(in progress) An Integrated Opera: Conversation in the Cathedral

An Integrated Opera: Conversation in the Cathedral

1st Draft, written from late 2019 to early 2020

In 2013, I read the novel <Conversation in the Cathedral> by Mario Vargas Llosa, and it changed my life. Ever since then I want to adapt it into a movie, or Opera. Besides my personal compositions, this is the project I hope to focus on in the next 5 year. In the spirit of Dasein, the opera will be built on live interactive-generative improvisation and mixed ensemble. The goal is to realize Structualism via computer music.

Theoretical Framework: Subjective Manipulation of Time and Realization of Structuralism

—- Why is it possible to realize structuralism via integrated computer music opera?

  • B-Theory of Time

Music is an art of time, it’s essential to understand the relationship between structure and time. Structuralism is the methodology that Mario Vargas Llosa adopted in the writing of Conversation in the Cathedral. Events are presented surpassing the time limitation but still under a progress. Structuralism can be illustrated as an actualization and reorganization of internal perceived consciousness, which makes the reading experience highly personalized and invariant. Blacking (2000) defined that music is a synthesis of cognitive processes in culture (p.89), which makes music composition the most potential to represent the perceived consciousness of structuralism, and with technological progress, the complexities of structuralist content can be more thoroughly realized. Music transform the perceived interior experience that the listeners have and the time as a conceptual unit in the moment was modulated in the psychoacoustic space.

The foundation of contemporary metaphysics of time, discussed by McTaggart (1908), is categorized into A and B series: A series of time runs from far past, near past, present and feature, while B series runs from earlier to later. In the A/B dilemma, B-theorist Katherin A. Rogers (2014) claims that all events are phenomenologically defined and subjective. Structuralism presented in electronic music is rooted in a B-theory of time, because it’s about creating a subjective temporal space where the absoluteness of linearity is diluted.

  • Perceived Temporality: Psychoacoustic and Spatialization

Robert P. Morgan (1980) had defined music space as the space of the framework where musical events were shaped (p.529). How this space is represented? Psychoacoustic space and spatialization realized it. Dasein aims to actualize the variance of sonic motion of psychoacoustic space. Roads (2011) had described the spatialization of sound as a choreography stimulated by position identification and movement animation (p. 222). Spatialization makes music as subjective temporal space be actualized in the physical dimension. An actual individualized space was therefore created by electronic music and spatialization techniques.

  • Form and Aesthetic Development: Algorithm and World Music Elements

Music as a temporal art form in time itself, as Stockhausen (1959) mentioned in How Time Passes Time, an ordered relationship. It’s a composer’s unique individual manipulation of sonic materials that strengthen the creative agency therefore influenced the listeners’ interior perception of music induced. Composer creates sonic information by the subjective order of time, creating a conditioned semantic space within their narrative. Those narratives attached is a powerful temporal continuum of unknown: traditionally, it could be framed, reinterpreted and enchanted by the listeners, but into the modern age of electronic music practice, composers can manipulate it too.

In this continuum, where time’s nonlinearity and heterogeneity in composition is recognized as a normal notion, sound is no longer the formal representation of historical rationality, but a distorted chaos for individualism. Composers in computer music brings possibilities to find beauty in this chaos:

  • Variation of compositional structure in time becomes the goal for computer music programming. Traditional music programming languages like MUSIC V focuses on resembling and segmenting the frequential and timbral characteristic of sonic unit or rhythmic features on a linear macroscale, while new time-sensitive programming languages such as ChucK endeavors to modulates continuity in real-time.
  • Indeterminacy introduces an open structure. As Cope (1997) summarized, indeterminacy as a new composition technique led to discoveries of unconscious stylistics surprise, such freedom provided, combined with determinate materials, increases the interactive creation (p.161).
  • Another example is algorithmic composition. One central concern regarding algorithmic composition is to realize the utilization, variations and interconnection of Motive. Previous attempt includes Project One by Gottfried Michael Koenig, whose program attempts to build a static model based on one-dimensional possibility. To create diverse outcome, chaos/self-similarity, markov chains, generative grammars, genetic algorithms, cellular automata, neutral networks (Nierhaus, p.5) are introduced and it all includes the condensed possibilities of time sequences.

The central aesthetic concern for algorithmic music, brought out by Gerhard Nierhaus (2009), is to understand “to what extent it contributes to the genuine quality” (p.260), encoding the logic of the sonic results produced by music programming language can be of great challenge, but such aesthetic proposition leads to the goal for Dasein: to create surprise instead of outcome – beauty doesn’t come from the outcome only, it needs an impressed performer to work together.

The concept of music forms in classical music is a symbol for aesthetic domination from a privileged class. Form restriction in musical expression is the production of capitalism. Though contemporary music had endeavors to break through those norms, in Aphasia, I seek to break through even further: from the boundary between highbrow and lowbrow, history and contemporary, rock n’ roll and avant-garde, and including East and West. Aphasia will be a continuum of genres that does not subject to any restrictions.

