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

On the Evolution of Life, and Miracles of the Universe

SR: As long as I'm doing an "opera" for 1999, I'm going to be completely ambitious and approach the music as a sort of personal summary of music from the 20th century. My take on it is that the 20th century was a brutal war-drenched period. ASADA Akira even proposed the commercial, kitsch catch copy for promoting the opera, "From the bloody 20th century towards the symbiotic 21st." (laughs)

The word "symbiosis" has become bandied around a lot in the newspapers and such here in Japan lately, though I wouldn't even pretend to assume exactly what percentage of the people on the street really understand the concept. I myself don't really understand it, and so, under the heading of "researching the opera," I'm taking this opportunity to do some reading up. I had originally stated the idea with a kind of amateurish enthusiasm, but the more I actually research the concept, the more I understand what an important idea it is to realize. It involves the evolution of both life on this planet, and their relationship with the whole universe.

The sun and the planets, and then the earth were created something like 4.5 billion years ago. Then 500 million years later the land masses and oceans were formed and the atmosphere developed, later, the first life forms, and then finally, 4 billion years later human beings came along. The story of evolution and the story of symbiosis are one and the same. Some 4 billion years ago matter made the transformation into life form. This was the big evolution. We're just matter that happens to have undergone a very long period of complex structural articulation. I have no idea why. The fact that it happened, and by what process we came to arrive at this point have been pretty well explained, but the big one, why minerals decided at some point to become self-structuring protein producing RNA and DNA? This is anybody's guess. Anybody's guess, yes, but the fact these particular structures did arise gives the basis for a huge story; from the evolution of these substances, and their symbiosis on a grand scale as a structural foundation for a very local reading of our lives within the 20th century, and from that what we will take with us into the 21st century.

The fact that this extraordinarily particular material system, this emergence of "life" forms happened on this planet is frankly miraculous. And from then, during these 4 billion years, so many events occurred . . . huge meteorites colliding with the planet, and the atmosphere undergoing tremendous transformations . . . and yet life continued to evolve . . . again, we've only words like "miraculous" to describe it, yet it is, at the same time, so commonplace that we don't even notice. It is even thought that 99 percent of the life forms that emerged on the planet have died out again. Only those few species, which have survived these terrible transformations are with us today. And we stand at the edge of it all.

TM: Do you have a concrete story (if indeed a "narrative" structure could be said to encompass all of this) worked out, or is that something still to be developed?

SR: Still working on it. One idea is to use the protagonist, surviving the 20th century, to focus these issues through. We're considering Julius Robert OPPENHEIMER ["the father of the atomic bomb"] right now. He was the leader of "the bomb"'s development, in the Manhattan Project. He was working at the U.S. Los Alamos atomic research facilities in New Mexico. Its present day counterpart would be something like the Santa Fe Institute. It was one of the most advanced research laboratories in the world in its time. I think that if we can get a handle on him, then we can reach through there and grasp many of the key issues concerning knowledge in the 20th century. This is still only one of the ideas in development, though . . . .

Another idea would be to continue to develop the fourth movement of «untitled 01» for Orchestra "f." Employing the audio and video of interviews with several people about "what it means to be saved," or combining text or taped materials in with the musical elements. I really enjoyed that compositional process, and would like to work in it again.

TM: Using the material from these interviews as a motif in the composition of the opera?

SR: Exactly. It has certain linguistic "message" elements to it, but I would be more interested in their musical value. You can approach this work for its linguistic content, its "meaning," as it were, or you can approach them as musical elements, and this gives it a neutral, media art-like quality that I like. In this sense, these interviews, used in this way, as well as the technical aspects, employing the Internet, and the gap issues that I spoke of earlier—how to integrate them, and how to control them—seem quite appropriate to the theme of symbiosis, and the concept of a shift into the new millennium. It should be quite a multi-layered, complex piece.

TM: The gap issues that you mention . . . have you any further comments on creative approaches to them?

SR: No, as I mentioned before, I can't talk much about that or I'll give away the game! (laughs) It's a matter of both that, and the fact that I'm still working on some of them. I've only got a year to resolve these things! I'm thinking of using three locations, to create a circle, so people can feel a "global" scale in the work. The choices about what I will do, and how I will solve these issues. I mean, the project seems perfectly suited to a global setting, with a sense of different times and spaces in symbiosis, even if there are gaps in it, and a few delays here and there! (laughs) I want people to at least gain a sense of coexisting in the same environment, and propose the opera within that space.

TM: When you mention three locations, besides Tokyo and New York, what do you imagine as the third location?

SR: Well, right now we're looking at the circuitry of various candidate locations. It will probably get a bit overblown at the nation state level. (laughs)

TM: You will be exhibiting an installation at the ICC soon, won't you?

SR: It is still in the planning stages, and right now, what I have in mind is something similar, with information coming from somewhere on the planet being transmitted to the ICC, and triggering a piano. Something, again, that makes one feel a global presence. The development of the Internet has effected some interesting shifts in the nature of global awareness. The sense of distance has suddenly contracted. Almost to the point of disappearance.

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