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Posts Tagged ‘The Industry’

Album Preview: Hopscotch

I’m submitting this as my review of the soon-to-be-released recording of The Industry’s Hopscotch opera project, but here’s the thing: No such thing exists. Conceived by The Industry’s Artistic Director, Yuval Sharon, Hopscotch was an opera presented in the fall of 2015 in twenty four cars driving between a number of locations scattered around Los Angeles. At the start of each performance, a few audience members would get into each of the cars along with a group of performers, and would then experience part of the opera en route to the next physical location, where they’d see another scene before being whisked away in another car. To make matters more confounding, the cars travelled along three different routes, meaning that any given audience member could only see part of the whole in any given performance. Only at the very end did all of the routes converge on a central location for the final scene.

Needless to say, this project doesn’t lend itself easily to a traditional recording. Do you present each of the car routes as a unit to approximate the experience of attending? Do you present the scenes in order to give a view of the work impossible for someone who attended it to have seen? How do you balance the inside of a limo against an open-air concrete bank of the Los Angeles River?

Difficult questions, and ones without obvious answers. Fortunately, with current technology, we can sidestep some of them. With the album released as files on a flash drive instead of tracks on a CD, you’re free to open them in any order and explore the world of this opera as you see fit. You can follow each of the car routes separately, play everything in the order of the plot, or even sort things out by individual composer or lyricist. (There were six primary composers for the project and six primary librettists, all working in a range of different styles in their respective fields.) The liner notes — in the form of a wide-ranging interview with Sharon and Josh Raab, the opera’s dramaturg — encourage this kind of self-guided exploration, though elsewhere in the booklet there are some helpful lists of which tracks to listen to to follow which routes.

Unsurprisingly, given the range of artists that contributed to this project, the tracks cover a lot of ground. “Lucha’s Quinceñera Song” (music by David Rosenboom and text by Janine Salinas Schoenberg) is a sweetly plaintive verse-chorus affair, while “Floats the Roving Nebula” (music by Ellen Reid and text by Mandy Kahn) hovers in an ecstatic crystalline stasis. “Jameson and Lucha in the Park” (music by Mark Lowenstein and text by Erin Young) presents a tightly controlled dance number coordinated with spoken dialogue, while other spoken sections feature music improvised by the contemporary performing group Gnarwhallaby. The plot is a surreally altered (but predictably heterosexual) retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, and snatches of Claudio Monteverdi’s 1607 treatment of the same myth rub up against bristlingly contemporary soundscapes. There are as many contrasts as there are tracks on the album.

Such stylistic diversity can make for an uneven listening experience, especially when paired with the differing qualities of the recordings. Some of the tracks are beautifully mastered studio takes, while others are invaluable field recordings from the site-specific scenes around town. Obviously, there’s room enough in the world for both of these approaches to recording, but repeatedly switching back and forth with such short notice can be a little jarring. (So perhaps another fruitful approach to organizing your listening could be to tackle all the field recordings followed by all the studio takes, or vice versa.)

These slight jars, however, feel in keeping with the nature of the project. Hopscotch the opera wasn’t a singular experience as much as it was a collection of possible experiences, and Hopscotch the album follows suit. There’s no one single recording of the work; there’s a collection of possible recordings all dizzyingly contained on a single flash drive. Elsewhere in the liner notes, Sharon describes the piece not as an opera but as a web, a series of interconnected points with many possible paths leading between them, none more inherently valid than any of the others. The more I listen to the album, the more this description feels right. This album isn’t a documentation or presentation of an artistic event that happened and is now over, it’s an invitation to enter into this world and explore it on your own terms, to find your own way through the work’s myriad winding paths, to make the piece yours as only you can. It’s an opera in twenty four cars, and you’re the one behind the wheel.

You can order the “album” at

The Industry is presenting two events on January 20 to celebrate the release. Details are below:

Panel discussion
Friday, January 20 (4 pm)
USC, Wallis Annenberg Hall (ANN), Room L105A
3630 Watt Way, Los Angeles
Panelists include composers Veronika Krausas and Marc Lowenstein, Yuval Sharon of The Industry, and arts journalists Mark Swed and Sasha Anawalt (moderator).

Hopscotch in Concert
Friday, January 20 (7:30 pm)
USC, Newman Recital Hall (AHF)
3616 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles
This special evening emceed by director Yuval Sharon will be the first live concert of songs from the opera. Six chapters from the work will be performed (one from each of its six composers), including the expansive choral finale by Andrew Norman. 

Lewis Pesacov and Elizabeth Cline on The Edge of Forever – with an exclusive stream!

The Edge of Forever is Lewis Pesacov and Elizabeth Cline’s opera for the end of the most recent cycle of the Mayan Long Count, though to hear them tell it the piece may have already existed for a few thousand years before they showed up. Performed by wild Up on the evening of December 21, 2012, the recording is finally making its way to the public via The Industry Records this week, with a release party on Friday, June 24, at 365 Mission. Better yet, you can hear the finale right here, in this post, today! We’ll let Lewis and Elizabeth explain. The track, and info on the show, are at the end.

the edge of foreverThe Edge of Forever is, as I understand it, only the third act of this opera, the first two acts of which happened in 830 CE. Being that time is cyclical, will those first two acts be taking place again in roughly 2,280 years?

Elizabeth: That would be interesting! I believe that the cyclical nature of time means that when one cycle ends another begins, not that it repeats itself. For the Maya, the most fundamental aspect of their belief structure is that time is without end or beginning; the end of one cycle simply allows for the dawn of the next. And this is exactly what happened on December 21, 2012.

