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Turangalila (2014)

Video, Animation, Generative Audio Visualisation and Projection Mapping


Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalila, one of the most challenging pieces in classical repertoire, referencing the myth of Tristan and Isolde and explores the cosmic play of love, death, and renewal. Messiaen exploded the musical conventions of his time destabilizing melody and rhythm, and collaging eastern musical traditions with pop culture references, bird song, and exotic instruments. While the piece is steeped in signs, symbols, and cultural allusions, it is also composed to provide an almost mystical experience which transcends time and the human condition.

In this performance collaboration we asked what if the audience could inhabit symphony; what if they could experience, first hand; what was in the mind of Messiaen; what would Messiaen’s transcendent world look and feel like?

Messiaen’s symphony was analysed and broken into structural components including musical themes, symbolic emotions, narrative and semiological allusions, and transcendent devices. This revealed a complex musical language approximating Messiaen’s own deliberate semiological structure. Lexical units were then assigned to video and animated assets which not only visualized patterns in this language, but also broke out narrative and contextual information both about the story, and the life and times of Messiaen himself. These visuals were juxtaposed to real-time generative colour visualizations which were driven by key, pitch, and volume of the music based on audio data derived from the core instruments of the orchestra. Finally the visuals were projection mapped across the architecture of the concert hall.



Turangalila, by Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) is arguably one of the greatest pieces of music from the 20th century. Perhaps unmatched for it’s shear complexity, Messiaen pushes the conventions of an already experimental era in composition ‘collaging’ together Hindu rhythms, cultural references of his time, medieval legend, existential philosophy, and natural “imagery” of birds and landscape. Turangalila is as raw as it is polished. Every note intentionally crafted, layered and juxtaposed to the next to take the audience on a destabilizing ride of sweetness, surprise, tension, bewilderment, and even terror. With such a description, it might seem contradictory that Turangalila is a love song: it is in every way a thorough and honest exploration of humanity’s most vulnerable and transcendent state of being.

An epic piece in every way, Turangalila is 10 movements over 75 minutes, performed by an orchestra of 100 musicians, including 11 percussionists, two pianists (one requiring a virtuoso performance), a glockenspiel, and an ondes martenot (one of the first electronic keyboards).



French composer, Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) is undeniably the most colourful and one of the most important composures of the 20th century.  More often than not garbed in bright scarves or elaborate Hawaiian shirts, Messiaen was known for his unconventional and revolutionary treatments of rhythm, total serialism, tonal collage, and Musique concrète (a precursor to electroacoustic remix), amongst other innovations. Such musical advances, while earning him a firm place as a modernist composure, pre-anticipate post-modern and contemporary trends and place him as a cited influence of the likes of Radiohead and present day remix artists.

Messiaen, was a devoutly religious catholic; it is argued that his music, rather than celebrating or representing our relationship with a higher being, is in fact a form of mystical communion meant to transcend normal human experience and the trappings of linear time, ego-identity, and daily consciousness. To Messiaen, music was the purest form of this communion, and the purest form of music was bird song which he expertly transcribed and wrote into his work. Perhaps nowhere else in Messiaen’s repertoire does the full breadth of his influences and experiments collide than in the Turangalila.



Calgary Philharmonic teams up with ACAD for display of sound and colour (Globe and Mail)

CPO climbs inside composer Olivier Messiaen’s mind with epic Turangalila (Calgary Herald – includes video)

Inside the Mind of Messiaen (

Digital art and mid-20th century composition (FFWD)

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