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Music and art blend in ‘Once and Future Cities’ planetarium show

There are quite a few firsts involved in the “Once and Future Cities” planetarium show coming soon to Union Station. It’s the first time mathematics’ fractals have been animated and combined with music in a 3-D experience. It’s First Friday.

For a $15 a ticket, art and music lovers will be able to step away from the throngs on the streets of the art district and relax into the comfortable chairs or perhaps the large beanbag in the middle of the Arvin Gottlieb Planetarium. What they’ll experience is a unique 40-minute trip through a computer-generated wonderland of shapes that seem to go on forever, accompanied by ambient music.

The show has another purpose as well. Proceeds from the First Friday viewing and a special fundraiser April 25 will go to After The Harvest, a local hunger relief group known for gleaning extra produce from farms and donating it to food pantries. Science City will also get part of the gate from the First Friday event.

For Bentley Ousley, the show’s creator, “Once and Future Cities” is a combination of loves. Ousley is a Kansas City composer, artist and computer programmer who is also a member of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City and has worked with the planetarium for the past 11 years. He was part of a team that built a new projection system for the planetarium in 2010.

Ousley’s wife, Lisa Ousley, is executive director of After the Harvest.

The project had its start a few years ago when Ousley was tapped to compose music for a web series, he said. The series never got off the ground, but the music went on to become a grand prize winner in a Warner Brothers Pictures contest.

“It was a soundtrack in search of a movie,” he said.

About that time, he became enthralled with fractals. Fractals are images created by mathematical formulas that have an infinitely repeating quality. Fractals are a comparatively new art form, much of it available as open source on websites and forums. There were no 3-D fractals before 2009, and the planetarium show is the first time fractals have been adapted to a full dome setting, he said.

Ousley recruited fractal designers from all over the world, he said. In all about a dozen people contributed designs and code. He said he also got some help from Marius Schilder, developer of the virtual reality game Oculus Rift. Schilder redid the software for that game so it could be used to put the artwork on the 60-foot planetarium dome, he said.

The show flies viewers through 12 fractal landscapes to an electro acoustic score that is meant to reflect the relaxed, contemplative nature of the images, he said. Ousley calls the music “future nostalgia. It’s music designed to make you homesick for a place you never were.”

The show will be the first time the planetarium has ventured into the First Friday art scene as well.

The Ousleys hope to raise money for the hungry from ticket sales. After the Harvest volunteers go out each growing season and collect from farms the excess fruit and vegetables that can’t be sold at market. The food is good, but in some cases doesn’t meet grocery store standards of perfection. The nonprofit also arranges to pay shipping for excess produce from large commercial growers. The food is then given to food pantries like Harvesters Community Food Network of Kansas City.

Proceeds from the public showing of “Once and Future Cities” will be split between After the Harvest and Science City. There will also be a fund-raising event for After the Harvest, with a showing and reception on April 25 for $100 a person.

Box information:

Fund-raising event – 6 p.m. reception, 7 p.m. showing April 25. Tickets $100 per person at the door or online at: aftertheharvestkc.org/event/once-future-fundraiser/

First Friday public showing – 7 p.m. May 1. Tickets $15 apiece at Science City entrance on event day or online at: aftertheharvestkc.org/ and unionstation.org/sciencecity/events/once-and-future-cities-0

Both shows are at the Arvin Gottleib Planetarium, Science City in Union Station, 30 W. Pershing Road, Kansas City

Watch a trailer about the show: https://youtu.be/vaeWbfohoV8

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