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.

Do you believe in the rapture?

I’m looking for people who believe that the world is going to end soon, or people who pray it ends soon. If you think the rapture is around the corner or that we’re nearing the end times, I would really like to talk to you!
I would like to interview you talking about your beliefs. This can be in person, by phone or by skype. I’d like to record this interview, so I can use it as material in a musical piece that I’m writing. This piece will be played in England. Most of the people who hear it will have not previously heard the rapture described by a believer.
In order to make the music, your words will be put into a collage that makes musical sense. This does require some cutting, but I will preserve your meaning. I want to accurately convey your views, your beliefs and your hopes for the future.
This is for a 13 minute section of a longer piece of music performed by people with laptop computers. The entire thing will be an hour long. I’m calling it a “laptopera,” but it does not actually contain singing. The title of the piece will be The Death of Stockhausen. Your section does not yet have a title, but will probably include the word “Apocalypse.” The section will also include people with New Age beliefs surrounding 2012, but will make sure to differentiate their views from yours. (If you want to say anything about how the New Agers are right or wrong, I’d also like the hear that).
If you want to help, please leave a comment! Or, would you mind praying that somebody does want to help?

Possible Alternate Wesleyan Writing Sample

Notes Towards a Libretto

My great grandmother was walking down the street, arm in arm with my great grandfather. She was nine months pregnant and people scowled to see her promenading around, as they thought it wasn’t seemly. But she smiled away, blissfully happy in the start of her new family. But she tripped on a curb and fell to the ground, right in front of the wheel of a horse-drawn cart that was moving too quickly. The drivers were Roma – gypsies; they stopped in town for supplies, but were told to get out, so they trotted along with the authorities behind them. The cartwheel decapitated my great grandmother. Her head rolled over next to her body and sat blinking; looking at it while her body went immediately into labor. My grandmother was born, while the head of my great grandmother lay watching. As soon as the baby started to scream and people watching could see it was all right, my great grandmother’s head closed its eyes and lay still. The new father sat horrified, holding the screaming baby. Not knowing what to do, he handed it to the cart drivers, who drove out of town and never returned again.
They named the girl Sarah and raised her as one of their own. They were good parents to her, but she never felt like she belonged, since she knew her story and she didn’t look at all like a Roma. When she was 18, she left them and eventually came to America. She met a recently discharged GI and married him, buying a house in the suburbs. After one year, my mother was born. After 10 years, my grandmother left to run away with the circus, as an accountant. She never felt like she belonged with the Roma, but she never felt like she should stay rooted to one spot either. She took my mother with her. My mother stayed for a while, juggling and taking tickets from customers. She became best friends with the boy in the trapeze act. His family was Roma, so they spoke Romany in common. A year and a half later, my grandfather found her and with a judge’s order, took back my mother and never let her go to the circus again while he lived. When my mother was eighteen, he died of a heart attack.
My mother had just graduated from high school and had no clear idea of what to do afterwards, when my grandfather died. He had been hinting strongly that she ought to consider spending a year or two someplace where she could meet eligible young men and then get married. But he was gone now and she went to find her mother instead. My grandmother was still with the same circus, doing the accounting. My mother went out to where they were to meet her mother as a surprise. She still looked back on her time with her mother at the circus as the happiest eighteen months of her life. She saw her mother standing across the ring, in the big tent, talking to the ring master and called out to her. My grandmother recognized my mother and went running across the ring to see her. Just then, in a freak accident, the rope came undone holding the swing where a trapeze artist was practicing. He started to fall to the ground and landed on my grandmother, killing her, but he survived with only a twisted ankle. It was my mother’s best friend from when she had been with the circus. They married eighteen months later.
My mother learned to juggle again and tried keeping the books to replace my grandmother, but wasn’t good with numbers. In 1969, I was born. In 1970, my mother discovered feminism. My father said there was no place for any of that nonsense in the circus or in his family, so my mother took me and left. We went to live on a women’s land collective in the Midwest. When it broke up, we spent several years at a yoga retreat. When the yogi was expelled, we went to live in a vegan cooperative. Eventually, I rebelled. At sixteen, I ran away and ended up becoming a makeup consultant at a department store. It didn’t pay very well, though, so I started taking classes to become a CPA. Then I got a call from Michigan that my mother was dying. I went out there immediately and reconciled with her. I spent the last month of her life taking care of her. When she died, I had barely enough money for the funeral. Her friends helped out a lot. I told the mortician that I would be doing her makeup myself. He didn’t argue much, like he normally would because his makeup person had just quit. When I finished with her, she looked so life-like that he offered me a job. I put makeup on corpses and did the books. Eighteen months after burying my mother, I married the mortician.
His family never liked me. They had wanted him to marry his last makeup artist and didn’t forgive him when she went and married somebody else. The history of my family didn’t help much. His family had lived in the same town for five generations and owned the same mortuary for three. His grandfather started out as a gravedigger and worked his way up. That stability was all I wanted, but they thought I was going to run away from him like all the women in my family ran away, and they were right, I eventually did and he ended up losing the mortuary because of me.
When he and I were separated and getting divorced, I got drunk with my best friend in town. She kept asking me why it was over and finally I told her. I didn’t even remember telling her the next day, but she told her best friend who told the hairstylist, who told Mrs. Lewis on account of her daughter just dying. Mrs. Lewis took her daughter’s body out of town and people got to wondering why, so Mrs. Lewis told them. It was a small town, after a short while, everyone knew. He and I both had to leave town. He went east, I went west. I finally took the test to get certified as a CPA. Now I work in this building.