I was under the impression the performance could only happen once, on that date. Are you considering this recording almost as a document of what happened that night, more than a piece of art on its own? Or have your views of the work changed since then?

Elizabeth: We wrote an opera for an exact moment in time and it was our intention that the opera would be performed in that exact moment – December 21, 2012 from 8:30-9:15pm PST. The scenes before that moment exist and the scenes after that moment exist, unwritten, and the story itself stretches infinitely far into the past and future. It was a conscious effort to be of and in the moment. The recording documents that moment but also serves as an archive for a work that will never be realized as a whole again. However, we will be performing the final aria from the opera live at our record release show on June 24th, an exception to the rule because this aria has been modified specifically for this concert event.

Lewis: The three middle scenes of the five on the album are live recordings from the one-time only performance. I would certainly consider these as the documentation of the original event. A few unfortunate technical difficulties made for the first and final scene unusable for an album so I decided to make studio recordings to complete the documentation. Although the studio recordings were not captured at that specific moment in time, they are still very much artifacts of the event. Moreover, this unintended outcome led to the opportunity to record the first scene in the studio, a creative turn on the original music in the decision to use just one voice, the luminous Abby Fischer, to play the role of all of the 4 scribes. This allowed us to represent the many in the one, which in turn helped us go deeper into the message of Non-duality already embedded in the story. So in a way, through accidents, we arrived at an even tighter version of the work.

Librettist Elizabeth Cline. Photo by Suzy Poling.

Librettist Elizabeth Cline. Photo by Suzy Poling.

What attracted you both to this material? Was the interest in these Mayan culture already there, or was it spurred by the wide interest in their calendar leading up to 12/21/12? I know you are both interested in meditation, and it seems like some of the philosophy of TM and oneness made it into the work as well.

Elizabeth: As December 2012 drew near there was a huge upswell in interest in the Mayan calendar and the false “doomsday” prophesy that when the calendar ends so does the world. Even before this widespread public obsession we were fascinated by Mayan cosmology, having visited ancient Mayan temples in the Yucatan Peninsula, and started a deep dive into the ancient texts like the Popol Vuh and Chilam Balam. But really, what is more operatic than “the end” having been foretold in stone engravings since the 9th century? It is both historic and mythic which is very fertile ground for opera!

Our meditation practice and inquiry into the nature of self and consciousness is the biggest influence on our work together. Through studying and practicing meditation, I’m naturally drawn to thinking about time and perception verses presence and states of being, which like love are spaces outside of time where we connect to the infinite. This idea of connection and oneness is where this opera ends and where our next opera (in progress), Out There, begins.

It seems like, by taking native traditions and beliefs (and even instruments) and putting them into the western context of opera, you might be skirting on some questions of appropriation. I don’t mean that in at all an accusatory way, because obviously there’s such a richness of material here, but is that something that concerned you when approaching this project? How did you deal with those issues?

Elizabeth: This is such an important question to be writing and thinking about as it relates to who is telling what story in what context. In opera there is a long history of dominate cultures perpetuating their values and practices through operas that represent other cultures or intercultural exchange, we consciously tried to avoid that. The story and characters are completely unique but inspired by Mayan texts, folklore and engravings. However, New Age Philosophy, Indian philosophy, Transcendentalism, the multiverse, epic love stories, and our own experiences with meditation equally influenced the story.

Lewis: My decision to write for the primordial end-blown conch shell trumpet in the context of a more traditional Western opera ensemble stemmed from its ancient origins and deep elemental connection to the water and earth. Conch shell trumpets have been used as instruments since Neolithic times and are not only found in Mesoamerican cultures. They are found in almost every part of the world from Central Europe to India, Tibet, Korea, Japan, the Caribbean, Melanesian, and Polynesian cultures; The mythological Greek god Triton also blew a conch shell to calm the seas. The conch shell trumpet produces a beautifully pure tone, very close to a sine wave.

To balance this historic instrument the ensemble also consisted of 8 sine tone oscillators, each of which produces a single sine wave. Sinusoidal sound waves consist of a smooth, repeating oscillation of a single frequency. Unlike other sound waves, sine waves are self-identical at any moment in time, without fluctuating harmonic content, or an initial transient/final decay. In this way, sine waves seem to exist outside of time itself and are to me, a sonic representation of the infinite.

Composer Lewis Pesacov. Photo by Michael Leviton.

Composer Lewis Pesacov. Photo by Michael Leviton.

Lewis, in the liner notes you talk a bit about exploring ancient music and constructing an imagined future music, and of the ratio 13:20 informing a lot of your process. The vocal writing in the opening reminds me a lot of the Notre Dame School composers and music from the Ars Antiqua, who also had an obsession with ratios. Is that something you were actively seeking to channel?

Lewis: In contemplating the cyclical nature of time I kept coming back to this idea of the resultant blurring of the lines of the ancient and the future. I wasn’t interested in exploring ancient music per se, but more specifically, imagining my own creative interpretation of an ancient/future music. The music of the opening scene invokes a sacred song and is certainly influenced by the Western tradition of polyphonic vocal writing. The rhythmic structure uses an isorhythm with it’s talea and color based on the ratio of 13:20, respectively. Each of the 4 voices sing rounds of the isorhythm in some form of augmentation or diminution. Good ear Nick! But I do believe the isorhythm was an invention of the Ars Nova school, just after the Ars Antiqua… [Ed: Lewis is correct about this] That said, I did not intend to blatantly allude to Medieval music as much as to unfold out from their rarefied formal practices.

