CyberOpera | a trans-human opera in three acts |


| a trans-human opera in three acts |

Composed by Barbara Ellison



Composed and produced by Barbara Ellison

Mastered by Francisco López

Cover artwork: live performance at Störung Festival, Barcelona 2014 (photo by MA Ruiz)

Special Thanks: Francisco López, TRICKSTER (Nathalie Smoor, Marielle Verdijk, Nina Boas and Ieke Trinks), Stroom Den Haag

(C) Barbara Ellison 2019

CyberOpera is a trans-human opera in three acts – with a total duration of 3 hours and 18 minutes – composed for non-human actors and voices (sung by custom-made cyber-avatars).

For many years I have been using both human voices and computer ‘text-to-speech’ sampled voices as tools and materials to explore interesting aural phenomena and verbal transformation effects. Text-to-speech (TTS) is a type of speech synthesis application that is used to create a spoken sound version of raw text in a computer document. TTS (now used widely in the gaming and animation industry) is essentially an Artificial Intelligence and semi-artificial production of human speech from converted typed text and was originally implemented as assistive technology to enable, for example, the reading of computer display information for the visually-impaired, or to aid in the reading of a text message. Samples of recorded chunks of speech or entire words and sentences are stored in a database, and then linked together to recreate the text selected.

I have developed a number of compositional techniques which form a sub-part of my Vocal Phantoms research (described in detail in the upcoming book Sonic Phantoms by Barbara Ellison & Thomas B. W. Bailey, edited by Francisco López; Bloomsbury Press, New York) and the core of my CyberSongs project. CyberSongs in general is a collection of pieces that focus obsessively on the use of patterns of speech for the generation of rhythm and the alteration of meaning (by the antagonistic processes of both ‘semantic satiation’ and ‘semantization’) from the relentless repetition of morphemes, phonemes, words, sentences, and phrases. For this work I compose with the simultaneous use of both computer text-to-speech synthetic/sampled voices and computer-like patterns with human voice.

This CyberOpera release has emerged from both my own ongoing work with my CyberSongs compositional series – which I started around 2011 – and my more recent explorations into the genre of opera. The current version of this work (2019) is an expanded and recomposed elaboration of an experimental opera called HEROPERA – untold tales of gynoid heroines, which I composed and was performed and toured in 2017-2018 with the TRICKSTER collective from the Netherlands. TRICKSTER ( is a collective of five artists trained in various disciplines (theatre, music, visual arts, scenography) and consists of Nina Boas, Barbara Ellison, Nathalie Smoor, Ieke Trinks and Marielle Verdijk. HEROPERA was an improvised, ‘ad-lib’ performance deconstructing the concept of opera and challenging traditional ideas about heroism and storytelling. Sparked by speculative fiction and rooted in various disciplines, in this work TRICKSTER plays around with the cultural and visual codes of opera, practising the relational, the messy, the spontaneous, the unpredictable. Instead of tragic heroines who sacrifice or annihilate themselves, this opera stages five women who can conjure up something on the spot. Non-heroism and the unseen therefore also earn their spot in this collective work.

CyberOpera expands, evolves and elaborates on all this previous work into a larger-scale format and a wider compositional development in which no human singers remain. A world where the avatars take centre stage, having their chance to perform at a monumental ‘operatic’ scale. I have explored and worked with materials very much associated with the world of classical opera; playing, for example, with the classic forms of ‘aria’, ‘chorus’, ‘overture’ and ‘finale’ and the traditional indicators of such a genre – although with an obvious jarring effect resulting from the combination of such different sonic worlds. I exaggerate and make those kinds of musical gestures the core of the entire process (for example, endlessly playing with repetitions and variations of small details), recomposing and rearranging in various ways tiny fragments of existing pieces from the genre, along with the TTS synthetic voices.