The Sanctuary for Independent Media

April 21, 2018 7:00 PM - 10:00 PM

OYSTER is a modern multimedia opera about iconic folklorist Alan Lomax and his Cantometrics system of categorizing world music, set in the lull between the McCarthy era and the advancing information technology age.

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, 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 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 data for each of the nine regions into which Lomax divided the world. 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).

OYSTER CREDITS: Joe Diebes – Music, Libretto, and Video; Phil Soltanoff – Stage Direction; Performed by: John Rose, Christina Campanella, Michael Chinworth, Saori Tsukada; Piano: Melinda Faylor. 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. 

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