What was the back and forth like while working on the libretto and music? As a couple, do you try to draw a line between the project and your home life, or does working on it get into everything you do together?

Elizabeth: Creating opera with my husband is the ultimate expression of love – it is merging together to create something bigger than our two egos. I feel really lucky that our relationship has found this expression so naturally. We wrote the piece together and produced the live performance ourselves, so there were no boundaries, everything was The Edge of Forever all the time leading up to December 2012. Having a creative practice that is naturally woven into everyday life is something that artists do and certainly something Lewis does, so I followed his lead while writing with him. I wrote all the text, he started composing and wanted to cut half of my words, I fiercely guarded those words until I realized he was right, let go word by word, and he helped me shape a libretto that was so much more abstract, poetic and fit our deepest intentions for the piece.

We have an exclusive stream of the Finale. What can you tell us about it?

Elizabeth: In the final aria the scribes announce to our ancient astronomer that the time for realizing his destiny has arrived. In this scene he moves darkness to light – from a space of desire to a space of illumination where he can see the his true nature and that of the world. By the end of the aria he is released from his cave, a metaphor for his mind and thoughts, and in doing so he has attained freedom from the illusion of the self. He can now embrace the One.

Lewis: From a musical perspective, there’s a shift in the tonal content of the piece at the Finale. The music in the prior scenes consists of non-tempered microtonal inflections that create beating between the pitches, furthering an unresolved feeling of tension. However, in the finale, inspired by the image of the turning of the great cosmic clock, the ensemble locks into 5-limit just intonation. I intended the harmonies (consisting of pure, non-beating primary harmonics of the overtone series) to act as a metaphor for the moment in which the ancient astronomer merges with it all.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Lewis: Time is shaped by our own perceptions so it is deeply personal, but it is also something universal that defines us as humans. My hope is that The Edge of Forever creates conditions for the audience to reflect on the nature of time. That perhaps the past and the future are not the truth or even reality, but instead one can find the entirety of human experience in each moment.

For more information about The Edge of Forever record release party & concert on June 24, visit

To purchase The Edge of Forever from The Industry Records, visit

The Industry has a new trailer for HOPSCOTCH, and wants you to drink with them at Würstkuche on Sunday

We’ve been covering The Industry a lot lately, but that’s only really because they’re up to a lot of awesome stuff. And their fundraising model involves getting Würstkuche’s downtown location to donate at least 10% of income from 6 til 10 pm this Sunday, March 22. Plus artistic director Yuval Sharon and co. will be there, presumably drinking beer and eating sausage and fries.

I’m gonna come out and say it: Würstkuche’s truffle fries are the best fries in LA.

In addition, they’ve just released a trailer for the opera, which premieres in fall. Check it out.


Here’s a picture of the aforementioned truffle fries.


First Take: Artistic Director Yuval Sharon

All week we’ve been interviewing the composers for wild Up and The Industry’s First Take 2015, taking place tomorrow (February 21) at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Today, in the last interview of our series, we’ve got The Industry’s Artistic Director, Yuval Sharon.

Before we get into it, I want to publicly thank both Yuval and wild Up’s Christopher Rountree, and all of the musicians and staff of both organizations, for putting First Take together. What you guys do for composers ,and for the music and arts community in LA, is amazing, and inspiring. Thank you.

Here’s Yuval.

The Industry's Yuval Sharon

The Industry’s Yuval Sharon

First off, congratulations on the Götz Friedrich Prize and the numerous other awards and nominations you’ve been receiving. You’ve been getting more and more attention internationally, and that must come with invitations to collaborate and create. Has it been challenging to balance that with what you want to do with The Industry?

Thank you! I feel so fortunate that the work I have been doing has been recognized so widely for opening up new possibilities for opera. I have to say no to a lot of projects now based on the all-too-limited amount of time in a day, and that is sometimes hard. But dedication demands sacrifice, and I am so devoted to the mission of The Industry that there’s no regret on my part when I have to pass on opportunities that would keep me from The Industry. The ones I do take on are selected very carefully and with an eye first and foremost towards my artistic goals with The Industry. On the other hand, as the company is growing, I am starting to have a stronger support structure that can help me focus mostly on the artistic aspects of The Industry, and this is an enormous benefit. Hiring Elizabeth Cline as Executive Director last November is a major step in that direction, and I am so excited to see where we steer this company together in the years ahead.

In addition to providing composers a place to try out new ideas in opera, what goals are you pursuing with First Take?

First Take gives me so much hope for the future of opera. The six projects we are showcasing this year are astonishing as singular expressions, but the cumulative effect of all six is overwhelming. I want that excitement transmitted to our audience, and also to each of the composers on the program, to show them how much their work matters and how strong it is. Composing must be such a lonely exercise, especially when you are still finding your voice, or trying something that doesn’t fit in a standard operatic box.

Beyond that, the composers will receive high-quality audio and video documentation of the performance to assist them in getting their works fully produced. These are essential tools for composers; I hope, too, that as the First Take program continues (we expect to continue a biannual schedule) that it becomes more and more of a stamp of approval for other companies.

What’s your musical background? Did you come to opera through theatre or as a musician? 

I studied piano for most of my childhood and teenage years, and I sang in high school choruses. I stopped playing or singing when I went to UC Berkeley, but that’s when my love for opera really developed, as well as an interest in musicology and the interpretation of music. Now I only sing in the car — but I love doing that!