Advantages over tuba paper: it’s done. it doesn’t need a bibliography. it’s all spelled ok.
disadvantages: it’s tawdry. it’s not necessarily well written. bizarre. also, gypsies are a very opressed minority group and it may perpetuate stereotypes or offend well-informed members of the admission committee (they’re all musicians, but there’s an excellent ethnomusicology department). On the othher hand, it might not be offensive at all. I have no idea.

So I went with tiffany, Luoi and Christi to the Opera last night. Traffic was bad, we barely made it. The opera was looong. the music was repetitive and ponderous. It was like watching an elephant walk in a circle for six hours. It was so pious and slow, it felt like sitting in church for one of Father Faranna’s sermons (God rest his soul). He was the pastor at one of my elementary schools and he would never write out his sermons ahead of time, so he would start with an idea and then meander slowly back to his usual riff about a “love affair with jesus christ.” He talked baout it every week for years, hardly varrying his words, for super long. sometimes the mass lasted two hours. anyway, the opera was like that. Luoi fell asleep multiple times. The music was good, it just needed some (a lot) of editting. there was also an excellent performance by a one-wonged angel, who sung excellent and danced around so it actually looked like she was levitating when she walked. anyway, I was going to give it pretty good marks, despite a very problematic scene with a leper, when Christi told me the opera was written in 1983. There’s no exceuse for something like that to have been written in 1983. So I left the opera, whishing I’d stayed by mom’s bedsde instead, but knowing that if I’d skipped it, I would have only heard about the great reviews it got and been sorry I missed it.
And I went home, because it didn’t get out until 11:30, and planned to return to my parents house in the morning. And the phone rang and it was my dad saying my mom was dead. Did I want to come right then? when should the body be moved? I told him not to blow out the candles and that I would come down in the morning and I didn’t know about anything else. Yesterday, I had been thinking I sould go and pick out some clothes or something to dress my mom in when she died, but I had that opera to get off to. You have to leave rediculously early to get to the City at 6:30 from here.
So I’m at my parents house. My dad called to say he missed mom’s car (which i borrowed to get to the opera) and could i please return it. He’s trudging around like a zombie and throwing things away. He blew out all the candles. Margie is gone and with her has departed all of the ensure, all of the diapers, babywipes, matresspads, latex gloves and every other piece of medical equipment we owned except for the wheel chair and the walker. Maybe the wheelchair, i dunno. It’s down the hall, next to the stair master. He called some people. Other numbers were lost in his insane cleanup. My dog has no dogfood. I don’t know what to do with all these candles. I wanted to just let them burn out, but my dad wants them gone and i don’t know what to do with them. I guess we’ll burn them at my home. It’s strange to relight them after she’s dead…. Nothing is going according to his plans. All of the wills and stuff were made with the assumption that she would outlive him.

I did not post yesturday because I went to see the San Francisco Opera. We bought season tickets and this was the second opera, Aidriane auf Naxos by Strauss. It’s uh, very odd. It’s a backstage opera for the first half, much like a backstage musical. the second half shows the opera that results from the first half. A bunch of cahracters from the first part don’t appear in the second, so a bunch of people bow at intermission, which is highly unusual (I think. It’s not like I’ve seen all that many operas). I notice that if you have a bunch of people on stage in the same range, it’s hard to tell who is singing what. But that might be just because we have the second worst seats in the entire house. We have four seats next to the wall in the second to last row of the highest level.
My mom was doing well yesturday. I went early because of the opera. Margie, my mom’s attendant, always tells me that mom is much better around 1:00, so I arrived around 1:00 and mom was much better. Her words made sence. She wasn’t hallucinating (which she was on wednessday). She wasn’t in pain or on pain medication. Pretty groovy.