is Octave 9’s first artist in residence, serving from March through the 2019–20 season. He will perform during the marathon, and has worked extensively with interactivity, mixed-media, and visuals. But Woods was drawn to Octave 9 as much by the technological playground as by plans to incubate local talent and foster experimentation. “It’s not just [that] I’m serving as the cellist and I’m going to give a concert and then I’m off,” says Parker Woods. “But really trying to make it completely whole in a way that’s never been done before.”
► Contemporary Music Marathon, March 23 & 24, Benaroya Hall