Lend Me a (Digitally Recorded) Tenor

Recently I was talking with a composer friend whose current projects include a new opera. When I asked about instrumentation, cast, etc., he indicated that his plan at the moment was to prepare the piece as a fixed-media four-screen video projection with sound. (I think. I’m sure he’ll correct me if I’m remembering incorrectly.) I’ve been kicking around ideas for my own opera for years, but for an unknown composer in my situation, writing an opera is like laboring over a seven-course meal just in case somebody shows up for dinner uninvited. The thought of working in a fixed-media context, however, makes the proposition a bit more sensible: The effort and cost of “production” is heavily, heavily front-loaded, and once the thing’s done, it can be easily exported just about anywhere given the proper audio and video gear. Electronics could put me within striking distance of my opera.

However, this very fixity might be a double-edged aesthetic sword: One of the things I cherish most about producing scores rather than fixed-media pieces is that they can be interpreted and reinterpreted; the possibilities are potentially infinite. Fixed-media composition does not offer this kind of headroom. On the other hand, that same fixity is awfully appealing in a context where the subtlest nuance of utterance is of vital importance: The inflection of lines in an opera is something that might benefit from extremely fine control, control of the sort that a written score might not be able to offer. And what about the sets and cast? If my dramatic instincts have been as saturated by film (as opposed to theater) as I suspect, maybe I want the characters to look the same every time I see the piece. Video can do that, but it would be impractical with a conventional score.

These approaches are by no means mutually exclusive, of course. I could roll with fixed-media audio in lieu of a pit band and use live singers in front of a video projection, for instance. In any case, the possibilities offered by new media to realize my ambitions have ramifications beyond their possible logistical advantages that must be considered.

3 thoughts on “Lend Me a (Digitally Recorded) Tenor

  1. davidcoll

    In any case, the possibilities offered by new media to realize my ambitions have ramifications beyond their possible logistical advantages that must be considered.

    i can’t agree more w/this last phrase. right now i’m dealing w/this, and i have to say that the way one goes about creating material from scratch and all its implications must have to do w/the relations w/in ones world of technological possibilities….easier said than done, but i share your excitement!

    Reply
  2. philmusic

    “..Electronics could put me within striking distance of my opera…”

    Well you have to start somewhere and a self contained work is good calling card. Opera these days is not so much about imagination or scale (and stage directors tend to have their own ideas)–its about finding the opportunity. Use the means you have.

    Phil Fried

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  3. McDuff

    There’s no reason why you can’t do both. Tell a story in a fixed media form and then, if that gets successful, people will be interested in other works that you’ve done. Then you’ll be in the position, to borrow your metaphor, of having enough people show up at your house to make it worth preparing that seven course meal.

    Reply

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