Even though I had that musical background, it wasn’t until I thought of opera in relation to theater or cinema that I finally got into it. My dad took me to the opera in high school and it just seemed like a weird, outdated ritual, happening too far away to have any visceral impact on me. It was a fun night out with my dad but not something I could take seriously. When I went to school, I started missing the experience and started thinking about opera’s theatrical possibilities.

A scene from The Industry's production of Anne LeBaron's Crescent City

A scene from The Industry’s production of Anne LeBaron’s Crescent City

What is it about LA that made you decide this was the right place to found your company? Have we lived up to your expectations?

Finding a creative home is a highly personal choice and depends more on your own goals and aesthetic concerns than external factors. For some people, New York feeds their creative spirit; for others, it’s Detroit, or Seattle, or Miami. I had a hunch that the artists and audiences that make up LA’s community would be the right one for the work I wanted to create and foster. I am constantly astonished by how easily The Industry has managed to establish itself in the cultural fabric of the city. The community here is one I feel completely aligned with and excited to create work for and with. That’s a powerful feeling that gives me the faith to push to ever new limits.

Got any new tidbits you can share with us about Hopscotch?

Only that it is the craziest adventure I’ve ever undertaken, and I am both terrified and exhilarated by the last year-and-a-half of development. It’s also the most incredible experiment in collaborative creation I’ve experienced, and I am pretty sure the composers and writers would say the same. We can’t say a lot right now, but there will be a LOT to say come October. Basically, you just can’t miss it.

He’s right about the just-can’t-miss-it-ness of both Hopscotch and First Take. Come on out tomorrow. Full details are at For more on Yuval, visit

First Take: Andrew McIntosh on Bonnie and Clyde

Andrew McIntosh

Andrew McIntosh

If you’re in new music in LA, you probably know the name Andrew McIntosh. His skill as a violinist and violist is invaluable as a member of the Formalist Quartet, wild Up, and others. He’s a co-founder of populist records. And his music, as a composer, is gorgeous. He’s also the final composer on our series of interviews about The Industry and wild Up’s First Take, which takes place this Saturday at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. You can read all of the interviews at Here’s Andrew, on his opera Bonnie and Clyde.

Describe the work you’ll be presenting at First Take.

In creating Bonnie and Clyde, our goal was to start from what is known about the infamous couple and work our way backwards through the stories of people around them who left first-hand accounts. Melinda Rice, the librettist, has done incredibly extensive research, sifting through biographies of family members, police officers, government officials, and friends, as well as historian’s accounts. Together with Berlin-based artist Claudia Doderer we’ve designed an experience that functions like a gallery of images of Bonnie and Clyde, filtered through the subjective eyes of the people around them. In a way, Bonnie and Clyde are not illuminated by this opera, but are left open as characters that the audience can find for themselves. In portraying this story, there are a few questions that are explored. What is it about their lives that has come to symbolize freedom and love in popular culture, when the actual lives that they led were extremely unglamorous, tedious, and full of poverty and tension? Since the accounts that have been left behind are sometimes contradictory, how do we attempt to portray a factual representation of important events in their lives? Why has our society been so fascinated be them, even 80 years after they lived? Is there something universally human about their characters that makes us identify with them?

Musically, the score reflects Bonnie and Clyde’s lives on every level. The shape of each layer and corner in the music is a reflection of the tension, the openness, and the unexpectedness of their lives. Bonnie and Clyde are embedded in the score in other ways as well. Clyde played the saxophone and a large feature of the orchestration is a pair of antiphonal saxophones (although I didn’t know that Clyde played saxophone at the time that choice was made). A classic American steel-string guitar is also prominently featured in the orchestra, as are piano and vibraphone. The only thing Bonnie was afraid of was thunder, and their deaths are represented by the use of thunder sheets. The passage of time can be felt on multiple levels as well, often with a layer that is moving very slowly underneath layers that move at more active pacing, with voices sometimes floating on top in yet another layer of time. I think that this might have been my subconscious way of expressing the constant tension between open field and city that defined their daily existence.

What’s your background in writing opera, or for voice?

This project is the culmination of several years worth of attempts at translating my musical language into something vocal. It is certainly a different language than my comfort zone of instrumental writing. That instrumental relationship to sound has developed during 25 years of playing the violin, and it’s difficult to transcend that. Writing for singers feels naked and vulnerable, and I am in awe of the power and depth that words and human voices bring to music.

I have immersed myself in the land of performing with singers very heavily over the past few years through the work that I do as a period instrument baroque musician, working with Bach Collegium San Diego, American Bach Soloists, LA Master Chorale, Tesserae, and other early music ensembles. Also, during my undergraduate degree I spent two seasons as a violist with the Nevada Opera. I derive a lot of inspiration from studying and performing old music, and the performance aesthetic around it as well. In general, the performers tend to have common interests in creating something that is highly emotional through the use of subtlety, nuance, color, and shape; interests that I also share. I first met several of the singers in Bonnie and Clyde through working in the early music community and I am incredibly happy with the entire cast of Bonnie and Clyde.

I also just recently invested a huge amount of energy into another Industry project (Hopscotch) writing for another singer that I met through the early music community, Estelí Gomez from Roomful of Teeth. Every aspect of the vocal writing was written specifically for Estelí’s remarkable voice and unique talents. I find it incredibly helpful to have a specific singer in mind and write for that particular person when I’m writing for voice. It definitely changes what comes out on paper.

