Betrayed By Technology:  An Interview with Jason Cady

Jason Cady, one of the co-founders of EiO, composed his new opera ‘I Need Space’ for the upcoming Story Binge II at Merkin Concert Hall.  In advance of this premiere, we sat down with Jason to talk about his unique perspective how our lives in ‘the future’ are just a big disappointment, and how opera can and should be fun.

EIO: What’s your opera about?

CADY: I Need Space is about a couple, Janet and Ray, emigrating to Mars with their robot Model LNC500 and it takes place in 2016. One of the themes of the work is how disappointing the future has been. So it was important to look back from a perspective of how the future had been imagined back in the middle of the 20th century. In this piece, 2016 is utopian in certain ways: we’re migrating to other planets, we’ve got robots, jetpacks and hover cars. But despite the utopian aspects there are still problems because even if we go to utopia we’re still human and we’re still flawed.

EIO: Did you use different compositional styles to differentiate between the human and the robot?

CADY: I have a different time signature, tempo and key for each character as well as for when the characters are in dialogue with each other. I’m still working on how I’m going to do the voice of the robot but at the moment, I’m using a vocoder and ring modulating his voice which, if you know— what’s that British sci-fi show?

EIO: Doctor Who?

CADY: Yeah, Doctor Who! So in Doctor Who there’s the Daleks and their voices are ring modulated. I thought about retro sounds for the piece—although not necessarily retro compositional techniques; I try to avoid the clichés of modernism—but I wanted to only use equipment that was available in the ‘60s, for example, only analog oscillators, and spring reverb instead of digital reverb. And an interesting connection is that one of the inventors of the synthesizer, Don Buchla, also worked for NASA at the same time that he was developing his synthesizer.  So, I do feel a connection between space exploration and synthesis.

EIO: Do you feel like we’ve been betrayed by the technology we have now?

CADY: I think that we’ve been betrayed in that so many time saving and work saving devices have been developed, but instead of all of us working ten hours a week for a nice salary there’s just more and more productivity while we make less money than the previous generation. Instead of exploring outer space we’re glued to our iPhones, meanwhile income disparity is greater than ever.

EIO: There are very operatic themes in sci-fi, but I feel like people are hesitant to make sci-fi opera. There are always fantasy elements but there aren’t any spaceships in opera.

CADY: Yeah, there are not a lot of sci-fi operas, although ironically the term “space opera” is used for epics like Star Wars and Star Trek, but that’s supposed to mean “soap opera in space.” Most composers making opera today aren’t interested in fiction. They follow the model of John Adams (and to a lesser extent Philip Glass) and they make operas about recent historical events or biopics because they can’t think of anything original. For me, opera is about having a creative vision beyond music. It means coming up with stories and images and theatric ideas. People feel compelled to make projects that would have met the approval of their teachers. So adapting Shakespeare or making an opera about Walter Benjamin (which Ferneyhough did) is fine because that’s “serious.” But we can’t make comedy or sci-fi because art isn’t supposed to be fun.