top of page

UNKNOWN - a journey

miniature opera for voices and fixed media (four channel audio, polystyrene, plexiglas, electronic components and orange beanbags)


Music by Marco Buongiorno Nardelli

soprano: Adria Le Boeuf; spoken voice: Heather Spence; libretto: Ken Eklund, Heather Spence, Adria Le Boeuf, Peter Walter, Marco Buongiorno Nardelli ("The Band of Six")]

Technical design and electronics: Frank Cerasoli


  • April 11-15 2022, College of Visual Art and Design, University of North Texas, Denton, TX

  • September 13 and 14, 2019, 7pm - 11pm, Miniature Opera Project #1: UNKNOWN a journey, The PASEO Festival 2019, Taos, New Mexico.

  • June 21, 2019, Miniature Opera Project #1: UNKNOWN a journey, Festival du Jeu de l’oie, MUCEM, Marseille, France 

  • March 26-31, 2019, Miniature Opera Project #1: UNKNOWN a journey, DIFFRAZIONI MULTIMEDIA FESTIVAL, Le Murate - Progetti Arte Contemporanea, Firenze, Italy

  • February 26, 2018 - Premiere of Miniature Opera Project #1: UNKNOWN a journey - Music Now, MEIT, College of Music, University of North Texas, Denton, TX.

  • March 29-31, 2018, Miniature Opera Project #1: UNKNOWN a journey - Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States (SEAMUS) 2018 National Conference, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR.

  • April 27-28, 2018, Miniature Opera Project #1: UNKNOWN a journey - NWEAMO Festival 20th anniversary - SDSU Downtown Gallery, San Diego, CA

  • June 8-24, 2018, CURRENTS-NEW MEDIA annual electronic arts festival, El Museo Cultural, Santa Fe, NM. Read a few reviews here!

Concert fixed media version here

The Miniature Opera Project at CURRENTS New Media Arts Festival

El Museo Cultural,

Santa Fe, NM

June 8-24, 2018

Live at the Merrill Ellis Intermedia Theater
College of Music - University of North Texas
February 26, 2018
two audience players

Waiting in line at NWEAMO2018

at the SDSU Downtown Gallery in San Diego

Space as the score. In the UNKNOWN, a journey, the first of the operas of the Miniature Opera Project, space becomes an interactive score; its audience creates unique musical sequences by making choices about connective paths on a physical art piece. Each project installation centers on a large “game board” made of an array of light-sensitive tiles. Strategically positioned on the array, and illuminated from within, are “word nodes” or “character nodes” formulated to create a “stage of possibility” for an operatic libretto. In each iteration of the short opera, an audience member (or members) engage with the work by placing or tossing beanbags to create paths that connect the nodes, in a way that expresses the story they want to hear. As they cover each light sensor in a tile, they trigger a unique musical gesture, shaped by its place in the sequence; if they complete a path from one node to another, a story-defining moment is added to the work. When all the beanbags have been placed, the work is complete, the beanbags are recovered, and the work is ready to create another opera for its audience.


The miniature opera project installations are “games” for their audiences, which invite each participant to play with the ideas of story told through music and of scores created by manipulating space. It engages them with the simple fun ludic challenge of playing “beanbag toss” while at the same time provoking a critical thinking on issues as varied as Science, Art, Innovation, the Future, the Universe, Energy, Climate, Poverty and Inequality, Love and Relation, etc., or just a simple story.

By mapping each event (each bean bag toss that successfully covers the light sensor in a tile) to prerecorded sound gestures, the layout of the tiles becomes the score and each individual and unique sequence of connections becomes a miniature opera. Each player (or players, collectively) will create a unique narrative every time.

The modularity of the installation design allows for different miniature operas to rotate on the same physical space Each opera would use the same physical installation, but with different operating software and signage creating a different experience for participants. 

UNKNOWN, a journey, for voices and fixed media (four channel audio, polystyrene, plexiglas, electronic components and orange beanbags), 2018. [soprano: Adria Le Boeuf; spoken voice: Heather Spence; libretto: Ken Eklund, Heather Spence, Adria Le Boeuf, Peter Walter, Marco Buongiorno Nardelli ("The Band of Six")]. This miniature opera was conceived at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in July 2017 as a collaborative art installation. In it, we are asking participants to express their own ideas about the steps and progress of a creative journey into the unknown. On the array we place nodes that describe different moments of the creative process in Science and/or Art, and the audience undertakes sense-making by connecting (all or just some of) the nodes to represent their own creative process. The libretto for the miniature opera UNKNOWN, a journey is composed by the following words: TRANSFORM, ILLUMINATE, FLOURISH, SYNTHESIZE, EVOLVE, LISTEN, ENVISION, STEW, PITCH, FAIL, PRUNE, and DIG; and by the following interludes


Water, flow, rhythm,

cycles swirl around cycles,

all are connected.

