Black Fell: a story in song

News | Posted on Thursday 2 November 2023

'Black Fell' is a new way to hear music, says composer Martin Suckling.

Black Fell is set at Kielder Observatory.

Audiences can experience musical performance in an entirely new way, with the launch of the interactive digital opera, ‘Black Fell’.

Professor Martin Suckling, Professor of Composition and Head of Music at the University of York, has designed the project to bring together online gaming and musical composition, creating entirely new possibilities in the field of musical performance.

‘Black Fell’, tells the story of an astronomer’s night-time visit to Kielder Observatory, a place she’d visited as a child with her father. With the sky obscured by clouds, and no stars visible the protagonist descends into introspection.


The audience navigates its own way into the music, either by ear alone, or with the optional visual aid of a virtual ‘forest’, which acts as a navigation device for the audience.

“It’s a story in song, accessed via a website, in which the listener controls the narrative direction and the musical evolutions,” explains Martin. “In effect it’s a game for music, where the players are in a virtual orchestra through which they can freely move.”

Martin says the project has been specifically designed to take advantage of the myriad possibilities online game environments could offer to composers in terms of audience interaction.

Musical space

“A central feature of Black Fell is to allow the player-audience to move through musical space as if it is a physical environment: imagine being able to walk amidst the seats of an orchestra while it is performing, or rather, wander around multiple orchestras whose different musics blend but also work independently. 

“The player’s movements in the game environment controls the balance between different types of musical materials. By moving towards or away from different types of musical texture, the player is an active agent in composing the musical setting for the poetry.”


Martin created the opera after the COVID-19 pandemic generated an upsurge of interest in online musical experiences. He says most productions have been limited to filmed performances of existing music, and he wanted to explore how musical structure and audience interaction could be influenced by the online game environment.

He says: “Just as the choral music of Palestrina and the orchestral music of Beethoven were moulded by the cathedrals and concert halls for which they were composed, so Black Fell is designed to take advantage of the ‘venue’ in which it is performed.”

Notes to editors:

Black Fell has been co-created with celebrated poet and author Frances Leviston, the violinist Jonathan Morton and the mezzo-soprano Loré Lixenberg, and funded by Digital Creativity Labs.