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Club Foot Orchestra

UPCOMING PROJECTS

Ghost Ship Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, commissioned by Roger Arvid Anderson and to be performed by the Oakland Symphony in February 2018.

Divide Light, Chamber Opera based on the poetry of Emily Dickinson, to be performed by the New Camarata Opera. Lesley Dill, Concept & Design. Spring, 2018 in New York, NY.

Surveillance, an experimental opera featuring custom electronics and an audience-directed narrative is scheduled to premiere in San Francisco in 2018.

Surveillance is an experimental opera, set in the near future, which examines the psychological and political effects of our culture of official and unofficial surveillance. Using a cast of four singers of widely diverse styles, and supported by a transcultural instrumental ensemble, Surveillance also uses modern detection devices to generate sounds and visuals which are integrated into the score and also are used to advance the narrative. The plot of Surveillance follows the creation of a suspect by the juxtaposition of data mining, behavior modeling, and an atmosphere of fear. The suspect is apprehended in a public spectacle in which the audience plays a crucial role in determining the outcome. The piece examines the political usefulness of this spectacle to certain individuals within a climate of deniability and scapegoating. I will be assisted in the writing of the libretto by playwrights who have strong experience in Hip hop theater. 

One of my interests in Surveillance is the exploration of the male singing voice, with an emphasis on unusual parings of vocal style and  instrumental and rhythmic textures. I recently have worked with three excellent male singers with contrasting styles with whom I’d like to further collaborate. One is a jazz vocalist and accordionist and performs beatbox and spoken word in a hiphop environment, another is an Western operatic tenor and guitarist, and the third performs Arja, a Balinese operatic style and is an internationally recognized virtuoso on a variety of gamelan instruments. A fourth singer is a woman who performs and improvises in the Persian Classical tradition. The vocalists will be accompanied by an ensemble of multi-instrumentalists who specialize in performing multiple genres of music: a cellist and marimbist who is also a Balinese gamelan specialist, a conservatory-trained improvising violinist who is an award winning bluegrass virtuoso, a pianist who has made a reputation on Persian santur and percussion. I will perform on wind instruments including trombone, shakuhachi, and conch shells, and electronic instruments of my own design, such as the eBone which can control lighting, video, and sound-processing.   Given the very wide variety of vocal styles, a very wide variety of possible instrumental textures, and the chaotic addition of experimental electronics, I am optimistic that we will develop some beautiful, thrilling, but yet unheard combinations. Specifically, a few of the many juxtapositions I am excited to try: beatbox and hiphop spoken word accompanied by a Balinese hocket texture (kotekan); a duet of the Western tenor and the Persian classical singer highlighting the similarities and differences in timbre and ornamentation; Balinese Arja singing accompanied by a string quartet, hearing melodic phrases traced by santur and marimba in subtly different tuning systems; and the list goes on and on. 

Another interest in Surveillance is the design and construction of electronic interfaces for musical, visual and detection purposes. The aforementioned eBone is a conventional trombone fitted with an ultrasonic transmitter/receiver which communicates the exact position of the slide for performance control purposes.  The singers are fitted with wire-frame sensors which transmit gestural data. This surveillance data is translated into “musical signatures”, rows of notes which are first heard electronically (and quite mechanically) and then gradually “humanized” when repeated and phrased by the musical ensemble, broken up into motives and recombined. Eventually these phrases are incorporated into the vocalizations of the singers. As the drama proceeds, musical signature is recognized through predictive methods, and the suspect is apprehended. In the “trial” that follows, cameras pointed towards the house capture the audience reaction to prompted questions shown on the video screen. This audience data is used to subtly influence the outcome. Video is used throughout to help the audience navigate the narrative, to visualize the transformation of the musical signatures and to interpret the outcomes. I will be assisted by a technologist who is recognized for his creative approach to theater presentation.

I believe that the materials of music are quite universal and transmittable from one culture to another, even elements which are seemingly incompatible have the ability of being transmuted symbolically, and this approach has informed all of my composing since my undergraduate years. Surveillance continues this outlook, and is overt in its desire to contrast voices and instrumental textures across cultures. 

When I started scoring silent film 30 years ago, I recognized how telling a story unleashes my creative potential. After 15 silent film scores, six operas, and eight evening-length dance scores, I have noticed an evolution where I’m less interested in re-interpreting someone else’s narrative and more interested in having my own voice heard. Surveillance is a work where I can express the values which I find important and tell a story which as I think it should be told.

Surveillance is a political work, a contemporary work, and I feel that I have performers and collaborators who have demonstrated in the past artistic pursuits, a commitment to social justice as well as a commitment to great art and great drama.