Open Outcry is a ‘reality opera’ in which the singers trade for real money in real time using an artificial stock market trading floor. It premiered at Mansion House in the City of London, and is supported by Barclays in partnership with Plymouth University – the emotional arc of the performance will be defined by the jubilation, fear and greed of the 12 classical singers as they use trading melodies to interact with each other and do deals. At the end of the performance they will be rewarded based on their final ‘portfolio’. Premiere 15th Nov 2012. Originator: Alexis Kirke. Co-Creators: Alexis Kirke & Greg B. Davies
Open Outcry is dedicated to Amy and Ida
Scoring the Market Cycle
Open Outcry is a “reality opera” because the 12 singing traders are free to choose when they sing. Like any opera it needs singers to be emotionally expressive; it also needs a dramatic arc. Unlike a normal opera, the singers in Open Outcry are encouraged to avoid deliberate musical expression when singing. Instead the emotion arises spontaneously from their real feelings about trading. Are they fearful of losing money, are they elated because they are about to make a profit, are they frustrated because they cannot find a buyer? They will call short trading melodies to each other when they want to trade assets. They will want to trade – because the singer-traders receive real money at the end of the performance. We will know how they feel by watching and listening to how they trade. The dramatic arc of the performance comes from a “market cycle score”, kept secret from the traders in rehearsals. During the premiere the market will have periods of rising, falling or remaining neutral – just like in the real world. The short musical trading melodies are carefully sculpted to take account of this. When all singer-traders are trying to buy, the market sounds musically pleasant; when all try to sell, the sound will be more dissonant – clashing. A final coherence: the buy and sell phrase of the same stock will harmonise perfectly – a metaphor for a mutually beneficial trade. Open Outcry is dedicated to Ida and Amy, my beautiful daughter and her wonderful mother. I would like to express my gratitude to Simon Ible of Peninsula Arts for his support and help in the early development of this project. Furthermore I’d like to thank the Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research at Plymouth University, of which I am a member and without whose support this project would not have been possible.
Alexis Kirke Originator, Co-creator
Music is maths. Music is emotion. These statements are not contradictory, but do appeal to different systems in our brain: emotional/intuitive, and deliberative/logical. This division, increasingly explored by behavioural scientists, is fundamental to how we make decisions in a complex world. Finance is maths. Finance is emotion. Again, no contradiction here. However, it is only through the advent of Behavioural Finance that we’ve truly come to realise the dominant role that emotion plays in financial decisions. Open Outcry closes the loop: Music as Finance; Finance as Music. Using a method beloved of experimental economists for studying market behaviour under controlled conditions, we create an artificial, but functioning market…and transform its energy into music, generated spontaneously from the traders responding collectively to their goals and emotions. They become instruments; the market becomes the musician – improvising, and generating complex emergent patterns within the bounds of the only thing we control, the market structure. This structure is deliberately simple: only three financial assets (Wealth, Protection, and Comfort), which represent trade-offs we all make as investors. But like real assets, these combine in complex ways, a stochastic risk model governing the interactions between them as the market shifts between three regimes: boom; normal; and bust. Even this pared down market places massive demands on the singer-traders: they must monitor their portfolios; form expectations of asset price trajectories; and be alert to all other offers in the market. They must recall the phrase to buy or sell each asset, and adapt this dynamically to alter quantity and price, before pitching it precisely despite the market frenzy, in time with the rhythmic pulse. They must bargain to close the deal, which, as in a real Open Outcry market, requires simultaneous hand signals to ensure clarity to defeat distance, and conflicting trades. Oh, and the model has a feedback loop so that their collective actions influence the market in turn…
Greg B Davies Co-creator
Re-envisaging an open outcry trading floor as a theatrical performance is an interesting challenge, because a naturalistic recreation would inevitably see the traders standing close-set around a smallish circle, leaving the audience to observe around the outside. This, I felt, would leave spectators feeling excluded – they wouldn’t experience the vital dynamic of what it feels like to be within the magic ring of energy created by a circle of traders communicating vigorously with each other. Instead, I have placed the singer-traders on the outside of the audience. This solution, whilst looking rather more stylised than a normal trading floor, nevertheless maintains the essence of one – and immerses the observers in the overall effect whilst allowing them to appreciate the various threads of communication that make up the whole. The composer’s concept is, as far as I can ascertain, totally novel - and therefore totally terrifying for everyone involved – as none of us have ever done anything like this before. From the outset I felt, therefore, that the staging had to be of the utmost simplicity to allow the singers to focus on the only thing they are meant to do – buy and sell stocks – and for the audience to comprehend what is going around them. Lighting and costume provide a sense of theatricality in a delicate balancing act with the reality of a trading floor – because let’s not forget, it is an actual (albeit artificial) trading floor, not a mere theatrical impression of one!
Alessandro Talevi Director