Eight is a mixed reality project by the composer and director Michel van der Aa, featuring singer-songwriter Kate Miller-Heidke and the Nederlands Kamerkoor. Van der Aa has collaborated with designer Theun Mosk and virtual reality company The Virtual Dutch Men to create a unique, groundbreaking fusion of musical theatre, VR and visual art.

You’re surrounded by darkness – a path on the floor is the only thing you can make out. You hear footsteps; an old woman comes walking towards you. Her hand reaches for the wall, it bends with her touch and stretches out into a curved hallway. When you follow the woman around the corner, you suddenly find yourself face to face with her younger self.

Eight tells a woman’s poignant life story in reverse chronological order. Visitors, equipped with VR glasses and headphones, move one by one through an installation. They can manipulate physical and virtual objects, and meet the woman at various crucial moments in her life. The woman’s memories are spread out all across the flexible walls in the form of interactive hieroglyphs, ready to be activated. Actual hallways merge almost imperceptibly with virtual hallways, creating an infinite space.

The music that plays throughout the installation forms the centrepiece of a new album that is to be released prior to Eight’s world premiere.

eight still

Eight is commissioned by the Holland Festival, Festival International d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence, Château La Coste, Beijing Music Festival, KunstFestSpiele Herrenhausen, and Helsinki Festival.

With support of Fonds Podiumkunsten, Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie, Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst, Gieskes-Strijbis Fonds, Ammodo, Nederlands Kamerkoor, and doubleA Foundation

Eight is not recommended for individuals with claustrophobia, heart conditions, back conditions, a history of seizures, epilepsy, and/or sensitivity to flashing lights. It is not recommended for visitors under the age of 12.

eight visitor

Kate Miller-Heidke – Mezzo-soprano/actress
Livia Kolk – Soprano/actress
Vakil Eelman – Actress
Nederlands Kamerkoor, cond. Boudewijn Jansen

Michel van der Aa – Composer/director/script
Theun Mosk – Design installation and set VR
The Virtual Dutch Men – VR creation & production
Madelon Kooijman, Niels Nuijten – Dramaturges
Thijs de Vlieger – Music producer
Esmee Thomassen – Costume/Styling

Ellen van Bunnik (’n More) – Production Manager
Siemen van der Werf – Technical director
Rosita Wouda (doubleA foundation) – Financial director

The Virtual Dutch Men

Production & realization:
Roelof Terpstra – Producer
Bart Kok – Production Advisor

VR Development & Visual effects:
Richard de Paauw – Lead Developer
Ahnill Christiaans – Assistant Developer
Ruben von Piekartz – 3D modeller
Vytautas Udalovas – Assistant 3D modeller

Technical realization & programming:
Stefan Leushuis – Technical Lead
Tim Moelard – Creative Lead

Motion Capture/ Character animation
Ivo Slivkov – Lead Character animation/ Motion Capture specialist

Tristan Bethe – Photogrammetry specialist

press quotes

A Breakthrough for Virtual Reality in Classical Music

Eight Is a Breakthrough for Virtual Reality in Classical Music. In his latest work, the composer Michel van der Aa has fully integrated emerging technology with musical and theatrical ideas.

Eight is an opera taken in through a virtual-reality headset. In about 15 minutes, with a genre-bending score that verges on pop (the singer-songwriter Kate Miller-Heidke is featured), it tells a poetic story of an old woman looking back on her life.

She beckons you to follow her down a corridor with white walls; once you start walking, you almost never stop, even as the hallway seems to open up into a mountainside and the full cosmos. (In reality, this all takes place in a space no larger than a bedroom.) As viewer, you are very much part of the piece, your hands visible as they reach for a railing and, at one point, lift a red tablecloth to crawl underneath.

There’s nothing gimmicky about “Eight,” in part because the medium is fully integrated with the concept of the piece — a rarity in classical music, where VR is often applied to existing repertoire, modern technology superimposed on Mahler. (“Eight” was built from the ground up in collaboration with the firm The Virtual Dutch Men.)

Mr. van der Aa’s music has long been tech-forward. His 2002 chamber opera “One” featured the soprano Barbara Hannigan singing alongside virtual versions of herself. “Blank Out,” which is also at the Aix-en-Provence Festival this month, incorporates 3-D film for an effect of blurring reality. He’s at work on a new opera, that, he said, will involve motion-capture technology rendered live.

