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AR Audio Book Adaptation of a Classic Children’s Symphony—The Book of Sounds: Peter and the Wolf

Book of Sounds: Peter and the Wolf corresponds to the three major focuses of the Taiwan Sound Lab: “creation”, “education”, and “research.” Photo courtesy of Taiwan Sound Lab
TEXT LAI Jou-Chien
ARAmbisonicsPeter and the Wolf

Peter and the Wolf is a story of adventure and courage. The main character, Peter, is a young boy who disregards his grandfather’s warnings, setting off into the forest with his animal companions, a small bird, a duck, and a cat, to apprehend a wolf. This work is presented as a symphony, with each playing instrument corresponding to the specific role when the narrator tells the story. Peter is represented by string instruments, the grandfather by the bassoon, the little bird by the flute, the duck by the oboe, the cat by the clarinet, the wolf by the French horn, and the shooting of the hunters by kettledrum and bass drum. In this way, the orchestra leads audiences into the story: the flute’s clear and melodious sound matches the personality of the animated little bird, the nimbleness of the string instruments presents Peter’s courage in starting out on his adventure, and the changing tones of the French horn represent the wolf waiting for the opportunity to strike.

The tailor-made book for The Book of Sounds: Peter and the Wolf. Photo © C-LAB

Peter and the Wolf premiered in Russia in 1936. Composer Sergei PROKOFIEV was commissioned by the Moscow Children’s Theatre to produce a work that would provide young audiences with a basic understanding of musical instruments and symphonies. To date, this is one of the most performed symphonies in history. The conductor often serves as the storyteller and the roles are brought to life by actors in addition to the performance of the orchestra. It has also been adapted for traditional Chinese orchestra, dance, theatre, picture book and animated film, such as the Disney release of the same title in 1946. C-LAB’s Taiwan Sound Lab created an all-new production, The Book of Sounds: Peter and the Wolf, which is an AR audio book adaptation of this classic children’s symphonic fairy tale.

Reinterpreting a Classic Tale through New Technologies and Perspectives

This work is aimed at preschool- and elementary school-aged children. A storyteller turns the pages of a two-meter long, one-meter wide book as they narrates the story. Audience members follow along, viewing animated images on tablet computers while listening to the accompanying music.

Being the core of this production, the symphonic music is provided by the National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra (NTSO). At NTSO’s recording studio in Taichung, nearly 50 microphones were set to obtain clean and clear recordings of each type of instrument. The recorded composition was then made full use of by Taiwan Sound Lab through the surround sound Ambisonics system during the post-production phase, creating the impression of a live music performance, such as the sound of the flute—it seems to swirl all around like a bird circling in the sky. Audio-visual performance artist Aluan WANG, the director of this work, says the audience is like being put in the conductor’s position, surrounded by the different musical instruments while the music is heard all around rather than from a single direction.

Peter is represented by string instrument, the little bird by the flute, and the duck by the oboe. Photo courtesy of Taiwan Sound Lab

In the original tale, the duck is eaten by the wolf, after which Peter outwits it on his own. With the assistance of the hunter, the wolf is taken to a zoo in a victory parade. These plots were in line with Soviet era propaganda and the values of binary opposition. Nevertheless, In The Book of Sounds: Peter and the Wolf, the wolf is designed as a character unable to see very well and not wearing glasses, intending not to eat the duck but to have fun with others. All misunderstandings are in the end resolved, humans and animals playing together cheerfully.

Based on the AR animation and image production, this story is set in a forest in winter and spring. Animated versions of Peter, the wolf, the little bird, and the other characters appear in time with the music. During the process of manipulating the AR interface, the storyteller can sometimes improvise beyond the existed script while setting the rhythm. For example, when the little bird and the duck appear together, the flute and the oboe are heard at the same time. The storyteller can replay their dialogue to lead the audience in identifying these instruments. In this way, this work can be performed based on the reactions of the children in the audience, making it even more interesting.

The Book of Sounds: Peter and the Wolf premieres during 2020 PLAY ARTS Festival. For the opening performance, CTS news anchor UJ CHUANG has been invited to serve as the storyteller and to record a standardized version for the storytelling. The remaining storytellers are to be announced. The Book of Sounds: Peter and the Wolf corresponds to the three major focuses of the Taiwan Sound Lab: creation, education, and research. At the same time, it serves to bring sound art and technology art into daily life. The production team hopes to bring this work into domestic and overseas fine arts museums as an installation-type teaching aid in the future.

TEXT LAI Jou-Chien
ARAmbisonicsPeter and the Wolf
LAI Jou-Chien
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