What might the singing style in folk music from “Arctic Asia” or “Insular Pacific” say about these regions’ respective cultural levels of…sexual repression? Such was one type of question monumental blues and folk music archivist Alan Lomax sought to answer with Cantometrics. Introduced in the mid-1960s, and harnessing some of the earliest computer technologies, Cantometrics was Lomax’s little-known, yet astronomically ambitious system of numerically coding and analyzing sung music from around the world. In oyster, a new experimental opera from composer and multidisciplinary artist Joe Diebes, the score reverses this process of turning songs into numbers by turning Lomax’s numbers back into songs. This data vocalization begs a larger, pervasive contemporary question—how much can we really know of people and culture through computer profiling?
In oyster, Alan Lomax (played by John Rose) gives a lecture on his ethnomusicological findings in a sung-spoken and rhythmic style, accompanied by prepared piano and electronics. He brings the audience on a “world tour,” evoked through brightly color-coded videos, in which BOTCH Ensemble performs songs based on the data for each of the nine regions into which Lomax divided the world. Meanwhile, live onstage, Christina Campanella, Michael Chinworth, and Saori Tsukada piece together Lomax’s life, parsing and scanning an extensive, recently declassified FBI file. Theater director Phil Soltanoff infuses the work with his signature physical language of quotidian movements and geometric patterns.
Joe Diebes combines sound, visual media, and the human voice in multifarious ways. Recent performance projects include his broken-word opera BOTCH (HERE Arts Center 2013) and WOW (with Christian Hawkey and David Levine, BRIC Arts | Media 2014). With Phil Soltanoff he created the sound-theatre work I/O (2008), commissioned by Fusebox Festival and Theatre Garonne (Toulouse). His opera environment STRANGE BIRDS (2003) premiered at Tramway (Glasgow) in the New Territories International Festival of Live Art. His sound installations, video, performances and works on paper have been exhibited in numerous galleries, museums, and public spaces including Paul Rodgers/9W (New York), The Hammer Museum, the Torino Winter Olympics, David Winton Bell Gallery (Brown University), Yuanfen Gallery (Beijing), Prix Ars Electronica and the Liverpool Biennial.
BOTCH Ensemble was formed in 2010 to rigorously explore spoken language as a basis for a contemporary form of opera. The group (Joe Diebes, Christina Campanella, John Rose, Michael Chinworth and Saori Tsukada) has recently performed at HERE Arts Center, The Watermill Center, STEIM (Amsterdam), and Experimental Intermedia.
oyster was developed through Harvestworks Digital Media Arts Center and made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
Joe Diebes – Music, Libretto, and Video
Phil Soltanoff – Stage Direction
Damian Calvo – Cinematography
Poe Saegusa – Lighting design
Piano: Melinda Faylor
Developed as a sponsored project with Harvestworks.