When is an opera not an opera? Even to ask such a question in these crisis times is a gross impertinence. Could I get any more insensitive to the quotidian realities of everyone who is struggling to come to terms with the total meltdown of the economic structures that had hitherto kept the core cultures of The Wire ticking over, than to foppishly divert myself with redundant aesthetic issues related to the Western world’s most indulged and elitist art form? Read it if you want as the same symptom of denial affecting many artists, listeners and the middlemen who bring them together about the true state of things. Now it is approaching its endgame, the revolution triggered by the digitization of the making, distribution and reception of music is no longer silent or invisible; and the struggle to come to terms with its irreversible changes is animating the debates presently raging across the pages of the magazine and its web platforms.
For sure, they had started long before they were brought into sharp focus in the dialogue begun by UbuWeb founder Kenneth Goldsmith’s celebration of filesharing (Epiphanies, issue 327) and taken up by Chris Cutler the following month (Collateral Damage, issue 328). The dialogue continues this month with a Letters page of impassioned responses from around the world to the issues raised in Chris’s and Kenneth’s pieces; plus, we have also inaugurated Collateral Damage as a regular column inviting artists and writers deeply immersed in the culture to address creative, practical and guerrilla strategies for carrying it on after the crash.
The series continues with David Keenan on ways of rekindling an intimate one-on-one communion with art, now there’s less money trickling down from the entertainment industry or the state to potentially compromise the work and its relationship with its audience. Clearly, this one will run and run, and so it should, seeing how it is addressing fundamental issues at the heart and soul of our culture(s).
The debate presently raging around those issues has so far focused more on the economy of music than the making of it. It goes without saying that the impact of digitization on creative processes has been a significant theme rippling through the magazine since the introduction of sequencers and sampling technology in the mid-1980s. In this issue, the debate part-shapes Richard Pinnell’s piece on John Wall, who has had to devise ways of stemming the infinite possibilities made available to him as a computer composer in order to complete increasingly dense yet ever shorter pieces. Metaphorically speaking, it’s a perfect response to the superabundance that some claim as the cause of cultural stagnation.
How does any of this answer the opening question: when is an opera not an opera? When it breaks out of the opera house protecting its high art status and the social snobbery constructed around it, and spills out into the streets. In May, La Fura Dels Baus took over Karlsplatz, Vienna, for an outdoor staging of Xenakis’s opera Oresteia. Staged for free over three nights and lit up only by fire, it played out across a large pond occupying much of the space, bouncing the score’s heavy percussion off the towering front of Karl’s Church, while actors and singers roamed freely through a crowd left uncertain by the lack of a stage where the action might erupt next. Hingeing on the persecution and death of Cassandra, the composer’s take on Greek tragedy could be read as a dire warning of the consequences of shooting the messenger delivering unpalatable truths rather than dealing with the truths themselves.
Staging opera as free public spectacle, La Fura erased all received ideas of Xenakis’s music being ‘difficult’ by returning it to its original function as the motor of thrilling, visceral music drama within the reach of everyman. Chris Bohn
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Issue 329 July 2011 £4 ISSN 0952-0680
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Words Steve Barker, Mike Barnes, Clive Bell, Marcus Boon, Michael Bracewell, Nick Cain, Philip Clark, Byron Coley, Julian Cowley, Alan Cummings, Sam Davies, Brian Dillon, Phil England, Kodwo Eshun, Mark Fisher, Phil Freeman, Louise Gray, Andy Hamilton, Adam Harper, Jim Haynes, Richard Henderson, Ken Hollings, Hua Hsu, David Keenan, Rahma Khazam, Biba Kopf, Alan Licht, Dave Mandl, Marc Masters, Bill Meyer, Keith Moliné, Will Montgomery, Brian Morton, Joe Muggs, Alex Neilson, Andrew Nosnitsky, Ian Penman, Richard Pinnell, Edwin Pouncey, Nina Power, Simon Reynolds, Nick Richardson, Tom Ridge, Bruce Russell, Peter Shapiro, Chris Sharp, Philip Sherburne, Nick Southgate, Daniel Spicer, Joseph Stannard, David Stubbs, Dave Tompkins, David Toop, Dan Warburton, Val Wilmer, Barry Witherden, Matthew Wuethrich
Images Thomas Adank, Jon Baker, Florian Braun, Leon Chew, Perienne Christian, Tara Darby, Jonathan de Villiers, Glen Erler, Estelle Hanania, Jessica Haye & Clark Hsiao, Brad Harris, Pieter Hugo, Drew Jarrett, Jak Kilby, Seba Kurtis, Kalpesh Lathigra, Armin Linke, Mark Mahaney, Joss McKinley, Donald Milne, Chris Mottalini, Manfred Naescher, Niall O’Brien, Fergus Padel, Leonie Purchas, Shawn Records, Beth Rooney, Savage Pencil, Michael Schmelling, Mathew Scott, Bryan Sheﬃeld, Wolfgang Tillmans, Viktor Timofeev, Daniëlle van Ark, Eva Vermandel, Muir Vidler, Kai von Rabenau, Jake Walters, Jeremy & Claire Weiss, Henk Wildschut