Feagufd: music/noise--21st-Century Alternatives
Opera / Internet / Noise

Music and Real-Time Technology

TM: Last year's <<Ryuichi Sakamoto Playing the Orchestra "f" 1997>> had you playing with an orchestra on the Internet. In a similar vein, it would seem absolutely like you to, say, play in Tokyo with an orchestra in New York via the Internet . . . it seems like something that one can imagine only you pulling off . . . .

SR: It was an experiment with "real-time technology." I'm planning on doing an opera next year in a similar experiment, in fact. I spoke to professor MURAI Jun [Japan's premiere Internet authority] and other experts about this WIDE (Widely Integrated Distributed Environments) technology. It's apparently theoretically impossible. But there are ways around the theory. For example, the viewers/listeners can perceive it as real-time technology if we plan for the time-lags, then bring the parts together, and rebroadcast it as one whole.

I remember being taught as a child that "light can travel around the world seven and a half times in one second," which I imagined as being incredibly fast at the time. With this project I realize how dreadfully slow that is. I'm amazed lately at how long it takes light to get somewhere when you really need it. The result is, that it takes an electronic impulse about 130 milliseconds to go around the world once. Translated into pop music vernacular, that's an ordinary 16th note. If part of a musical composition is always one 16th note behind the rest, the piece will give you a kind of musical motion sickness. People will imagine that it is a mistake in the performance. Ears are far more sensitive than that. We've got to get around the speed of light or the performance won't work.

TM: And you have a methodology for composing to this gap?

SR: That's a secret! (laughs) I don't mean to repeat myself, but if I'm in Tokyo, and I want to transmit a certain sound, jyang! I make my sound. The best that I can hope for is that it arrives in New York, or wherever, about a 16th note later. So now we have player "B" in New York, who hears my delayed note, makes his decision, and responds with another, which, again, takes a 16th note to get here. Then I get to hear that. So each player has about one 8th note's delay within which to make their musical decisions. This barrier is completely impossibly unavoidable. But well, I may complain, but I'm still putting on this opera next year!! (laughs)

TM: So you'll compose something that incorporates the gap, or at least makes it feel natural?

SR: Well, those are possibilities. Writing music which either incorporates the gap, or emphasizes it, then when broadcasting it out on the web, calibrate the gaps . . . there are only a few options for dealing with this problem.

Summarizing the Century

TM: Could you please describe your plans for this opera in some greater detail?

SR: It is planned for September of 1999, with me performing from the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo. The video imagery will be by TAKATANI Shiro [leader of Kyoto performance group DUMB TYPE], and computer generated imagery by HARADA Daizaburo [well-known visual artist and longtime Mr. SAKAMOTO's collaborator]. The structure and story will be developed by MURAKAMI Ryu [best-selling author] and ASADA Akira [charismatic economics associate professor/social philosopher] and myself. We're working on the story now. All I can tell you at this point is that what we're doing so far is not your typical narrative. Being an opera, it needs to hold up for at least two hours. We've got a general direction we're taking it in, but it's not going to be "about love," or something like that. Probably more like a collage.

TM: What language do you imagine it being sung in?

SR:I'd like to do it in several languages. As many as possible really, but I can't write what I don't understand, so it will probably be in Japanese and English, with perhaps a smattering of some half-baked Italian on the side.

There is meant to be a lot of different kinds of visual material employed in it, so even though I'm ostensibly its author, I'm not really sure if it'll be the kind of opera where someone comes onto the stage and sings their parts and all, really. (laughs) Even if we have opera singers, I think that expecting people to sing and act at the same time is a structurally flawed idea. This, of course, poses other presentation problems, so we need to bring in a lot of visual ideas. Once you've said the word "Opera," most people get expectations for a certain "look and feel" of the staging too, and here again, I'm not going to be much help. No lyrical verdant wood in my opera, I'm afraid. (laughs) I couldn't stomach it. We're looking at different ways to bring motion into the visual field via a number of visual phenomena.

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