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I remember sitting in a recital at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, watching a friend play a piece for electronics and thumb piano. It was solo piece, and the stage was dark. I remember thinking how lonely it looked to be on a stage by yourself in the dark, and my imagination started humming.
I pictured an old man, far past his prime. The man had been a talented and respected orator in his heyday, but age and disease had caught up with him. Such a man commands a certain amount of respect, even as he fades from relevance, and I imagined him giving what would likely be his final speech in public--although he wouldn't know it.
But everyone in the audience can see it. We've all witnessed such a spectacle; it's awkward and painful, and the last place you want to be is in that room, watching that formerly graceful and charming old man fumble through a simple speech. His poise is gone. His control is gone, and his eloquence has escaped him. Primarily, he's just trying to hold onto some last measure of respectability.
As he tries to hold onto his former self, he attempts to hold back his failures--as a father, as a spouse, as a business partner. But as we all age, it becomes increasingly difficult to mask our flaws, and he fails to do so.
It's a dark subject, to be sure, and it's one that I've seen play out in real life to people that I love. My intent with this opera was to show that pain and force the audience to feel that awkwardness, to feel uncomfortable.
The lone character, The Great Man (superbly portrayed by baritone Ted Federle [www.tedfederle.com], pictured above), sings directly to the audience from a podium, into a live microphone. Thus, the audio comes both from the vocalist directly and from speakers on either side of the stage. There is no fourth wall; the audience is part of the production.
To show the deterioration of the mind, I wanted to process the live audio coming through the speakers. My friend, colleague, and fellow composer Cameron Ward wrote and programmed these effects using MAX/Msp and manned the mixing board for the performance. The audio processing is part of the performance, as the operator (in this case, Cameron) controls the effects in real time.
all materials copyright 2009 seth colaner, all rights reserved