Can negative space

have a positive impact?

Space for memories?

How to document

three dimensional process 

fractally growing...

Behavior tracking

through a sampling process.

What will people do?

(Heather Spence, 2018)

Although the installation UNKNOWN, a journey can be enjoyed as a passive performance piece (the audience only activates the sounds), a use that reflects even more poignantly the concept of “space as the score” is when the array of tiles and their sounds is used to guide forms of improvisational responses. Such improvisations can be musical, spoken, acted, danced, painted, etc. and should abide to one simple rule:


The time/space between two acts of bag tossing and the resulting sounds marks the “measure” of each improvisation. Each “measure” should be distinct from the preceding and the following one, so that improvisational styles must change at each bag tossing and in response to the sound.


Additional sub rules can be decided by the performance collective, but they are not required and we encourage performers to explore their inner meaning of creativity as a response to the UNKNOWN. The possibility of staging a performance using the installation can be discussed on a case by case basis.

a) Installation design; b) sensor tile construction; c) word tile construction; d) bean bag  (units in inches). A photo of a small prototype section of the grid of tiles is shown below

Installation specifications:

  • 132 8” × 8” polystyrene tiles wired as a 12×11 grid. Of these, 12 are “word nodes”. Total floor coverage: 118” × 108” (see figure above for a layout plan and tile design). Tiles are constructed from 1” thick polystyrene boards with a 3.0 lb. density, precision cut by a ShopBot CNC router. Bases are 3/16” x 8” x 8” foam boards. Top layer is 1/8” clear (sensor tiles) or frosted (word tiles) Plexiglas. Characters for the word tiles are laser cut from 1/4” thick deep blue Plexiglas.

  • 120 orange bean bags (6" × 6") for placing on tiles

  • Laptop

  • Sound system.

At the Merrill Ellis Intermedia Theater
College of Music - University of North Texas


Schematics of PCBs: left, system controller motherboard; center, light sensor tile; right, LED tile.

Electronic tiles and control systems: 

Each tile features two key components allowing the audience to interact with the game board. A light sensor determines which tiles have been struck, and a DIP (Dual In-line Package) switch indicates a unique value for each activated tile. Word tiles feature also a LED light that illuminates the top from within, providing the audience with an extra cue for the realization of the opera. Tiles are linked to each other by ribbon wire connections and the whole array is connected to an Arduino controller, which feeds information about the tiles to the software scheduling the audio output. This design creates a customizable geometric platform for the array of soprano and instrumental sounds. See figure above for technical drawings of the circuit boards for the electronic tiles and the control motherboard. All electronic components are produced as PCBs to ensure maximum functionality and homogeneity within the complex circuit. 

Control Software:

Software is developed in Python to coordinate the grid of tiles with the audio recordings. The miniature opera game software handles events triggered by each tile’s light sensor and triggers a message corresponding to a given tile’s unique identifier. The software and hardware alike are designed to support any configuration of the tile space. To maximize flexibility across computer architectures and types of hardware, the sound file stream is controlled by a Csound soundboard patch that can delegate output channels on any standard audio system. The game controller software shares information about the tiles with Csound using the OSC (Open Sound Control) communication protocol. This abstracts the audio controller from the game controller, supporting various software and equipment configurations.

Cast and crew.

Marco Buongiorno Nardelli, creative director and composer. Marco is composer, flutist and University Distinguished Research Professor at the University of North Texas. He is a member of CEMI, the Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia, and iARTA, the Initiative for Advanced Research in Technology and the Arts; a Fellow of the American Physical Society and of the Institute of Physics; a founding member of the AFLOW Consortium; and a Parma Recordings artist. 

Ken Eklund, librettist. Ken is an artist who works in immersive and collaborative play, informed by a career in game design. He creates“games for non-gamers” for museums, universities, cultural institutions, and public media. His games reflect his deep belief that participation and collaboration are transformative, and engaging people in play opens them to true learning. He is currently Visiting Artist at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University.

Frank T. Cerasoli, technical designer. Frank is a graduate student in Marco's group at the University of North Texas, pursuing a PhD in Computational Physics. He is as enthusiastic about art as he is of science and he is responsible for the technical design of the electronics and part of the control software in the installation.

Other contributors to the project:
Paul Jones and Gary Karnes, Physics Electronics Shop

Ashley Harcrow, Purchasing

Shawn Lopez and Kirsten Angerbauer, CVAD FabLab


Special thanks to:

iARTA, the initiative for Advanced Research in Technology and the Arts, University of North Texas

CEMI, the Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia, University of North Texas

the Department of Physics at the University of North Texas. 

bottom of page