For the past few years I’ve given a variety of lectures at institutions in the U.S. and abroad, including the University of Chicago, UCLA, Wayne State University, Palacky University of Olomouc, the Janacek Academy of Music and Performing Arts, UC San Diego, The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, UC Santa Barbara, the University of Pittsburgh, Chatham College, and the University of North Carolina.
Here are some of the lecture topics, with a brief description:
Sucktion: a woman, a laptop, a vibraphone, a vacuum cleaner
How forty homeless vacuum cleaners and a Furturism-inspired performative text libretto, by Douglas Kearney, coalesced into a cyborgopera. A portrayal of the ten-year evolution of this work, beginning with a color graphic score in Excel and ending with video clips from three different productions on three different continents.
Transfiguration: Deconstruction and Reconstruction
A setting of a poem by Djuna Barnes, Transfiguration, for soprano, flute, harp, and percussion, was commissioned by the Saarbrücken Festival. This lecture analyzes, in detail, how Transfiguration formally investigates and echoes the processes depicted in the poem. The poem explores the universal theme of the natural cycle of birth-death-rebirth, but reversed in time. Secondarily, metaphorical references to the Transfiguration are literally or figuratively implied. There are three sections: a brief Prologue, introducing the singer and the performers; Deconstruction; Reconstruction. In the second section (Deconstruction), the nine stanzas of the poem are initially reordered according to an elaborate mathematical scheme. Each stanza is represented by key phonemes, words, or fragments from the verses, often vocalized by the instrumentalists. Lines from verse or prose by Picasso, Dante (“Commedia”), Margery of Kempe, Tom O’Bedlam’s Song (referred to in Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” ) and the Bible (Ecclesiastes) are interwoven as commentary, sung by the soprano. After all nine verses from the Barnes poem have made their fragmentary appearances, the poem is then set as written (Reconstruction, the third section), yet embedded with references to the fragmented first ‘pass’ through the disordered verses. Throughout the piece, the words from Barnes’ poem and from the extraneous commentaries are extracted, dissected, and sonically explored, so that the collective sound energies contribute to and illuminate the trajectories of the poem as it regenerates itself.
The Silent Steppe Cantata: an Odyssey through Central Asia
At this time in the history of the U.S., whatever activity we’re given the opportunity to engage in, as citizen ambassadors, must be pursued. The Silent Steppe Cantata, a large-scale sonic and theatrical portrait of the Republic of Kazakhstan, mingles history and aesthetics with literature and music. Unfolding in segments of time stretching back to the 13th century, it will also be projected into the future. An international collaborative, it combines the talents of American composer Anne LeBaron; Kazakh writer Beysenbay Suleimenov; the Kazakh children’s choir, “Koktem;” the Kazakh National Folk Orchestra, “Orchestra Otyrar Sazy;” the young Kazakh tenor, Timur Bekbosunov; and the Peruvian documentary filmmaker, Sandra Powers. Research trips have resulted in rare video and audio footage of the Singing Dune and of the Yassui Mosque and Mausoleum Complex. The Silent Steppe Cantata will be premiered in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and at the Palace of Peace in Astana, in the summer of 2010.
Pope Joan: Dance Opera Starring the Ninth-Century Cross-Dressing Papessa
Pope Joan, a dance opera (which can also be performed in concert), is a dramatic setting of Enid Shomer’s poems, which purport to be documents found on the body of Pope John VIII at his/her death. According to many documented sources, the future Papessa began her calling in the ninth century as an ecclesiastic scribe. She joined a Benedictine monastery at the insistence of her first lover and later moved to Athens and Rome, where, still disguised as a man, she became cardinal and then, in 856, Pope John VIII. She was stoned to death after giving birth to a child during a papal procession in 858. Joan's ninth-century experiment provides a lens through which we wished to examine contemporary values and expectations of gender. Some of the thematic elements, reflecting contemporary issues that are integral to Joan’s story, include women in the church; cross-dressing; simultaneous birth/death as a Christian motif; the commingling of physical and spiritual love; and intolerance of the unfamiliar.
Traces of Mississippi: a Continental Harmony Project
Commissioned by the American Composers Forum and the NEA, I was given the mandate, with Traces of Mississippi, to heal long-standing rifts in a racially divided county in the state of Mississippi, while celebrating the county’s history on the cusp of the 21st century. The project involved an orchestra, two choruses, local rap artists and poets, along with a nationally known poet. Despite recurrent obstacles and challenges, the work ultimately prevailed, spawning a weekend-long eponymous festival that united the four cities in the county. The process of composing the piece, of engaging with the community, and of the premiere itself was filmed, and later featured in a PBS broadcast.
Doing Their Singing, or Singing Their Undoing?
An examination of the treatment of female characters in four of my operas: Irona in Sucktion; Marie Laveau in Crescent City; the Papessa in Pope Joan; Eurydice in The E. & O. Line.
Concert Theater: Origins in Performance Art, Happenings, and Fluxus
John Cage understood the relation of music to theater as well as any composer, and better than most. He regarded music and / or sounds---what enters through the ears---as theater: “What it is is theater and we are in it and like it, making it.”
What can performers or composers do to advance the agenda for embracing and enhancing visual elements already present on the stage, or for crossing boundaries and blending other disciplines with music in ways that are difficult to categorize? Why does visual engagement of the audience matter, and should it matter? These inquiries, along with examinations of conceptual compositions and the foregrounding of the body, are supported with visual and audio examples of my work, Nam June Paik, Heiner Geobbels, Mauricio Kagel, and others.
Reflections of Surrealism in Postmodern Musics
Although the surrealist movement and the literary and visual works associated with it have been widely documented, little has been written concerning surrealist elements that have crossed over into music. A close examination of the history of surrealism reveals two principal components---automatism and collage---that are fundamental to the link between surrealism and a subset of contemporary music. Selected musical practices, and how they sustain and transform early twentieth century artistic behaviors associated with surrealism, are explored.
The Architecture, Adventure, and Art of Graphic Notation
An examination of selected works by Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, Earle Brown, John Cage, Morton Feldman, and others, grounded in my own approach as evidenced in compositions such as Concerto for Active Frogs, Sucktion, and Hsing.
HyperOpera: The Queen in Yellow; Seer / Seen; A.E.R.
How heightened collaborative processes in the creation and production of opera---including narrative, non-narrative, and no narrative examples---leads to unexpected, combustive, highly charged new operatic forms.
Extended Techniques for the Harp
A demonstration of techniques and notation for bowing, preparations (with alligator clips, paper, chains, etc.), slide work, and other methods of playing the harp that broaden the potentials of the instrument. A separate demonstration on various types of electronic processing of an electric or amplified harp can be included.