Philip Glass, “Ik-Ook” (1977). Philip Glass, electric organ.
(4’13”, 9.7 MB, mp3)
Rather like my fateful encounter with Jeremy Bentham, I was wandering pleasantly half-bombed on midday Chimay Bleus around the streets by Bruxelles-Midi station while waiting for the Eurostar when I turned a corner and bumped into this guy.
I thought he’d been dressed up as a prank but it turns out this is a Regular Thing. This day’s outfit is supposed to “honour the IT division of the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB).” Apparently Belgian tech geeks are into yachting; or at least Yacht Rock.
So I went to Cologne to see Karlheinz Stockhausen’s opera SONNTAG aus LICHT, the culmination of his epic LICHT cycle of seven operas, one for each day of the week. Only now has this opera been given a complete, fully-staged performance, some eight years after its completion and three years after the composer’s death. So much vague pronouncement and speculation has surrounded the LICHT project, based on what often seems so little direct experience, that I had to see it for myself.
Having said that, it seems impossible to discuss SONNTAG without going into a description of what happens in each of its five lengthy scenes, interpreted in this case by La Fura dels Baus, the same guys who did that version of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre I saw a while back. At the same time, it seems rather pointless to just give a rundown of what each scene contains: this will surely be covered in greater detail elsewhere. Some audience descriptions are online, along with video and photos of the production.
SONNTAG is an opera with no plot, not even any dramatic tension; not does it attempt to work on the audience to extract a catharsis as so much theatre which passes itself off as ‘ritual’. It matches perfectly a description I once read of Stockhausen’s earlier Sirius: “a sci-fi mystery play”. Each scene presents a tableau, depicting the spiritual aspects of all creation, in Stockhausen’s own peculiar vernacular.
I went into SONNTAG at noon on Easter Sunday and left at 9.30 that night. The next morning I went to see the service at the Kölner Dom, which included a performance of Liszt’s Choral Mass, and saw again much of what I had experienced the previous day. The use of word and music in affirmation of belief, the smoke and scent of the incense, the occasional chimes, the processions and movements of the clergy and of the congregation, the different colours of light suffusing the haze above the altar, from the sunlight streaming through Gerhard Richter’s windows, to the conclusion where the congregation turn to embrace each other. All of these aspects were present in Stockhausen’s opera. The connections between the two should not be at all surprising, but it was a powerful reminder that so much of what seems outlandish in Stockhausen’s music theatre has been an established part of life for centuries.
The Winstons, “Amen, Brother” (1969).
(2’31”, 3.4 MB, mp3)
Off to see Sonntag aus Licht – back after Easter.
Everything on Wikipedia is contentious: tomato soup is no exception. Since an entry first appeared in January 2006 – a mere three sentences describing it only as a tinned food, with “the consistency of cream of wheat and… tarty to the taste” – the humble comfort food has been a source of trivial controversy.
This is, of course, to be expected; yet in five years this brief article has been subjected to an unusually high level of arbitrary editing. Beside racist taunts, casual denigration of tomato soup, and mysterious references to the 1998 Swiss Tomato Soup Rebellion, debate has smouldered on the discussion pages over whether the ability to be served both hot and cold is noteworthy, and whether it is necessary to provide a citation demonstrating that tomato soup is, in fact, a soup made of tomatoes. It has also been the blameless target of revisions attributing the soup with the ability to increase sperm count, or of actually being a powdered donut made from llamas.
Despite all this, one element has remained constant for the past four years, surviving every revision and reversion since February 2007:
The American composer Robert Ashley wrote “Empire”, a section of his opera Atalanta (Acts of God), on the origins and proliferation of tomato soup.
Wonderfully, as well as being an excellent opera by one of the past century’s greatest composers, “Empire” deals with tomato soup purely as an industrial commodity, precisely as described in it’s original Wikipedia entry. Even more wonderfully, Ashley has stated that “Empire” is in fact
an allegorical telling of the founding of one of the great multinational corporations. The story was told to me by the scion of the family of that corporation. I have changed the names (and the product) to protect the privacy of the source. And I have deliberately made the metaphor (soup) more casual and humorous than the actuality of corporate America.
For all these years, the one constant in Wikipedia’s quest for authoratitiveness has been an operatic metaphor. Ashley has also stated that Atalanta (Acts of God) is an opera about story-telling, about the persistence of myth through its mutability. Already, Wikipedia has imbued “Empire”‘s origin myth with an obstinate authenticity of the sort that outlasts conventional history.
Someone had given me a CD-R filled with dodgy music software, along with several thousand MIDI files from a boatload of various computer games. What on earth are you expected to do with a bunch of video game MIDI files? I used Andrew Culver’s ic program to select certain files by chance, then use chance to extract one instrument track from the file, assign it a new instrument patch, and insert it into a 15-minute composition.
The resulting trainwreck was played through whatever SoundBlaster card was in the computer, using the standard General MIDI set of instrument patches. In the middle of the piece I switched everything over to the percussion channel. The glitches you can hear are down to half a dozen sets of MIDI instructions all sending conflicting demands at once.
For the past couple of weeks I have been writing music and seeing some very cool gigs, however right now I’m just trying to upload something to Soundcloud. Should be ready any day now.
Soundcloud, if you’re going to keep dicking around like this you’d better come up with some sort of cute Failwhale character to offset the rage.