Does/did your composition process change at all when writing for this medium?

I don’t know that it changes my process very much, but I feel changed as a person. I still use a pen and a ruler and start with drawings of the forms of the works on blank paper, finding patterns and symmetries in the content of the material and making maps of the harmony (more or less my typical process). The only significant difference in process is that now the very first step consists of writing out the text several times by hand. I have to write it myself on paper in order to internalize the rhythm and flow of the words.

It is hard to describe exactly how I feel changed since the change is still quite new and also ongoing, but I feel that working with words and voices has unlocked something in my writing that I have been trying to find for a long time. It’s actually quite emotional to hear music that I composed come directly out of other humans’ voices – more so than hearing it through the filter of an external instrument. I don’t know where it will lead, but I have a feeling that all the work I’ve been doing with singers over the past year will have a significant impact on the future of my writing. 

What else are you working on that you’d like people to know about?

I recently completed a 40-minute commissioned percussion quartet for the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet, which will be premiered at Zipper Hall on April 10. They are exquisite musicians, and it took me over two years to write the piece, so I feel quite invested in this performance!

I’m also working on a small piano concerto for Richard Valitutto and wild Up, which will be premiered on April 26 at UCLA, as well as a chamber piece for MUSA Baroque in San Francisco, and of course Hopscotch, the upcoming collaborative Industry project.

Check out more of Andrew’s music at Full details on First Take are up at While Andrew is the final composer in this year’s First Take series, there’s still one interview yet to go: The Industry’s artistic director, Yuval Sharon, who will be featured here tomorrow at noon. See you then.

First Take: Nomi Epstein on TRANSLATION

All week we’ve been posting an interview a day with the composers on The Industry and wild Up’s First Take event, taking place on February 21. Most of those composers have written operas. Nomi Epstein, today’s guest, seems to have broken opera down and potentially created something entirely new.

Composer Nomi Epstein. Photo by Marc Perlish photography.

Composer Nomi Epstein. Photo by Marc Perlish photography.


Describe the work you’ll be presenting at First Take.

TRANSLATION: a conceptual chamber opera is a work which distills the conceptual material of opera- a complex layering of translations-while dismissing the tradition of opera’s expressivity, dialogue, and narrative/dramatic structure.

The topic of translation has been important in my work since 2007 when I began dissecting the compositional process by looking at how an idea for a piece materializes or translates itself into an actual sonic piece of work (i.e. the various steps/types of translation this idea takes in order to get to its sonic point). I am fascinated by how the end point is so far from the beginning, clearly demonstrating distortion of the initial idea due partly to translational processes the composer can’t control -the brain processing and translating material/ideas into other formats, the interaction between the performer and the score, the sonic realization, the listeners perception, and what we can control- the type, specificity and character of notation.

When something is translated, it changes language, (be it spoken, structural, temporal, media type), and distortion is unavoidable. TRANSLATION raises questions regarding the nature of language, representation, perspective, (mis)communication, imitation, human thought process and the ontology of the individual.

Inherent in the process of translation, or changing one language into another, is some degree of loss of content, metaphor, or marker from the original language. In opera, a plot is translated into a durational structure containing text, sonic language (instrumental and vocal), characterization, scenery, casting, costumes, and acting, each attempting reinterpretation, communication, or translation of this original idea.  Each of the choices the composer/librettist makes in how to notate and characterize the plot is a way of communicating or translating the initial idea, and translational processes follow on the part of the performers while changing the written (score and libretto) into the sonic.

In TRANSLATION there are also multiple translation layers.  These layers can be perceived aurally and visually through a complexity of distorted relationships that the individual and group performers must navigate both from score directives, and performative means. The score challenges the performers to attempt their own forms of translation, but within very strict confines or structures that I have given them.

The most evident type of translation in this work is found between members of the ensemble.  Individually, each performer will explain/define her/himself to the group of performers (albeit abstractly), after which the remainder of the group will attempt to read/understand the individual.  While defining her/himself, each performer uses a language, whose syntax is created by the composer, unique to her/himself including the specificity of the voice/language, and the perspective of first person, among various other musical parameters.  When others try to “know” this performer, they each must translate information using their own tools, interpreting their findings, and realizing them sonically.

What’s your background in writing opera, or for voice?

Though I haven’t written an opera before, I’ve written a lot for voice, and also several large scale structures.

Does/did your composition process change at all when writing for this medium?

No For several years I’ve been focusing on translation as a structural inquiry and as pre-compositional thought, and have also worked with text score notation.

What else are you working on that you’d like people to know about?

Right now I’m working on a trio for Sonic Hedgehog, a US/European ensemble, a text score for my ensemble, and a large ensemble work for this year’s Dog Star Orchestra.

Here’s a solo piano work of Nomi Epstein’s, recorded by Eliza Garth.

Recordings of more of Nomi’s recordings are available at in of our series of interviews with the composers on First Take we’ve got Andrew McIntosh. Complete details on First Take 2015 are available at

First Take: Paul Pinto on Unintelligible Response

NEWS FLASH: we just found out that the Silverlake Neighborhood Council is hosting an open rehearsal with wild Up and The Industry tonight at 8. Full details are at Okay, here’s today’s interview.

Paul Pinto is next up in our series of interviews with the composers for The Industry and wild Up’s First Take 2015. You can read all of the interviews at I’m particularly excited for Paul’s work, as I’ve always found what happened to Thomas Paine after writing Common Sense totally fascinating. Apparently Paul follows Paine into the afterlife. Read on.

