New Shorts composer, Joe Diebes, writes:
I’m currently composing a new opera, WOW, in collaboration with director David Levine and poet Christian Hawkey. WOW has a completely different instrumentation than that of Hotel Elefant, and so rather than trying to adapt the work I decided to try a different direction for the project. Sometimes unexpected contraints become the seed for a whole new way of looking at a piece, and since I’m still looking for the piece, I thought why not do ‘an Experiment in Opera’. The way I’ve been thinking about the larger work situates the singers and instrumentalists in a recording studio environment, where short fragments performed by them are sampled and manipulated by a recording engineer (instead of a conductor) and a ‘producer’ (myself). The musicians do not follow a linear score, but rather they adhere to a strict set of rules and processes that limit what can be played at any given moment. The combinations of sonorities, words, and action are not predetermined in any linear way, but rather unfold differently each performance depending on the interactions of the various players involved.
Given the logistical complexity of such a project it seemed senseless to try and do a version of it in the context of the New Shorts Concert. It would require too much rehearsal, explanation, technical logistics, and personel. And so I did what I haven’t done for six or seven years: I broke out Sibelius (notation software) and wrote a linear score that would be readable by an ensemble with limited rehearsal time. However, I wanted to maintain the spirit and logic of the larger work. To this end I made a note by note transcription of four measures of the Milli Vanilli hit, ‘Girl You Know It’s True’ (1988) and arranged it for Hotel Elefant. I then subjected the four measures to a range of fragmentation and permutation algorithms to arrive at the piece that will be presented at the New Shorts concert. The inspirational moment for this particular excerpt is the infamous CD skip that exposed the pop duo as lip-synching ‘frauds.’ One can only imagine the out-of-jointness of time experienced by Rob and Fab as their careers, stardom, and hopes were instantly dashed by a digital glitch.