The world of classical music is still figuring out what to do with virtual reality, an emerging technology that can be buggy and burdensome. So far, orchestras and opera houses have come up with little more than 360-degree videos that show concerts from the perspective of the conductor’s podium.

But there is a breakthrough in Michel van der Aa’s “Eight,” a so-called mixed reality work that had its premiere last month in Amsterdam and is currently on view here at the Aix Festival, through July 30, at Château La Coste.

— New York Times, Joshua Barone, 05.07.2019

Die bislang innovativste mixed reality-Oper

Highlights des Jahres 2019: «Eight» von Michel van der Aa: Die bislang innovativste mixed reality-Oper
SRF (Swiss Radio)


“The composer Michel van der Aa envelops his audience in a complete world in his VR installation ‘Eight’. The designer Theun Mosk’s imaginary landscapes are breath-taking.

So, this is virtual reality. Looking down, I see a pair of hands that are not mine and yet they do exactly what mine do. I walk down a corridor covered in white cloth. Then a woman comes up to me and beckons to come along with her. She is as translucent as lace. I try to touch her, but my hand goes straight through her arm.

At the same time, I hear surging music with a voice I know from Michel van der Aa’s previous productions. This is a composer who likes to elaborate his music with new media and techniques. He has previously had virtual singers perform in 3D operas and built an interactive song cycle film for the internet. In ‘Eight’, his new installation, he envelops his audience in a complete world for the first time.

Van der Aa’s designer Theun Mosk has constructed a breath-taking imaginary landscape. I cross a high mountain, through a dark forest and finally sit on the floor with a girl in a small enclosed space. Silence descends and she starts singing, constantly looking at me. From previous Van der Aa productions, I know that these women are all the same person. Here too, there is no story, rather dreamscapes.

Far too soon, a cloud of red embers shows the way out. The headphones and glasses are taken off me. Michel van der Aa is there and greets me warmly. But it is a strange sensation – that my hand doesn’t just go straight through his hand.

— ★★★★ Volkskrant, Frits van der Waa, 06-06-2019

Innovative tour de force…Michel van der Aa keeps surprising the world

“Once again, Michel van der Aa offers up an impressive interactive experience. ‘Sunken Garden’ and ‘The Book of Sand’ have been followed by yet another innovative tour de force, ‘Eight’.

Michel van der Aa keeps surprising the world. After ‘Sunken Garden’, the first 3D opera, and ‘The Book of Sand’, the first interactive digital song cycle, he has now created ‘Eight’, the first interactive audio-visual virtual reality poem.

In ‘The Book of Sand’ you could determine the course by choosing one of the three ‘layers’ offered by the composer, each giving a different perspective on the same piece, both musically and visually. The listener/experiencer can no longer sit on his backside but has to play a physical role. He or she walks around a virtual domain, or rather an ambiguous dream world, in which the course of the experience is partly determined by their own actions.

As in ‘The Book of Sand’, the Australian soprano Kate Miller-Heidke is the vocal soloist and the Nederlands Kamerkoor performs again. The musical part is completed by the electronic music Van der Aa produced on his computer in his studio.

The music, vintage Van der Aa, tends towards his more pop side. Beautiful and always-graceful melodies are embedded in supporting harmonies of synthesisers or the chamber choir’s voices. He composed the sung text himself from the work of Borges, Lorca, Pessoa, Tarkovsky and Whitman, and they are too abstract to derive compelling meaning from them.

When you enter you meet an older woman, then a younger woman, and then a child. Along the way you come across objects from Van der Aa’s previous visual work (nice inside jokes). The spaces are sometimes narrow corridors and sometimes wide vistas – a panoramic view from a rocky promontory over a wooded landscape, or a vast wooden floor continuing into infinity. The red snow that blows into you from a black night is very beautiful. You wonder what will happen around the next bend.

— Parool, Erik Voermans, 05-06-2019

Pioneering work and an unprecedented experience

“Michel van der Aa’s new VR opera ‘Eight’ is like entering an unprecedented dream world. ‘Eight’ is important pioneering work and an unprecedented experience.

