Cynthia's Dream

Ron Pellegrino

The title, Cynthia's Dream(1988), comes from the music, a set of three variations based completely on composer/performer Cynthia Fanning's voice recorded in Texas Tech University's electronic music studio in 1980. At the time Cynthia was one of a group of outstanding musicians in my music composition class at Texas Tech (I taught electronic music and real-time composition and directed the Leading Edge Music Series there from 1978-81). As a special project for an annual contemporary music festival, she and I were collaborating on a performance piece based on the idea of musically dramatizing the inflected meanings of a group of words listed under "unconformity" in Roget's Thesaurus of Words and Phrases; the recording was made as part of a group of loosening up studies for the purpose of discovering the tools for her part of the performance piece. The recitation of her dream just emerged during the exploratory process; it wasn't scripted and it wasn't planned. For years I used the recording in my public presentations as an illustration of one of the flavors of Visual Music. Just about everything Cynthia did in that class was full of music and this recitation was no exception.

In 1987 I began exploring the Fairlight Voice Tracker, a special purpose computer that converts acoustic information (sound) into MIDI (music synthesizer control information). One of the areas I explored focused on examining the musical nature of various people's voices. What I discovered was that individuals have their own particular tonal centers, strong tendencies toward particular scale formations (usually not traditional scales), definite tempo and rhythmic predilections, characteristic melodic structures and ornaments, implied harmonic progressions (via arpeggiation), and spectral weightings; and that whole list of musical variables is subject to change according to the time of the day, their moods, their health, their environment, the context, etc. Such findings didn't really come as a surprise because many of us musicians know those facts intuitively but the Fairlight Voice Tracker is a great tool for musically clarifying those issues for those with ears to hear.

Every single note you hear emerges in one way or another from Cynthia's voice which is recorded on one track of a multitrack tape recorder. Her recorded voice is connected to the Fairlight Voice Tracker which, according to pitch, loudness, and tone color, converts the voice into MIDI signals that are recorded by a computer program called a sequencer. I used the computer to process the MIDI signals in numerous ways - octave displacement, time displacement, etc. Along with Cynthia's voice on the tape recorder there was a synchronization track that kept the computer and Cynthia's recorded voice moving along in sync. The MIDI signals coming out of the computer were used to control and conduct an orchestra of music synthesizers specially programmed to work with Cynthia's voice. The final piece is a changing mix of Cynthia's voice and the synthesizer orchestra it's conducting. If you listen closely you'll hear that, although some sounds might hit a bit before or a bit after Cynthia's words and be higher or lower in pitch than Cynthia, every single note comes from her voice in a heterophonic stream.

framegrab from a performance of Cynthia's Dream

Professor Jean Kerr, dancer/choreographer.
Ron Pellegrino, performance-videographer and multimedia director.

The video excerpt is taken from the last minute or so of a live recording of one stream of what people witnessed of Cynthia's Dream during my live performance-multimedia event at Illinois Wesleyan University. It's the stream that emerged from the performance-videography system that I was playing in real time. There is no studio editing involved; it is all done in real time. Performance-videography involves real-time video capturing, digitizing, and processing of musicians, dancers and theatre performers and then mixing those video streams on the fly with my precomposed video animations; the local performers are included in the process of selecting those precomposed video animations from an extensive collection with a broad expressive range that I've created over the years.

Performance-multimedia based on electronic instruments in sound and light is an area I've worked since the 1960s. Over the decades I've integrated whatever affordable technology was emerging and I continue to do it today. I use computer and synthesizer music in conjunction with live acoustic music, live laser animations and laser music visualizations, computer performances of CD-ROM-based compositions, and performance-videography. In this case the dancer was working with the music to Cynthia's Dream for weeks before I arrived on campus.

On another section of this site there's a sample program and an additional set of performance-multimedia images from framegrabs of Pellegrino's video work in a University of Wisconsin performance in September of 1999. Thumbnail link sets to these images are found on the Sample Program 1 - Collaborative Event page.

Please note that video on the internet in September of 2000 (when I started posting video excerpts) still has a long way to go for great image and sound quality. Nevertheless, even under current conditions there are ways of optimizing the internet video experience.

Ways to get the best results from this video file:

  1. Setting your monitor to a resolution of 640 x 480 will provide the largest image with no distortion. Finer resolutions will also work; the screen will just be smaller and the image compromised somewhat.
  2. With some browsers, Internet Explorer 5 for example, you can resize the video by grabbing its window in the lower right hand corner and pushing and pulling it. If you resize the image adust your viewing distance to the monitor accordingly.
  3. Be sure you play the music on a good sound system; the speaker built into your computer is as bad as audio systems get. For less than $100 you can get a decent stereo sound system to connect to your computer and your listening pleasure will be greatly enhanced. For less than $50 you can buy decent stereo headphones. Never listen to music over the speakers built into your computer; they should be illegal.
  4. Video files are long, which means downloads are long. Let the file download in the background while you're doing something else with your computer. Or while the file is downloading take a walk and see what birds are playing in your yard or out on the street. If your sound system is turned on, the music will begin playing as soon as the video file is finished downloading. That's a good way to remind yourself you started a long download especially if you start working on something else in the meantime.
  5. To play the video you should have QuickTime installed. If you don't, download it at no cost from Apple.

To download the video excerpt from Cynthia's Dream (26.2 MB) click here. Be sure to download long video files in the background while you're doing other tasks with your computer or away from your computer.

Go to this page for links to more video excerpts.

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©1996-2004 Ron Pellegrino and Electronic Arts Productions. All rights reserved.