Composer Paul Pinto

Composer Paul Pinto

Describe the work you’ll be presenting at First Take.

Unintelligible Response is one scene of a large opera-in-progress I’m developing called Thomas Paine in Violence. Broadly, the piece centers around the last few moments and made-up afterlife of the American Founding Father, pitting him against the noise of the modern American media landscape. In this scene, Paine’s Spirit, portrayed by Joan La Barbara is in a timeless, placeless radio station. She has just come off the air (whatever that means) and is having a rather colorful dispute with her peers in the control room (the instrumentalists), and the voices in their heads (the manchorus).

Here’s another excerpt from the opera, titled Radio Edit:

What’s your background in writing opera, or for voice?

I’m a singer, but I guess we all are. I’ve used my voice a lot in performance and I almost always begin a composition from the voice – even before I was writing my more “theatrical” tunes. When I was in undergrad and grad school, you know, I wrote some pretty mediocre operetta and songs (who hasn’t) while I was obsessed with music that was in the tradition of Britten. But I was a shitty storyteller, and for me, English just didn’t need to be performed that way anymore. So when I discovered Samuel Beckett, Harry Partch, Robert Ashley and some other fabulous experimenters, I started to care a different way about the English language, and specifically how to set it. So with the collectives thingNY and Varispeed, we started to create work together that experimented with text and sound. After eight years of collaboratively-written stuff, and a lot of shorter compositions, I turned to Thomas Paine and his fucked up afterlife to try to say something in my own style.

Does/did your composition process change at all when writing for this medium?

Not really. I started with a bunch of text, as usual, and sang it aloud a bunch of times, recorded it, listened back, did it again, etc. etc. Lots of edits later, I have a libretto, I have the timbres I want to work with, and I have pulse, a pace and a style. That’s, like, 70% of it. The last part is putting the notes in (probably 5%) and figuring out how to communicate it best (the most grueling and painful final 25%).

What else are you working on that you’d like people to know about?

Loads! But I don’t want to go off message. I’ve decided to write this opera with malleable scenes and versions, so that I can tour with it in bits, solo, or with one or two others while I’m still writing it. So there’s plenty more scenes and segments. I’m so incredibly fortunate that it’s been picked up by HERE, a producing partner in New York, so if anyone ever ventures out there, I’ll probably be doing something Paine related. Come say hello.

Coming up soon is thingNY’s new opera This Takes Place Close By and Varispeed and Robert Ashley’s Perfect Lives Jersey City and Perfect Lives Philadelphia. If you enjoy some of this work, I have a mailing list. You can sign up at

Paul nailed the usual link to his site that goes here for us! What a sweet guy. Tomorrow in of our series of interviews with the composers on First Take we’ve got Nomi Epstein. Complete details on First Take 2015 are available at

First Take: Jenny Olivia Johnson on The After Time

Next up in our series of interviews with the composers for The Industry and wild Up’s First Take is Jenny Olivia Johnson. You can read all of the interviews at Here’s Jenny!

Composer Jenny Olivia Johnson

Composer Jenny Olivia Johnson

Describe the work you’ll be presenting at First Take.

The After Time has many origins.  In 2001, while remembering a series of suspicious suicides at my alma mater, I began drafting a darkly comedic, Law and Order-style opera about a series of collegiate ballerina suicides that all end up being connected to an underground sex club.  Then two things happened in my real life:  I lost a close college friend to suicide in 2002, and I witnessed a stranger’s suicide in Bobst Library at New York University in 2003.  These events forced me to rethink my project, but more importantly, they forced me to confront my suddenly acute feelings of loss and disorientation.

Traumas are rarely explainable.  They don’t easily conform to straightforward narratives.  The After Time, which is cast in spare, electronic fragments against a backdrop of blurred VHS clips, is a meditation on this aspect of loss.

What’s your background in writing opera, or for voice?

I came to opera composition from both a noise-rock and a classical-composition background.  I desperately wish I could sing, but the closest I’ve come is screaming not-so-accurate vocal covers of Liz Phair and Courtney Love in a dyke bar with my band a few years back.  I’ve always been interested in writing vocal music (sometimes awkwardly called “art song”), and I usually write my own texts, so I found that in writing my songs I also had these weird, sort of fragmented emotional stories to tell.  A mentor of mine saw an orchestral song of mine and used the term “kind of an opera” to describe it, so I began exploring what it would mean if I started calling what I do “opera.”

Does/did your composition process change at all when writing for this medium?

Once I started using the word “opera” to provisionally describe my work, I started finding myself arguing with or modifying my understanding of what the genre is in ways that I think have been productive.  I often start by imagining a series of scenes, and then either strictly adhering to that format in ways that change the musical idea, or completely ignoring the need for a scene change, and letting scenes bleed into each other in strange ways.  I think the stringencies and histories implied by the term “opera” have enabled me to think more experimentally than I otherwise might, merely because I often find that the stories that interest me most are ones that disrupt normative narration.

What else are you working on that you’d like people to know about?

One of my current passions is sound installation.  I recently created an interactive piece for touch-sensitive bell jars, LEDs, and digital audio—”Glass Heart (Bells for Sylvia Plath)”—which was exhibited at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College in 2013-14, and is scheduled for exhibition at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in 2017 as part of a special show on Plath.


