Michel van der Aa / News / 

Launch of world’s first digital, interactive song cycle

Menu button


Dark Light

Kate Miller-Heidke

Michel van der Aa breaks new ground again this month with the premiere of his interactive song cycle, The Book of Sand. Created in partnership with the Holland Festival, Sydney Festival, Google Cultural Institute, BBC The Space and other partners, and created exclusively in digital format, The Book of Sand was launched on 31st May as a website. A dedicated iOS App will follow soon.

Inspired by the allusions to infinity and the use of mazes and mirrors in the fantastical stories of Jorge Luis Borges, Van der Aa puts you in a space where all places in the world exist simultaneously. A young woman (played by the Australian singer-songwriter Kate Miller-Heidke) collects up sand which is being moved between the film layers by a mysterious machine. Three parallel film layers reveal alternative points of view and introduce new elements to the story, which allows you to choose a new route through the narrative at any point.

The Book of Sand takes its title from a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, and is based on this and four other Borges stories, The Zahir, The Aleph, The Library of Babel, and The House of Asterion. In Borges’ story, the Book of Sand is a book with infinite pages, with no beginning and no end, that becomes an obsession and gradually consumes its owner. The other stories all deal in similar Borgesian visions of the infinite – a point that contains all other points in the universe, an object that holds the attention so much that it becomes all of reality itself, a library of all possible books, the Minotaur in an infinite labyrinth.

Mirrors and self-replication are common themes in Van der Aa’s work, from his first opera One to the cello concerto Up-Close, so the stories of Borges are an ideal match. Borges is often described as having foretold the Internet, and Van der Aa uses online technology to explore his ideas in ways the writer could not have foreseen, incorporating three audiovisual layers of film and music, which the user can jump between as they wish. Each layer is based around the same vocal line, but the accompaniment and the film are different for each, meaning that users can create their own paths.

The first layer is intimate and abstract; the second builds on Van der Aa’s previous forays into pop-electronica in Hysteresis and Sunken Garden; and the third features 12-voice a-cappella choir. Each layer of film shows a different perspective on the story, introducing different alter egos of the central female protagonist.