For example, Operas are the summit of Western aesthetics of art music, while this already overly exploited genres can only represent a summit of western civilization, it is not truly speaking to everyone. I hope Aphasia can adopt elements from Beijing Opera, Japanese Noh Opera, melodrama and punk music narrative, to create a unique cosmopolitan delivery of music.

  • Sound Transformation

In Aphasia, sonic transformation will be also used for creating new instrument for the computer music ensemble and be a functional component of Dasein for real-time modification. As Roads (2015) indicated, “time becomes a plastic medium that can be generated, modulated, reversed…the undulations of envelopes and modulations weave into the fiver of musical multi timescales.” (p. 122). Also defined by Roads, sound transformation is highly dependent of musical context in electronic music, it includes univalent transformation (such as low-pass filter effect) and multivalent transformation (sonograph) (Roads, p. 122). In terms of the perceptual effect of transformation, it’s categorized into source-cause transformation, which focused on the base identity of sonic unit, and spectromorphological transformation that analyzes the properties of pitch, duration, loudness and spectrum. The sonic transformation methods had been realized by digital synthesizers and music programming synthesis techniques, such as Max/MSP, Csound, ChucK, Dasein aims to include sonic transformation techniques as the primary real-time modification methods and a source engine to develop new instruments.

In the acoustic area, alternative vocalization as another form of sonic transformation becomes an important substance for delivering spatial and structural music complexity. Anhalt (1984) has summarized a list of contemporary alternative vocal writings, in additional to whisper, murmur, humm and other marginal sounds (coughing, sighing, audible breathing), use of phoneme-sequence, non-verbal-text representation, innovation in syntactic-semantic domain and language mix contributes to a quasi-static structure of composition(p.3 – p.7). In this spirit, Aphasia will be based on a carefully created libretti, adapted from the linguistic charisma of versions in different languages, to pursue verbal richness.

Sonic transformation further help develop structuralism in electronic/computer music.

  • Live Music workflow: on-the-fly spirit of Ge Wang

Among Agawu’s (2009) ten propositions regarding music, he stated that musical composition is more continuous in its real-time unfolding (p.24), pursuing dimensions above succession and simultaneity (p. 25). This became a concern of ChucK, a real-time audio synthesis language in application for live coding and real-time interaction. Ge Wang (2008) had explained that, the time properties of ChucK is “a guaranteed deterministic structure to use and reason about the system and a mechanism of time control” (p.76), this transforming time into a computable variable (p.38). When time surpasses its rigid linear identity in traditional composition, the biggest obstacle stops structuralism from happening naturally disappear.

Free will of an individual performer was made possible with the revolution: interactivity. The uncertainties of interactivity in live is assigned by the level of indeterminacies, whose level is what Dasein aims to achieve control for to make performer-composer and musical structures modulated interaction conveniently. Dasein seek to implement plug-in using ChucK to achieve real-time modification of musical parameters.

Synopsis of Opera <Conversation in the Cathedral>

Aphasia/Dasein will be composed as a programmatic piece. Adapted from the novel Conversation in the Cathedral, inspired by the style of Schubert, Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Pink Floyd The Wall and Beijing Opera storytelling style. Below is the synopsis of the primary motive for arrangement and each acts. The piece will be performed in different languages for lyrics including English, Spanish, Chinese, Russian. 4-Act.

Aphasia: Computer Music Ensemble

  • Aphasia: an electronic/computer music ensemble consisted of Beijing Opera & Noh Opera ensemble inspired new instruments and an alternative chorus.

Sonic Materials/Instruments prototype:

Group One – Prototype Instruments: (see appendix for photos)

Chinese Yueqin (3-string plucked string instruments), Sanxian, Erhu (2-String bowed instruments), Suona – Group of Beijing Opera Ensemble

Fue, Nohkan, Kakegoe, Yubizuke, Hariban – Group of Japanese Noh Ensemble

Guqin, Pipa, Xun, Dizi, Yangqin, Huobusi, Matouqin – Group of Other Chinese Instruments

Group Two – Prototype Percussions

Chinese Large Gong, Paiban, Tanggu – Group of Beijing Opera Percussion Ensemble

Taiko, Tsuzumi, Kotsuzumi – Group of Japanese Noh Percussion Ensemble

(for Noh percussion, sonica.jp company in Japan had developed a sound library)

Chorus Performing Style: Experimental vocalization with a style mix of Beijing Opera’s “stage speech” “prose dialogue”

Sampled from political speeches for audible verbal pronounce – alternative percussive effect

Ensemble Orchestration:

15 Instrumentalists: detailed use of sonic materials will be confirmed after conducting thorough research of above instruments prototype.