I’m also recording my first album, “Don’t Look Back,” which is a set of emotional chamber songs about adolescents and traumatic experiences.  “The After Time” will actually be on that album!  I ran a Kickstarter campaign over the summer for the album–more information about it can be found here:

Learn more about Jenny at Come back tomorrow for the next installation of our series on First Take, an interview with composer Paul Pinto. Complete details on First Take 2015 are available at

First Take: Jason Thorpe Buchanan on Hunger

For part 2 of our series of interviews with the composers for The Industry’s First Take event, we caught up with Jason Thorpe Buchanan to discuss his opera, Hunger. Click here for part 1, and an overview of what The Industry are up to with this project.

Composer Jason Thorpe Buchanan

Composer Jason Thorpe Buchanan

Describe the work you’ll be presenting at First Take.

Hunger is a multimedia opera in four parts with a libretto by poet Darcie Dennigan that is loosely based on the novel Sult by Norwegian author Knut Hamsun, which was a sort of precursor to stream of consciousness writing.  The protagonist is a starving writer whose body and mind are gradually deteriorating, and this deterioration is incorporated into the text, music, electronics, and multimedia through fragmentation. One of the things we’ve been exploring is the idea of disorientation – the oscillation between intelligibility and unintelligibility, which reflects his state of mind, but also allows for a focus on a sort of filmic subtlety and claustrophobic or “internal” quality, similar to Hamsun’s writing in that you are really taken inside of his head. I’ve become extremely interested in constructing a situation that suggests multiple narrative threads without actually confirming any single scenario; a process that causes you to continually re-evaluate the situation with each piece of information you receive. There is purposefully a great deal of ambiguity, things left up to the participant to decide for themselves and use their imagination. For me, this is much more interesting and engaging than how narrative is typically treated in opera. For FIRST TAKE we’ll be presenting Part III for the first time in its entirety, and the first time with electronics.

What’s your background in writing opera, or for voice?

When I began studying composition, four of my earliest works were for voice – several sets of art songs & a choral work almost 10 years ago — so I’ve always worked closely with singers. During my undergrad I received a 2nd degree in Music Technology with a minor in Film, which involved many interdisciplinary collaborations including singers; two feature-length films as music supervisor, composer, & engineer. I spent a year in Germany on a Fulbright and while there collaborated with an American poet on a set of songs for soprano, baritone, & chamber orchestra. Most of my PhD coursework has also centered around opera or music theater, with my dissertation on the work of Georges Aperghis. Before starting Hunger, I actually hadn’t written any music for voice since 2010 so it was great to jump back into it. Strangely enough, I’ve just been commissioned for a choral work that will be written in the summer and premiered in November, so that will be an interesting challenge as well. I’m planning to work with again with Darcie Dennigan on the text and use the recording as germinal material for the electronics in Part IV of Hunger.

Does/did your composition process change at all when writing for this medium?

Absolutely, I think it changes fairly drastically with each piece, but the types of things I was thinking about when everything was planned, and the emphasis on fragmentation and deterioration, have definitely resulted in a process that is much more free than almost all of my other recent work. In Hunger I’ve allowed myself to react more intuitively to Darcie’s text, and I think the process has been much more enjoyable, but also challenging. I’m dealing with time in a different way; some sections contain events or checkpoints rather than a regular tempo or division, resulting in simultaneities rather than synchronizations, sort of like traditional recitative, but really taken from studying Boulez’ work Éclat. This allows the musicians to react spontaneously to one another, effectively ‘bending time’ around the singers who can then perform with greater freedom and intensity. Although the score is quite detailed, I am really thinking of it as a departure point that will cause another musical situation to take place.


I’ve previously used quite rigid systems for both formal structure and the musical materials themselves. I try to sit and think about the sound itself for each and every moment, drawing from every combination I can imagine and then sifting through the sounds available to me. The flip side is that it is easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of decisions that must be made. In a work where you’re intentionally leaving a lot of space or ambiguity for interpretation by both the performers and audience, and dealing with multiple potential narrative threads, there really isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way to go about it, so that increases the number of musical decisions that have to be made. In fact, I think more and more that the issue I’m confronted with as a composer is that, if all sounds, actions, and compositional choices are more or less equal in terms of artistic merit, then that means that some choices become essentially arbitrary. In this day and age, when any artistic decision can be justified as equally valuable, what makes something more or less “good” than another thing? 

What else are you working on that you’d like people to know about?

Well, Hunger has pretty much been my life full-time since September. We’re putting together a performance in NYC on the MATA Interval 8 Series with the [Switch~ Ensemble] and a really stellar cast including Lucy Dhegrae, Jeff Gavett, & Sophie Burgos, and there has been a lot of preparation for both of these performances with all of the technology involved. We’re also planning the New York and European premieres of the full opera in 2016/17 with Ensemble Interface. I’m just now starting on an orchestral commission that I received after winning Iron Composer 2014, which is for the BlueWater Chamber Orchestra in Cleveland and I’ll conduct the premiere on May 9th. It’ll be treated in a similar way to what I mentioned above regarding the choral work, as a sort of “digital overture” to Hunger so that the recording will provide germinal material for the electronics, augmented by the live amplified octet. Another commission to get started on is for percussion trio from Slaagwerk Den Haag in the Netherlands; two other works of mine will also be performed in September for Muziekweek as a nominee for the Gaudeamus Prize. Another project that’s been planned for ages but postponed due to my work on Hunger is for saxophone, electronics, and video, to be premiered at the World Saxophone Congress in Strasbourg on texts of Bukowski this July.

