Beyond the Fence - The Musical

Beyond the Fence

NIL researchers participate in the creation of Beyond the Fence, world's first computer-generated musical to debut in London in February 2016.

Beyond the Fence will play at the Arts Theatre in London’s West End from 22 February – 5 March 2016, directed by Luke Sheppard, choreographed by Cressida Carre and produced by Neil Laidlaw. Press Night is Friday 26 February, 7pm.

Beyond the Fence is conceived by computer and substantially crafted by computer. It is modelled on a statistical study of the ‘recipe for success’ in hit musicals. This ground-breaking process s being filmed for a Sky Arts TV series titled ‘Computer Says Show’, chronicling this unique experiment (to be broadcast in spring 2016). In collaboration with leading experts in music, computation and the science of human creativity, composer Benjamin Till and his husband, writer and actor, Nathan Taylor, the award winning team behind ‘Our Gay Wedding: The Musical’ (Channel 4), will bring a whole range of computer-generated material to life, presiding over the creation of an emotionally powerful and exciting West End show which is at the same time the grandest of experiments. That experiment has been designed and co-ordinated by Dr Catherine Gale, who also produces and directs the series.

Beyond the Fence started as an experiment, with researchers delving into what makes a good musical, from production and story to music and lyrics. Scientists used their findings to fine-tune computational systems which would in turn create brand new musical material. The question is: can these computer algorithms create something collaboratively with humans that can entertain, touch or inspire them? We’ll only know once the show, designed to deliver the optimum elements for a success, opens as part of this challenging and magnificent new production.

The process began with a predictive, big data analysis of success in musical theatre, conducted by Dr James Robert Lloyd, Dr Alex Davies and Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter (Cambridge University). They interrogated everything from cast size, to backdrop, emotional structure to the importance of someone falling love, dying (or both!) – in more and less successful shows – to create a set of constraints to which the musical had to conform, to theoretically optimise chances of success.

Next, the team visited what’s known as the What-If Machine at Goldsmiths, University of London. With Prof Simon Colton, Dr Teresa Llano and Dr Rose Hepworth at the helm, the machine generated multiple central premises, featuring key characters, for the new show. The team selected this as the starting point and the original idea for the musical:

What if a wounded soldier had to learn how to understand a child in order to find true love?

A plot structure for the musical was also generated computationally, thanks to work led by Dr Pablo Gervás (Complutense University of Madrid). A brand new analysis of musical theatre narratives enabled him to adapt an existing story telling computer system, called PropperWryter, to turn its hand to musicals and build the core narrative arc of the new show.

Taken together, all of the above enabled the precinct for the emerging story to be identified: Greenham Common. The team then wrote a book and lyrics (with the assistance of some other computational tools) that fitted all these constraints.

Finally, the music material has been provided by Dr Nick Collins (Durham University), who has created a computer composition system he calls Android Lloyd Webber based on a machine listening analysis of musical theatre music, conducted by Dr Bob Sturm (QMUL) and Dr Tillman Weyde (City University). Additional computer music material will be generated using the FlowComposer system created by Dr Pierre Roy and Dr Francois Pachet (SonyCSL, Paris).

Beyond the Fence is in part a result of our participation in the WHIM research project.

Watch the video in YouTube.
Watch the making of video in YouTube.
Meet Beyond The Fence character, Kim.

Read the press release in The Guardian.
Read the press realease in the ABC.
Read the press realeases in El Confidencial (04-12-2015 and 23-02-2016).
Read the press release in El Pais.

Listen to the interview in M80 Radio (0:11:00).
Listen to the interview in Radio Clásica (0:15:30).
Listen to the interview in La Ventana de la SER (0:25:00).
Listen to the interview in WRadio (0:11:00).

Photograph: Sky Arts TV