Mikel Rouse: The Demo
The Demo is a music theater work written by composer/performers Mikel Rouse and Ben Neill based on Douglas Engelbart’s historic 1968 demonstration of early computer technology. Engelbart’s 1968 demo rolled out virtually everything that would define modern computing; videoconferencing, hyperlinks, networked collaboration, digital text editing, and something called a “mouse.” The Demo re-imagines Engelbart’s historic demonstration as a technologically-infused music theater piece, a new form of hybrid performance.
Douglas Engelbart is the most influential figure in the early history of computers and the Internet. His unique vision turned the computing world on its head in the 1950s and 60s and he is responsible for inventing many of the tools that we now take for granted in our daily lives. The Demo re-imagines Engelbart’s historic 1968 demo as a technologically infused music/video performance. In The Demo, the legendary event and Engelbart’s life journey are re-imagined as a new form of hybrid performance art.
The Demo Live
Rouse portrays Engelbart in The Demo, while Neill plays his technical assistant, William English. Using the video of the original 1968 demo in its full 100 minute form, the artists are creating a piece built on the formal framework of this historic event. The Demo is being created collaboratively with NCSA and includes re-enactments of the demonstration, live vocal and electronic music, interactive video, computer-based voice processing and triggering, and Neill’s interactive electro-acoustic instrument, the mutantrumpet. The typed text of the original demo serves as the libretto for the vocals, performed by Rouse and others, repurposing the technical jargon as opera supertitles. Video scenes that evoke important elements in Engelbart’s personal journey, including the epiphanies which set him on the course that would ultimately result in “the mother of all demos,” are interspersed throughout the piece.
The work culminates in a futuristic ending which projects Engelbart’s technological vision into the future. Engelbart has been described as a gentle, dreamy character with a utopian idealism. The Demo will create a sense of dreaming forward and backward through music, performance, and digital video within the frame of the original 1968 presentation.
The production will depict the original demo as it happened in San Francisco in 1968 as well as the remote site in Menlo Park where members of Engelbart’s team interacted with him live. A variety of new audio and video performance technologies are being explored by the artists with NCSA. The Demo will use these interactive systems to tell its story, a reflection of Engelbart’s impact on the contemporary world.
Photos by: Valerie Oliveiro, NCSA and Gibson Nolte
2012 – Rouse and Neill composing music
Jan.13-27, 2013 – Rouse and Neill residency at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts where they completed the first realization of the musical score, developed libretto, video, and explored technologies for performance with NCSA
Feb.-March 2013 – Rouse completes composing vocal sections and records singers for performance
July 13-27, 2013 – Residency at Ramapo College, finalizing projection, set, lighting, sound design and rehearsal
Fall 2013 – Video production completed, rehearsals in New York City
Stanford U. research
Feb. 23-27 – Build/rehearsals at Krannert Center
Feb. 28 – Premiere, Krannert Center
Mikel Rouse–Co-creator, composer, performer –playing Douglas Engelbart
Ben Neill–Co-creator, composer, performer–playing William English, Engelbart’s assistant
Matthew Gandolfo–Music director
TBD – 5-6 actors playing the Menlo Park crew
Jim Findlay–Set designer
Jeff Sugg–Projection designer
Hideaki Tsutsui– Lighting designer
Christopher Ericson–Sound designer
Producing Partner – Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and Emerging Digital Research and Education in Arts Media Institute (eDream), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign