Dissertation Draft: BiLE – The Death of Stockhausen

next piece for BiLE is a large-scale piece called The Death of
, which will be approximately an hour long. I’m
calling the piece a “laptopera,” although there are not currently
any singers. Although this may stretch the opera genre a bit, it’s
not unprecedented, as Gino Robair’s opera in real time, I, Norton,
lists singers as an optional part: “A
performance can be done without actors, singers, or even musicians.”

inspiration for my opera largely comes from the Adam Curtis
documentary All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace,
which discusses how individuals stopped feeling like we are in
control of society or the future. A review of the series in the
Guardian describes the premise as,

realising it we, and our leaders, have given up the old progressive
dreams of changing the world and instead become like managers –
seeing ourselves as components in a system, and believing our duty is
to help that system balance itself. Indeed, Curtis says, “The
underlying aim of the series is to make people aware that this has
happened – and to try to recapture the optimistic potential of
politics to change the world.” (Viner)

lays much of the blame for the current state of affairs at the feet
of computers, or at least the mythology of stable systems which was
inspired by computer science. (All Watched Over by Machines of
Loving Grace
) I thought it would be interesting to do a
computer-based piece that addressed his documentary. While I don’t
believe that computers or anything else are a neutral platform, I
think a large part of the problem comes from the way in which we are
using computers and allowing ourselves to be used by technology
companies. Any solution will certainly have to involve computers, so
it seems useful to think about how to deploy them positively rather
than under a politics of invisible corporate control.

Curtis documentary is also appealing because he addressed some issues
that had been coming up in conversations I have been having with
friends. When we think of the future, we think only of better
gadgets, not a better world. For example, when describing a new
iPhone app Word Lens, techCrunch breathlessly stated, “This
is what the future, literally, looks like.”
They were not alone in this pronouncement, which was widely echoed
through major media outlets, including the San Francisco Chronicle
who imagined a consumer reaction of, "holy cow, this is the
future." (Frommer)

envisioned future is thus one of hypercapitalism. More and more
things to buy while at the same time, less and less money with which
to buy it. Consumers economise on food, but still buy expensive
iPhone contracts, presumably because they want to own a piece of the
future. Meanwhile, they have less and less control of even that as
Apple’s curatorial role prevents most consumers from being able to
install apps not approved by the corporation. Smart phones
disempower their users further by collecting their private
information. (Angwin and Valentino-Devries) The future is passive
consumers under greater control from the state and from corporations,
such as Google, Apple and Facebook, who win us over with appealing
gadgets. An online contact described this as a "totalitarian
pleasure regime." (Dugan) Thus we envision Huxley’s Brave New
for those who can afford it and Orwell’s 1984 for
those who can’t.

left seems to have no widely articulated alternative idea of what a
better world would even look like. The Guardian quotes Curtis on
2011 protests, “’Even
the “march against the cuts”,’ he says, referring to the
TUC march in London in March
‘it was a noble thing, but it was still a managerial approach. We
mustn’t cut this, we can’t cut that. Not, “There is another way.”’”
Curtis does not hand us a vision for what this other way might be,
but calls on us to imagine one.

opera will restate the problem outlined by Curtis and go on to link
the end of the future with the current apocalyptic concerns.
Originally, I want to focus mostly on the American preoccupation with
the Apocalypse and Rapture. If all the future will be just like now,
but with better gadgets, then we are only waiting for the end of the
world, which might as well come sooner rather than later. However,
various recent secular events seem to also bear inclusion. The New
York Times described a possible outcome of the US debt crisis as a
“Götterdämmerung,” describing a far right wing hope for a
“purifying” fire. (Posner and Vermeule) As the stock market
tumbled, looters set fire to high streets in the UK. Zoe Williams,
writing in the Guardian, noted that the consumer-oriented nature of
the riots is something “we’ve never seen before.” (Williams)
Rather than battle with the police, looters focused on gathering
consumer goods. Williams quotes Alex Hiller, “Consumer
society relies on your ability to participate in it.”
(Williams) Even their ability to be passive consumers was thwarted.
They had minimal access to what we’ve deemed to be the future.
However, setting large, destructive fires seems to imply that there
is more than just this going on. All of these things from religious
beliefs, to economic disaster to civil unrest share a sense of
hopelessness and feeling of things ending.

rather than end on a negative note of yearning for oblivion, and the
end of the avant-garde, I do want listeners to consider a better
world. All of us have agency that can be expressed in ways other
than acquiring consumer goods. I do not present a view of what a
better world might look like, but do hope to remind them that one is
possible. There is another way.

broken the opera up into four acts with connecting transition
sections. The durations are based on the fibonacci series. The
structure will be as follows:

min: Act 1 – The
Promise: Cooperative Cybernetics

min: Transition 1
min: Act 2 – The
Reality: The Rise of the Machines / Hypercapitlaism

min: Transition 2
min: Act 3 – The

min: Transition 3
min: Act 4 – A
Better World is Possible: Ascension to Sirius

durations will probably vary slightly from performance to performance
and may evolve with our practice.

1 explores the idealistic ideas of self-organising networks. Every
player in BiLE, as is normal, will create their own sound generation
code which will take no more than five shared parameters plus
amplitude to control their sounds. These parameters may be:
granular, sparse, resonant, pitched. Each player would have a slider
going from zero to one where zero means not at all and one means
entirely. Players will not control their sliders directly, but
instead vote for a value to increase or decrease. Their sound will
thus change in response to their own votes and votes of other
players. They can control their own amplitude at will. There is
also another slider, individual to every player, which controls how
anti-social they are. A value of zero will follow the group
decisions entirely and as the value increases, they will deviate more
and more from the group. A value of one should be actively
disruptive. All players should start with anti-social values of zero
and increase that number in a non-linear fashion until at the end the
group is, in general, very anti-social. The idea of group following
in this piece is also present in my earlier piece Partially

but the users have much less agency in carrying it out in this act.

opera will be accompanied by video projections from Antonio Roberts.
I would like the start of this section to visually reference Richard
Brautigan’s poem “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace”
from which the curtis documentary takes it’s name. The second stanza

like to think
   (right now, please!)
of a
cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer
stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
spinning blossoms.

there, I would like there to be archival images of advertising and
assembly lines. As anti-social disorder increases, I’d like to see
more archival images of rioting and property destruction.

act will not begin rehearsals until October 2011.

2 is included in my portfolio. It is the most operatic of all the
acts in that it includes live vocals. Players sample themselves first
reading common subject lines of spam emails, then common lines from
within spam emails and finally start reading an example of “spoetry”
– machine generated text that is sometimes used in an attempt to fool
spam filters. The players manipulate these samples to create a live
piece of text-sound poetry. In order to get material, I mined the
spam folder of my email account. I broke the material into sections
and assigned every line a number. (See attached)

composers, such as Yannis Kyriakides in his piece “Scam Spam”
have used spam emails as source material. However, Kyraikides does
not include a vocal line in his piece. In 2008, composer/performer
Polly Moller approached me to improvise live on KFJC radio in
California. She played flute and pitched noisemakers and read a
“spoem” called “Nice to See You” and I did live
sampling/looping of her sounds and vocals. (No More Twist) I felt
satisfied with the results of this improvisation. Afterwards, I was
interested to keep working with spoetry and to look at doing more
structured text-sound pieces with a greater live component than I had

act builds on my experiences with Moller, using a larger ensemble,
and asking every member of BiLE to develop programmes specifically
for the manipulation of text sounds. They also manipulate artificial
sounds, which are recordings of my analog syntheiser. The score is
expressed as rules:

for playing:


immediately with the artificial sounds. You may play these throughout
the piece.


start recording and playing from the A section. These can go
throughout the piece.


go on to the B section. These can also go throughout the piece, but
should be used more sparingly once this section is passed.


C section takes up the largest section of the piece. You do not need
to get to the end of all the lines provided.

should announce what line they are recording via the chat.

a line is recorded, other players may record that line (or fragments
of it) again, but cannot backtrack to a previous line. Players can
also choose to advance to the next line, but, again, backtracking is
not allowed.

a player is picking a soundfile to process, she can pick from any
section. If she picks from section C, it should be normally a recent
line, however you can break this rule if you have a good reason, ie.
you feel a really strong attachment to a previous line or think it
can exist as a counterpoint / commentary to the current line.

lines in the text should be interpreted as pauses in making new

have not yet thought about videos for this section.

3 will also have text sound, but as a collage on top of other
material. I was originally planning to have this section concentrate
solely on people’s religious or spiritual beliefs surrounding the
rapture, the apocalypse or 2012. I’m hoping to do telephone
interviews of Americans who believe the end is neigh. I’m hoping the
promise of being able to witness to new audiences will be enticing
enough to persuade them to participate. I have not yet found any
rapture believers to record, but as we are not going to start working
on this until October or November of 2011, it’s not yet urgent.

addition to rapture believers, I hope to do in-person recordings of
people who have New Age beliefs about the winter solstice of 2012. So
far I have interviewed one person and another has agreed to
participate also. I plan to have the piece organised so that the
rapture believers come first in the piece and the 2012 believers, but
as I have not yet acquired much material, this is subject to change.

plan to ask interviewees about current events, like rioting, economic
turmoil and climate change and include those things in the text by
how they correlate to religious and spiritual beliefs. The collage
will also be made up of samples referencing these also, such as fire
sounds, windows breaking, sirens, etc. This does present a risk of
being overly dramatic, but appropriate use of heavy processing will
turn the sounds into references that are more indirect. Also drama is
not inappropriate to the medium. The collage should become less and
less alarming towards the end, as the text switches to the generally
more hopeful New Age respondents.

4 will have a graphic score, in the style of Cornelius Cardew’s
Treatise. I recently participated in the first all-vocal
performance of that piece, at the South London Gallery on 16
September 2011. The group I sang with did not have a lot of
experience with free improvisation, and it was interesting to see how
exposure to such open material challenged and inspired them. I hope
that similarly, BiLE will go places we would not have otherwise
without the graphic score.

do want it to move from a spiritual hope of the previous act to
something more inclusive. My hope is that the audience will leave
not with a sense that the apocalypse is coming in one form or
another, but that it is possible to avert disaster.

Published by

Charles Céleste Hutchins

Supercolliding since 2003

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