Tylor Neist

IN 1987, author and space travel enthusiast Frank White published a book called The Overview Effect, in which he spoke of the psychological shift experienced by many astronauts and cosmonauts following journeys beyond our atmosphere. As Apollo 14 pilot Edgar Mitchell put it, looking at our planet from far away left him with "an overwhelming sense of universal connectedness" or "an ecstasy of unity" with every inhabitant on it.

That feeling is something that White wants us to embrace in our everyday lives. And it's what inspired Overview Effect, an immersive theater experience occurring as part of Design Week Portland.

The brainchild of Tylor Neist, the composer and artistic director for the self-proclaimed "indie classical group" the Bridgetown Orchestra, the piece combines film, music, and effects in an attempt to replicate the experience of being launched into space, floating above our planet, and then descending back into Earth's atmosphere.

"The journey walks that line merging the scientific mind with the philosophical mind," says Neist. "It follows a classic hero's journey, but while we want it to feel like an external journey, we also want you to have the same internal transformation that Mitchell and others did on the way back home. It's that shift in perspective about humanity on this 'pale blue dot,' as Carl Sagan described it."

  • NASA

At the heart of it is an hour-long chamber piece written by Neist and played by a 12-piece ensemble of woodwinds, strings, and percussion that the composer has described as "at times epic, and at other times wondrous." Combined with a bit of spoken word and poetry used as a narrative throughout, the hope is for the music to imitate a movie soundtrack complementing what is otherwise a blitz on the senses. Through the use of film projections, light installations, and cymatics (the use of sound vibrations), the audience will be given some idea of the experience of liftoff, orbit, and reentry.

"We'll have lights flashing in the audience to have you feel like the rockets are taking off, and footage from the capsule as it's coming into the atmosphere," says Neist. "This is not just a third-person experience or like going to a play to watch people do things on stage. We want it to be overwhelming and to guide people into it."

Overview Effect
Bridgetown Orchestra, Ellyn Bye Studio at Portland Center Stage, 128 NW 11th, Fri April 15-Sat April 16, 7:30 pm, Sun April 17, 2 pm, Wed April 20, 7:30 pm, Thurs April 21, 2 & 7:30 pm, Fri April 22-Sat April 23, 7:30 pm, $45, bridgetownorchestra.com