No composer’s oeuvre can be reliably predicted, but you really don’t know what to expect from Michel van der Aa, an international trendsetter in multimedia music theatre. In 2002 his monodrama ‘One’ was ground-breaking: a soprano interacted live with her alter ego on film. It was followed by the 3D opera ‘Sunken Garden’ and the interactive song cycle ‘The Book of Sand’. And now there’s ‘Eight’, a fifteen-minute-long interactive micro-opera that you experience by walking with headphones and VR glasses through an interactive labyrinth on your own.

Its ‘plot’ is enigmatic and dreamlike, as is often the case with Van der Aa, with lyrics (from Borges, Lorca, Pessoa, Whitman and others) that rely on stimulating impossibilities. The woman, now ‘morphed’ into her young adult guise (singer Kate Miller-Heidke), sings about ‘inaudible silence’ and ‘forgotten memory’. If you dare to make the terrifying leap over the vacuum to follow her, you enter a cave in which rocks slide like puzzle pieces until you end up standing on a high plateau. A standard lamp lights when you touch it.

A child suddenly appears in front of you: the woman as a ten-year-old (or is she Eight?). The scene in which you sit across from the girl under an old kitchen table is the highlight of the installation. She (girl soprano Livia Kolk) sings serenely, looks at you and, after a crackling sound when she touches herself, transforms from grey phantom into a life-like VR child, with a rosy complexion, uninhibited blue eyes and a fresh set of adult teeth. It is almost frightening.

Time to leave again. Waving your arms as you walk through a swarm of red stars dancing to your gestures feels like swimming in a cosmic bath – an experience that is reinforced by the Nederlands Kamerkoor’s layered cluster singing. And then it’s over – leaving you giddy from the stimuli.

Conclusion: You have to experience ‘Eight’ because this mix of music theatre and VR is unprecedented and offers a glimpse into the genre’s endless future possibilities. But it is also pioneering work, exploring a relatively new field.”

— ★★★★ NRC, Mischa Spel, 05-06-2019

Bijzonder 3D-kunstwerk

“Een bijzonder 3D-kunstwerk heeft componist en multimediakunstenaar Michel van der Aa geschapen. In Eight, aangekondigd als droomachtig muziektheater in virtual reality, volg je boven in het Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ een kronkelig pad, dat uit houten planken bestaat en langs en over vele virtuele afgronden leidt. Eerst word je een beweegbare gang in geleid door de Australische zangeres Kate Miller-Heidke, die plotseling in een jongere uitvoering van haarzelf verandert en dan in een meisje dat met je onder een tafel kruipt. Sprookjesachtige landschappen maken dat je je een soort Alice in Wonderland voelt, die telkens wordt herboren op een andere adembenemende plek. In een kwartier maak je met hulp van VR-bril en koptelefoon een wereldreis, hoor je een fraaie nieuwe compositie van Van der Aa, stap je steeds bijna in een virtuele afgrond en zie je vele betoverende vergezichten. Het wordt afgeraden voor mensen met hoogtevrees of claustrofobie en voor kinderen onder de zeventien jaar. Voor alle andere mensen zeer aanbevolen, maar weet wat je te wachten staat en geef je eraan over.”

— De Groene, Max Arian, 12-06-2019


Virtual reality installation

soprano (child)
Choir (

Soundtrack, 360 surround
Virtual Reality


Duration 15'
First performance 04 June 2019, Virtual Reality installation. Kate Miller-Heidke, Nederlands Kamerkoor
Runs from 4-23 June.
Commissioned by Holland Festival, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, KunstFestSpiele Herrenhausen, Beijing Festival, Helsinki Festival. With support of Fonds Podiumkunsten, Stimuleringsfonds Creatieve Industrie, Amsterdams Fonds voor de Kunst, Nederlands Kamerkoor, Gieskes-Stri
Published by doubleA foundation


Mirrors at Night


Eight - teaser

eightvirtual reality installation ft. Kate Miller-Heidke
1:22 min.


Last performance:

  • 25 September 2020
    KunstFestSpiele Herrenhausen
    25 Sept – 11 Oct 2020
    Location t.b.d., Hannover, Germany

Upcoming performances:

  • 13 August 2021
    Helsinki Festival 2021
    Location t.b.d. , Helsinki, Finland