Press Room

Stanford’s Bing Concert Hall Hosts World Premiere of The Demo: New Multimedia Work That Reimagines Historic Computer Demonstration (April 1 & 2)

This spring, on April 1 and 2 at Bing Concert Hall, Stanford Live hosts the world premiere of The Demo, reflecting on a pivotal moment in Silicon Valley’s history and one of its most influential figures. It was Douglas Engelbart’s egalitarian vision of how technology could expand human intelligence that set the world on its head, ultimately paving the way for many of the tools that we now take for granted in our daily lives. Engelbart’s 1968 demonstration of the fundamental features of personal computing – a watershed moment that has since been dubbed “the mother of all demos” – is reimagined in The Demo as a technology-infused stage work – a unique hybrid of music, media, and demonstration – by composer-performers Mikel Rouse and Ben Neill.

Long before the giants of the personal computer era emerged in the mainstream, Engelbart and his team of researchers at the Augmentation Research Center at Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park – including technical assistant and future computing legend William English – presented a 90-minute live public demonstration entitled “A Research Center for Augmenting Human Intellect.”

In what became known as “the mother of all demos,” Engelbart’s presentation featured the public debut of the computer mouse, as well as of hypertext, dynamic file linking, shared-screen collaboration, and other interfacing applications that have shaped modern technology. This demonstration was filmed, and the resulting video is now part of the Engelbart Collection at Stanford University.

Set simultaneously in the 1960s and today – with Rouse portraying Engelbart and Neill playing English – Stanford Live’s upcoming premiere of The Demo will include re-enactments of the demonstration, video projections, computer-based voice processing and triggering, and Neill’s interactive electro-acoustic instrument, the “mutantrumpet.” Rouse and Neill employ a modern sonic palette with a score that marries electronica with operatic flourishes and minimalist vocal techniques. The typed text of the original demo serves as the libretto for the vocals and showcases Rouse’s own technique of “counter-poetry,” in which voices are latticed in intricate, echoing, and rhythmic patterns.

About Live Context: Art and Ideas

The Demo serves as the centerpiece of Live Context: Art and Ideas, a new event series announced by Stanford Live’s Executive Director Wiley Hausam. “We believe the ideas embedded in art can weave an even richer, unifying tapestry for the season, and connect to Stanford’s unique intellectual life,” Hausam explains. “To that end, Stanford Live will present contextual events that consider the unprecedented nature of Engelbart’s vision and his continuing legacy.”

Stanford Live and other campus partners will organize an array of classes, lectures, and discussions. Ancillary events will include a reunion reception before the premiere with participants in the original 1968 demonstration, a conversation about the digital future between pathbreaking technologists and influential public thinkers Jaron Lanier and Sebastian Thrun, and a closing panel event on digital technology and live performance. More details will be announced on the Stanford Live site at

The Demo was commissioned and developed by Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in association with eDream Institute (NCSA) at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

About the co-creators

Mikel Rouse is a composer, filmmaker, performer, director, and visual artist. A quick review of his biography provides a snapshot of his accomplishments: a trilogy of operas, books of string quartets, two feature-length films, awards from leading funding organizations, and at least one album recorded every year for the past 20 years. He blends tradition and technology with an artistic voice that resonates in contemporary thought. Rouse’s works based on pop culture continue to prove themselves artistic masterpieces long after the moment of “popularity” has passed. He is, according to the New York Times, “a composer many believe to be the best of his generation.”

Ben Neill is a composer, performer, producer, and inventor of the “mutantrumpet,” a hybrid electro-acoustic instrument. Neill’s music blends influences from electronica, jazz, and minimalism, blurring the lines between DJ culture and acoustic instrument performance. Neill has recorded nine CDs of his music, which has also been featured on numerous compilations. He has composed original music for two films: Guest of Cindy Sherman and 9-11/9-11. Active as a sound and installation artist, he has been presented widely in venues such as London’s Tate Modern and New York’s New Museum and PPOW Gallery. He was also featured in the PBS documentary Imagining America.

Director Bob McGrath is co-founder and director of Ridge Theater. He has directed theater, opera and ballet at venues including BAM, Lincoln Center, American Repertory Theater, Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall, Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Krannert Center, Vineyard Theater, Arts at St. Ann’s, La MaMa Experimental Theater Club, and The Kitchen. His direction abroad includes Queen Elizabeth Hall (London), Cité de la Musique (Paris), Muziekgebouw (Amsterdam), Oi Casa Grande Theater (Rio de Janeiro), and deSingel (Antwerp). McGrath has collaborated with composers, writers and conductors including John Adams, Gavin Bryars, Ben Katchor, David Lang, Michael Gordon, Neil LaBute, Warren Leight, Mark Mulcahy, Ben Neill, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR), Mikel Rouse, Susan Sontag, Robert Spano, DJ Spooky, Mac Wellman, and Julia Wolfe. He is currently an Associate Professor at Virginia Tech, and has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, New York University, and the University of California, Davis. McGrath is the recipient of three OBIE Awards, for Direction, Best Production, and Sustained Achievement.


About Stanford Live

Stanford Live is Stanford University’s performing arts presenter and producer, committed to sharing, celebrating, and advancing the art of live music, dance, theater, and opera. Stanford Live unites celebrated and emerging artists with the Stanford campus and greater Bay Area communities in a broad range of experiences that engage the senses and emotions, stimulate minds, and enrich lives. The organization values artistic vitality, learning, and an inclusive community. In addition to its home in Bing Concert Hall, Stanford Live also presents performances at other campus venues including Memorial Auditorium, Memorial Church, and Frost Amphitheater.


World premiere of The Demo and related events at Stanford’s Bing Concert Hall

April 1 & 2 at 7:30pm
The Demo (world premiere)
(Tickets: $45–$65)
Mikel Rouse: co-creator, composer and performer
Ben Neill: co-creator, composer and performer
Creative Team: Jeff Sugg, Jim Findley, Chris Ericson, and Hideaki Tsutsui

April 1 at 6pm
The Demo Reunion
(Free of charge)
Prior to the premiere there will be a reunion reception with participants in the original 1968 demonstration.

April 2 at 5pm
A Conversation About Our Digital Future: With Jaron Lanier and Sebastian Thrun

(Free of charge)
Pathbreaking technologists and influential public thinkers Jaron Lanier and Sebastian Thrun pause to reflect on the realization of Engelbart’s pursuit of computer augmentation and to articulate the directions that a digitally enhanced future might take.

April 3 at 12pm
Augmenting Performance: A Creative Panel on Digital Technology and Live Performance
(Free of charge)
A panel of contemporary artists and thinkers will address the ways that new technological developments are augmenting the ways we conceive and make live performance.
Co-created, Composed, and Performed by Ben Neill & Mikel Rouse
Co-conceived by Ben Neill, Mikel Rouse & Bob McGrath
Directed by Bob McGrath

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© 21C Media Group, February 2015

Photo: Valerie Oliveiro

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