10 Percussion performed by 2 percussionists.

Chorus: For two vocal soloist and a small speaking-singing chorus (5 soprano, 5 alto, 4 baritone and 4 bass)

A Mezzo-Soprano as “Savalita”(Savalita’s gender is male in the novel, here the character will be cross-gender performed”

A Baritone as “Ambrosio”

A small Speaking-Singing Chorus as “all other conversations” – 20 people

Alternative Vocalization and Amplified live voices processing:

  1. Beijing Opera Vocal Style, Noh-Style, interrupted silence, expressive crying, Tongue click, audible sigh, muttering, audible whispering, shouting
  2. Range and Register: distribution from rising-descending, descending-rising, wide range of register change
  3. Intensity: from extremely low to extremely high in audible spectrum, changing
  4. Text-Use: Words, syllables, marginal sound, vowels in various combinations, source selected from different languages version of Conversation in the Cathedral
  5. Real-time processed of amplified sound in performance using ChucK: delayed echoes, ambient, noise…
  6. Sound Design: Sampling & Analysis

Conduct sound and spectrum analysis of prototyped instruments:

  1. Conduct sound analysis of source instrument prototype with Fourier Analysis Model and other analysis models.
  2. After acoustic re-recording and electronic re-recording, conduct timbre analysis and record relative data. Play the instrument prototyped sound through a loudspeaker in a large room and analyze the properties.
  3. spectrum-timbre analysis of Chinese Yueqin, Gu zheng, Eerhu, Dombra, Jetigen, to articulate perceived spectrum, conduct constant Q analysis based on critical bandwidths
  4. Sonogram Parameters analysis and peak tracking of sampled sounds materials and comb wavelet analysis/transform to separate harmonic part from noisy part.
  5. Analog-to-digital convert of certain components in source sound and signal processing of MIDI data. Synthesis methods will be chosen case by case. Additive, subtractive, physical modelling, waveform, granular, multiple wavetable, modulation…
  6. Morphosis of complex sonic materials to increase complexity, by filtering, re-synthesized and spectrum alternation. For recorded socio-politico materials (news, speeches, daily-life noises) and non-traditional chords mix, morphosis is applied to a continuum of sonic space instead of discrete pitch.
  • Sonic Transformation: Sound Synthesis and Effects
  • Time and Phase Reversal. Play back the sound, flip the time and amplitude axis.
  • Amplitude and Pitch processing through gain adjustments, normalization. For strong noise, use limiting and compression. To achieve modulation, use tremolo and multiband dynamics. Pitch-shifting and bending can be used for alternation the register during continuous duration, harmonization of pitch can be used for compensating certain range loss.
  • Time-domain and Frequency domain processing: low/high pass, band pass/reject, linear-phase/all-pass/shelving filters. Spectrum blurring/freezing/tracing/shift/stretching.
  • Granulation, convolution, reverberation, modulation and distortions. Possible specific effects: pitch-time changing, granulation with pitch-shifting, formant shifting, spatial mapping, geometric reverberation…
  • New Instruments Control Interface:
  • Generation and categorization of new sounds. Determine15 instruments.
  • Data mapping from input device (digital and analog) to microprocessor, finalize on controller’s interface.
  • Completion of ergonomics and precision of the new instruments with playing instruction.
  1. 战斗 ZHANDOU “BATTLESuona-like sound with Savalita’s Sprechstimme monologue, noise generated

background with fugue of electronic string instruments. Ends with an improv of that Suona instruments accompanied by generative sonic patterns.
Scenes: Savalita and Ambrosio met accidently in the bar and started a conversation about the early life, memories flowing in. (20 min)

  • 期待 QIDAI “EXPECTATION” – Alternative chorus crying, murmuring Russian version <Communist Manifesto>, strong Japanese Noh Taiko Percussive Effect with fixed 6/8 pattern. Sampled latin-style Spanish city pop and live distortion.

Scenes: Recalling from Ambrosio about the life of his beloved ex-Wife. Savalita remembered his frustrated universities past in communist revolution activities. (10 min)

  • 虚无 XUWU “NIHINISME” – Based on the improv pattern of Nohkan-like instrument in Act 2, generate a

motive lasting through Act 3, (Sanxian+Erhu) sound joins in with a fixed 8/8 pattern. Meso-level parameters adjusted. Chorus will be singing a major scale song, but in the Beijing Opera Vocal manner.
Scenes: Life and Death of the Muse, a mistress having relationships with political rival of Savalita’s father. (20min)

  • 意志 YIZHI “WILLPOWER” – With key signature fixed at G flat, and rhythmic progression also fixed,

Conductor picked out the materials from Song 3 and use any generative model to form the first half of installation. A Mezzo-Soprano and A Baritone sang in Beijing Opera crying style, with all other instruments improvised. Pre-recorded concrete materials sampled from Chinese, Peruvian…global communist folks. Scenes: Savalita discovered the actual cause of Muse’s death, and the fact that Ambrosio was his father’s secret homosexual sex-partner during alive. Ambrosio said goodbye to Savalita. (15 min)