TERRA TRACTUS | The Earth Moves

TERRA TRACTUS: The Earth Moves continues the Projects2k tradition of tremendous and multifaceted performance making. This year we look at the geological history of the Earth, and the Stony Creek Quarry itself, as they evolve through ancient history to our projected future through elemental, tectonic, and man-made forces. (from the Projects2K website)

In April of 2014 Daniel Fine approached me about working on a show that was going to be staged and performed in a granite quarry in Branford Connecticut. I’ve worked with Dan on several complex site specific shows, and working in an active quarry seemed like a logical next step. It wasn’t until we actually had a chance to visit the site that I began to truly understand what we were heading into. The granite from Stony Creek Quarry makes up the base of the Statue of Liberty, portions of the Brooklyn Bridge, and countless other buildings and structures across the United States. The stone from this quarry is stunning, but pales in comparison to the sheer scope of the beauty of the quarry itself. Descending into the quarry is an experience unto itself. You pass enormous machines, blocks of granite marked with weights, and piles of gravel taller houses all while gently whispering trees dance overhead. The imposing nature of quarry is hard to describe, and harder still to capture in photographs.

In the planning process Dan and I found ourselves starring down the barrel of an impossibly huge venue and asking ourselves how we were going to help projection fit into this place that felt distinctly earth-like and yet simultaneously other-wordly. We finally settled on a projection area roughly 120′ x 33′. This enormous projection area gives the audience an ultra wide screen experience.

mtn particles

Talking with the creative team gave us a sense of the scope of show – an hour long meditation on the  evolving and changing nature of the geological world. A look both at the past, and a peek into the future. Our journey would be part visual tryptic, part auditory journey, and part poetic musing. Composed by the incredibly talented István Péter B’Rácz, the audience takes a sonic journey through space and time. Simultaneously the lighting designer, Jamie Burnett, teases the viewer with a design that reveals an ever shifting quarry that’s both delightful and hellish.

This isn’t the first time the Projects for a new Millennium team has put together a show in a rock quarry. Terra Tractus is the 20th anniversary show for this team of a creatives, who have staged multiple productions in the Stony Creek Quarry. Joining a long standing team of story-tellers was an interesting experience, that finally started to feel cohesive in the technical rehearsal process. Unlike a traditional cued show, Terra Tractus is something between an improvisation and a rehearsed live set. The director Tom Burnett often felt more like a conductor than a traditional director, always looking for the moments of interweaving and resonance between the sound, lighting, media, and live performers.

underwater particles

In the pre-production process Dan spent countless hours prepping and shooting the models that would be central to the construction of the media. As a design we strove to create something that sat at an intersection of stop motion models and digital geometric forms. The challenge of creating a cohesive design from these mixed materials was challenging, but also tremendously engaging and inspiring. The blend of real and digital feels at home with this show, and gives the projection a slightly modern flavor. During our short pre-production period we recruited Alex Oliszewski to help us with the monumental task of completing all of the animation and editing work for the show.

The three of us have previously worked on Wonder Dome which had left us with an established rhythm for collaboration. Having limited dark time at the venue meant that we worked on site from sun down to sun up in our days leading into tech. We also spent a good piece of our time continuing to make content while we were away from the site. Because of the fluid nature of the show it quickly became apparent that a traditional cueing system might not be the right fit for this production. The media needed to feel more like an instrument than like a fixed volume. This caught all of us slightly off guard and required that we make some changes to our plans for creating media and controlling playback.

After several hard conversations we finally came back to the question, “What’s best for the show?” Starting from there we decided that we really needed to move towards a VJ like system that gave us some flexibility for live mixing and quick content replacement. With 4 days until opening, programming a VJ system from scratch wasn’t an option. To meet this challenge we turned to Mary Franck’s highly flexible and modifiable Rouge. Built in TouchDesigner, Rouge gave us exactly what we needed – a flexible live visuals platform with the ability to modify and change any piece to work for the show. This move allowed us to continue using the custom programmed blending and warping tool that we had made early in the week, as well as giving us access to quick visualization methods by capturing the output from our content creation machines.

In the end we created a visual piece that transports the audience through time and space. The show runs through the June 29, 2014.


Media Coverage

A multi-media spectacle of light, music, theater and dance begins performances next week inside the Stony Creek quarry along Connecticut’s shoreline.
It’s called “Terra Tractus: The Earth Moves,” and is part of a project that began 20 years ago — events that take place in natural settings, fusing art and science to deepen our appreciation of the natural world. – Multi-Media Spectacle Inside Stony Creek QuarryWNPR

Projected against a large sheer wall in the distance, Daniel Fine’s and Matthew Ragan’s animations of geological features and biological creatures (among other subjects) lent narrative heft – Dan Mims of The Daily Nutmeg

Fire and Ice

The Creative Team

Creative Director | Joy Wulke (1948-2014)
Co-Producers/Managing Directors | Gioia Connell, David Connell
Co-Producer/Lighting Designer/Technical | Director Jamie Burnett
Director | Tom Burnett
Musical Director/Composer | Istvan Peter B’Racz
Media/Projection Design | Daniel Fine, Matthew Ragan
Choreographer | Nazorine Ulysse
Stage Manager | Margaret Carl
Lead Climber/Sculptor | Silas Finch

Core Equipment and Software

Rouge – Developed by Mary Franck
Datapath X4 – video distribution
Custom Windows 8 Media Server – video generation
TP Link 24 Port Switch – networking  and computer communication
Belkin Wireless Router – network extension and iPad Connectivity
iPad – interface and touch control surface
TouchOSC – OSC interface for iPad
TouchDesigner 088 Commercial – software development environment