A website dedicated to Hunger, with lots of great coverage of its premiere in Darmstadt, is up at Tomorrow, we’ve got Jenny Olivia Johnson on her opera The After Time. Complete details on First Take 2015 are available at

First Take: Anne LeBaron on LSD: The Opera

On February 21, LA’s The Industry and wild Up present the 2015 edition of First Take at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Arts. Excerpts from six new operas will be performed throughout the afternoon, which starts at 1 pm and runs until 4:30. The event is free. Over here at New Classic LA, we’ll be featuring an interview with one of the composers every day at noon this week, and an interview with The Industry’s artistic director, Yuval Sharon, on Friday. Today, we begin with Anne LeBaron.

Anne LeBaron (photo by Steve Gunther)

Anne LeBaron (photo by Steve Gunther)

Describe the work you’ll be presenting at First Take.

LSD: The Opera is a multidisciplinary interrogation of the powerful cultural, political, and spiritual ramifications set into motion by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann’s 1943 discovery of lysergic acid diethylamide. Unveiling obscure and extraordinary LSD-related friendships, networks, and operations that would contribute to an agitated period in American history, the opera unfolds in a panorama of dramatic events, encompassing scientific discoveries, murders, CIA classified experiments, festivities, and extraordinary meetings of minds. Characters include Albert Hofmann, Sid Gottlieb, George Hunter White, Aldous and Laura Huxley, Timothy Leary, Richard Albert (aka Ram Dass), Phil and Katherine Graham, Mary Pinchot Meyer, Cord Meyer, and Allen Dulles. A chorus (performed by instrumentalists from the Partch Ensemble) depicts groups of prisoners, divinity students, drug addicts, reporters, CIA trainees, and the Georgetown Ladies.

Once LSD was unleashed from Sandoz Laboratories, it became a much sought-after experimental drug that held promise as a weapon of mind control, coveted by the CIA and other intelligence agencies in the U.S. Simultaneously, psychiatrists were discovering how powerfully curative it could be in therapeutic settings when all else had failed. Yet LSD remains vilified as a negative force behind the social and political upheavals of the 1960’s. This opera seeks to present LSD from its origins, to its potential as a valuable tool for use in medical and carefully controlled settings. My wish is for LSD: The Opera to premiere in 2017-2018, coinciding with the 75th anniversary of its discovery.

The three scenes performed for First Take commence with the first acid trip ever experienced, now celebrated annually as Bicycle Day. Albert Hofmann, the Swiss scientist who first synthesized LSD on April 19 in 1943, intuitively returns to his abandoned research with LSD-25 when he ‘hears’ LSD (a soprano trio: Lysergic, Saüre, and Diethylamide) calling his name. He ingests a tiny amount in his laboratory. Riding his bicycle home, accompanied by LSD, he hallucinates during the journey, crash-landing at his house. Desperate for an antidote, he calls out for milk from his neighbor, Mrs. R., who arrives (played by Lysergic, Saüre, and Diethylamide, bearing two bottles of milk. Albert hallucinates her visage as that of an “evil, insidious witch.” She commands him, “Drink!” (In the full version of the opera, Hoffman’s bicycle will serve as a recurring metaphor of the centrality of LSD to the large cast of characters in the opera.) The second scene, MK-ULTRA, opens with the despicable George Hunter White (hired by the CIA to direct Operation Midnight Climax), who in turn introduces the notorious Sidney Gottlieb, head of the CIA’s secret mind-control project MK-ULTRA. (Earlier in this scene, which we don’t represent in this performance, they have both taken LSD.) In a conference room with a flip board, Sid enthusiastically unveils the new LSD-fueled MK-ULTRA project to a group of CIA trainees, fervently trumpeting its patriotic value. In the third scene, Huxley’s Last Trip, Aldous Huxley, on his deathbed, asks his wife Laura to inject him with a dose of LSD to ease his suffering. She goes to retrieve the LSD, in an adjacent room, and is surprised that visiting friends are intently gathered around a television set while her husband is dying. Then, shocked to discover that they are watching the breaking news report out of Dallas, just after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, she decries the madness of it all. Returning to Aldous, she gives him the LSD injection and sings of the Clear Light, ushering him into his final trip.

What’s your background in writing opera, or for voice?

I’ve always loved the medium of voice, and so naturally gravitated to opera. I’ve written several works for mixed chorus as well as male chorus and women’s chorus, along with settings of poetry, sometimes with unusual instrumentation such as that for Breathtails. This is a recent composition, a collaboration with the poet Charles Bernstein. The piece is scored for baritone voice, shakuhachi, and string quartet, and has been performed in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. I wrote an essay for Current Musicology about our process:

LSD: The Opera follows my sixth opera, Crescent City. Earlier operas I’ve written include Sucktion; Pope Joan; Wet; Croak: The Last Frog; and The E. & O. Line.


Does/did your composition process change at all when writing for this medium?

My process changes for every piece I compose; in other words, the conception, scope, and context of each piece determines the process. However, writing for voices in an operatic medium provides an extremely rich palette of colors to draw from.

What else are you working on that you’d like people to know about?

SongFest, the premiere art song festival in the U.S., held each summer at the Colburn School in Los Angeles, has offered a commission supported by the Sorel Foundation. Very excited about fulfilling this commission! I’m still deciding on the text to set for two singers and piano. The premiere is scheduled for June 21, 2015.

Check back tomorrow to hear from Jason Thorpe Buchanan about his opera Hunger. Full details for First Take are available at More about Anne is up at