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Dear little cellist,

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What do cellists and video-game characters have in common?

Well, normally not much unless the cellist's name happens to be Matthew Barley.

In September 2009, Matthew came as close as is possible to being a video-game character by performing at Kings Place, London in a motion-capture suit. Matthew played in darkness and the audience watched computer-generated graphic images of him on a huge screen.

Motion-capture suits are used to animate digital chracters in video-games and for special effect Hollywood films, such as Happy Feet, The Polar Express and Zemeckis's A Christmas Carol

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The way it worked was this: Matthew wore a lycra suit studded with little balls coated in reflective material. The light reflected by the balls sent data to the cameras, and this data was then used to animate computer-graphic images of Matthew.

Here are some video links about his performance:

Matthew Barley talks about his Virtual Cellist performance at Kings Place

Video of The Virtual Cellist

Matthew also answered some questions especially for little cellists:

What was it like wearing the motion-capture suit? Was it comfortable?

The 'mocap'suit was amazingly uncomfortable! It took us 2 hours of adjustments to make it possible to play at all, because it was so tight around the shoulders and arms!

Your cello and bow also had reflective markers on them - do you think that's a first for a cello?

I'm sure this is a first (and I believe a first for any musician in live performance to wear the suit). We taped (very carefully) 3 markers on my bow - 2 by the frog, and one at the tip - and 4 (even more carefully) on my cello - 2 on the spike, one on the tail piece, and one on the scroll. I hated letting other people touch my cello, so I made sure I gave it a good polish after they fixed them on!

Did it make you think about the movements you were making? Did you exaggerate your movements at all?

I decided to play absolutely naturally, and let the guys who were processing all the images, mess around with it and make it look cool.

Did you consider using an electric cello for this performance? Or did you want to contrast the up-to-the-minute technology with classical repertoire?

I did two of the pieces on electric cello and the rest on the classical - I really liked the idea of that contrast. For me the cello is like a human voice, and you can do anything with it.

How many hours of preparation went into this show?

This took SOOOOO long to prepare! As well as practising the music on my own, I spent days with technicians, video artists, composers, producers and so on. It was really worth it though - I loved every minute of it.

Do you think it worked as a performance? Would you do it again or was it a one-off?

From what I heard from members of the audience, the whole show was really fun to watch. It started as a one-off, but now all the team want to do it again, including me - one day I want to tour it round the world!

Do you have a message for little cellists?

1. Whatever you do, make sure you really love it.

2. Listen to as much music, from everywhere in the world, as you can.

3. Remember people are more important than music.

If you weren't a cellist, what do you think you would be?

Architect, forest ranger, double agent, a king.

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The Virtual Cellist


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The team who made the Virtual Cellist possible

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