Since its establishment in 2015, CubaDupa has been a festival of creative people, a time to connect ideas and experiences, and a weekend that defines community through music and performing arts. For the 2020 CubaDupa, the free celebration takes things to the next level with its most ambitious project yet—a mass musical performance called CubaSonic.
Imagine almost 500 musicians lined from one end of Cuba Street to the other. Add to them a dozen conductors and an overhead array of speakers that will direct surround sound across the site. Throw in a locally-invented Tesla coil that can be played like a keyboard and shoots lightning into its surrounding. Finally, add a bespoke score written for this CubaDupa mass performance zone by leading New Zealand composer John Psathas, and that begins to describe the CubaSonic experience.
“The inspiration for this mass musical disruption came a few years ago when John Psathas was exploring the festival environments, contemplating the possibility of connecting the neighbourhood celebration with one big beautiful music performance,” says CubaDupa Director Gerry Paul. “He wondered what it would be like to unify the crowd with a creative performance and give the audience an experience that spanned the entire festival—and the idea for CubaSonic was born.”
The immense scale of this event, and Psathas’s unprecedented vision, will become reality thanks to some of Aotearoa’s leading music institutions, including Orchestra Wellington, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Royal New Zealand Air Force Band, The Nudge, Boat, synthesizer genius Leo Coghini, and 250 Batucada drummers from across the country.
In development since 2015, CubaSonic will be performed once each day during the 28 and 29 March 2002 festival. The project involves the formation of a new kind of mass mass music-making ensemble, over 60 speakers and overhead soundtrack spread across multiple city blocks, and a range of new technical challenges and production costs. The ongoing development has been funded by Creative New Zealand and other generous festival partners.
“CubaDupa is one of Wellington’s primary lightning rods, generating and releasing a massive, positive energy charge into the city every year,” says Psathas. “Festivals offer unique opportunities for ambitious ideas. At their best they give us experiences we never forget, experiences that exceed our expectations both in the witnessing of art and in the moments of massed connection that sneak up and take us by surprise. Cubasonic, played throughout the heart of Cuba Street, will be vast, epic, and monumental.”
The mass sonic spectacle is a unique combination of contemporary music and technology, and part of the festival’s plans to present beautiful disruptions throughout the weekend. Beyond the mass live ensemble, and the haunting electronic score, a technological centrepiece of CubaSonic is a musical Tesla coil known as Chime Red.
The polyphonic high-energy synthesizer was invented by Josh Bailey in the Hutt Valley, and literally makes music with arcs of lightning. The combined musical sources—live performers, custom composed soundtrack, and Chime Red—will all be amplified in real time through a special audio system that has also been developed locally. The combined ten-minute music work will move sound up and down Cuba Street, immersing 50,000 people in a sonic experience.
“As an engineer, I build Tesla coils, but it is my love of music and artistic collaboration that has taken my work into new places that combine science and art,” says Baily. “The joy for me is when a professional musician takes it to the next level. I am beyond thrilled that John Psathas has incorporated Chime Red into the CubaSonic project, and has composed this work for hundreds of people to perform, and thousands to enjoy.”
CubaSonic is the centrepiece of a revived CubaDupa, and a bold statement about our return to the streets. It represents yet another Wellington-based collaboration that pushes boundaries, grows the creative community in new ways, and offers festival-goers a new sense of awe and wonder.
"CubaDupa is definitely not a boring place to be," says Eric Holowacz, Chief Executive of the non-profit charitable trust that produces the festival. "We owe it to the Creative Capital, our growing international profile, and the tens of thousands of people who come out to attend and engage with the Cuba Street neighbourhood. Together, it's our job make sure that the CubaDupa weekend is bold, inspiring, immersive, and unlike anything else in New Zealand."
In 2019 the festival was moved indoors as a response to the heightened security concerns immediately following the Christchurch terrorism. For the next CubaDupa, the festival returns to the outdoor format with twelve stages, 30 parade groups, special creative zones, a new circus arts and cabaret venue, and over a hundred food vendors.
“CubaSonic is a highly ambitious undertaking,” explains Psathas. “It is extremely brave and visionary of CubaDupa to commit to presenting this complex, immersive, mass musical project. It’s ground-breaking, and I’m super excited to feel it all coming together.”
With help from creative partners like John Psathas, a Tesla coil inventor, pioneering sound technicians, and hundreds of local musicians, CubaDupa will electrify the street, rejuvenate the urban environment, and disrupt the heart of the creative capital with beautiful experiences on 28 and 29 March 2020.
"We invite all of Aotearoa, and indeed visitors from across the Pascific, throughout Asia, and around the world to join us in Wellington's iconic neighbourhood," says Holowacz. "Come the end of March, we will celebrate sense of place, creative community, and daring artistic projects such as CubaSonic, and there won't be anything like it."