BEEST OPERA™ – Digital Media Opera

Frequently Asked Questions

BEEST OPERA™!! What’s that?

BEEST OPERA™ (mmix) is a new digital media opera by composer and media artist Joey Bargsten (cv).

Like his previous opera Anatomy of Melancholy™ (mmv), this one is an open-source, scaleable, Do-It-Yourself opera where the live vocalists are singing the parts they hear over their iPods, as they did in Anatomy, resulting in Bargsten’s signature sound: a sort of multi-temporal blend of minimalism and modernism, live unadorned vocals mixed with electronic ambience and occasional interruptions by intricate rhythmic processes.

Also like Anatomy, BEEST OPERA™ incorporates live video manipulation with a theatrical musical experience. Unlike its predecessor, the electronic score of BEEST OPERA™ is an asynchronous and collaborative mashup of a musical vocabulary distributed online, mixed live and transmitted from a number of artists around the globe.

The composer’s interest in digitally constructed, networked experiences resulting in some form of musical theatre is further explored and given a concise and elegant shape in this new work.

What’s the story, characters, and setting?

While there is not a single, defining narrative line that runs throughout the opera, there are a number of themes or meme-clouds (anger and frustration at contemporary life, especially life as a consumer of products; reckless action driven by both fear and desire; the struggle to uncover meaning in a life of suffering and distraction, ultimately articulated by deth). The meme-clouds are organized formally under sets of thematic image-collections (see FORM, below).

These themes/memes are presented by the trio personae – – the three main characters who have no names, and are ambiguous in gender, age, and relationship. There is, however, some personal history they share, but this is not revealed.

And finally, there is nothing to locate the opera in a specific place or time—rather, the setting of BEEST OPERA™ can be thought of as a pathology. It is opera-as-symptom of collective and individual loss of soul. Almost all the action that takes place between the characters is in the form of dialogue and conversation, with occasional gestures (including mock violence and mock intimacy).

In addition to the three main vocalists, there are six vocalists who function as a turba chorus. Throughout the work, the turba chants short, syllabic, fragmented latin texts borrowed from medieval writers on alchemy and philosophy. These texts are set to the vocalists’ singable range, but each pitch is reiterated at its own specific tempo, all delivered randomly, online (example of online random notation delivery systemrequires Flash plug-in – open multiple copies of that link to approximate the kind of activity you’d hear with multiple performers, or listen to an older work based on similar time structures here ).

NOW IN BETA: Click here for the uberfantastic BEEST OPERA™ LIBRETTO GENERATOR. OK, granted, right now it’s just using the text for His Girl Friday as a point of departure, but soon enough, the actual text of the opera will populate it. Just another online application that renders narrative structure static. Naturally, it is extremely offensive to those who easily take offense, funny to those who are easily amused, and boring to those who are easily bored. Enjoy!

OK, but really . . . you want to read the damn libretto. Alrighty, here it is (or at least a few versions of it).

What’s the role of digital technology in this opera?

Through the Internet, the processes, forms, and aesthetics associated with a genre like ‘opera’ are re-configured and transmuted to assume a more flexible and malleable shape. The Internet serves as a conduit for transmitting the vocabulary of audio and visual source materials for online artists to then further mix and manipulate. It is the backbone technology for the random Flash-based notation generators for the vocalists to receive their individual parts. And finally, it serves as the collaboration zone in which the online artists combine their efforts, using the Yugma/Skype collaborative platform.

What going on visually?

The performance area is based on a relic of early digital-era training – the workstation-based digital media lab. The trio personae are at the front of the room and the six turba singers are divided into two groups of three on either side of the room.

The screen at the front of the room (or hall, if the installation is scaled to a larger space) displays two side-by-side video programs – one is a real-time transmission of the work of a randomly selected video artist participating in BEEST OPERA™, and the other is an interpolation from a live, local video source with random vector animation overlays. Here’s some examples of video jamming using this particular vocabulary:

A collection of video clips created specifically as source material for BEEST OPERA™ is available online here, at archive.org (718 MB, zip file of 22 video-jam ready clips). Some of these clips are also used as source material in Bargsten’s current film-in-progress, To Do List™:

What’s going on, musically, in BEEST OPERA™?

The broad strokes of the music design are three:

  1. AMBIACITY – slowly evolving timbres and indistinctly articulated textures. No clear rhythmic component, no sharp attacks. All background (can be from acoustic, natural, or electronic sources; can include electronic alteration and sound processing, as long as the result does not draw much attention). Again, check out the composer’s film-in-progress To Do List™ for some examples of his ambiacraft.
  2. RHTYMIA – brief, concise passages with a constant motor pulse, articulated as a series of non-uniform measures. These passages are manifestations of the Hexagrams of Trichords (1985) number series mapped onto the I Ching and drawn randomly from composer’s Shockwave-based I Ching Generator. They occur BETWEEN the formal divisions listed under FORM below. There are 64 hexagrams, and they can be easily manipulated via Garageband or other MIDI programs by the electronic collaborators.
  3. SOLOS – while the first two musical ‘strokes’ are material manipulated and transmitted digitally, the third is the set of vocal components provided by the performers, as unpredictable, intermittent, overlapping, random fragments of sung dialogue (by the trio persona) or chanted latin fragments (by the turba chorus).

Both AMBIACITY and RHYTHMIA are separate collaborative live feeds, occurring simultaneously with the visual jamming.

So, are you using proprietary software, or what?

In BEEST OPERA™, the composer uses a mix of his own Flash and Shockwave based software, plus mostly open-source software or freeware to create both the sonic and visual landscapes of the piece.

What’s the formal outline, if there is such a thing, of BEEST OPERA™?

Musical and visual FORM takes its shape from four main FILMS, divided and subdivided as follows:

1. SKRATCHES OF THE BEEST™ (overture)

2. EMPIRES AND TOURISTS™ (solo)

a. Subtext 1
b. Subtext 2

i. Feedback 1

3. SINKING CITIES™ (duo)

a. Subtext 3

i. Feedback 2

1. The BEEST’s Special Moment

4. FACES OF THE BEEST™ (trio)

OK, so what do I need to put on a performance, like, how many performers are involved, and what level of performance ability are we talking about here?

The nine performers need to simply be able to MATCH PITCHES they hear over headphones, and project their parts with a modicum of performance ability. No operatic training is needed.

It is suggested to recruit performers from the local Music Department, in collaboration with members of the music faculty. Music faculty may wish to participate as members of the trio personae, as BEEST OPERA™ could be noted as a World Premiere performances on their operatic resume!

What technical resources do I need to put on a performance?

Minimum equipment required:

9 workstations*** (Mac or PC) capable of running the Flash 9 plug-in in a contemporary browser (Firefox or Safari recommended).

9 pairs of headphones for vocalists.

Sound amplification for vocalists (optional)

1 high-end workstation for video jam and video projection (Intel – based G5 Mac preferred).

1 video projector and screen

2 mid-level workstations (Mac or PC) to receive collaborative audio and transmit sound through stereo multimedia speakers. Requires contemporary browser (Firefox or Safari) running free version of Yugma – Skype Edition.

All workstations have DSL or faster internet connection.

***Vocalists may substitute a portable handheld device such as a Blackberry capable of running Flash-based applications, for the workstation. If neither workstations nor portable devices are available, the vocalists can run a shuffle-version of the score on their iPods. If iPods are not available, the performers can run CD-based versions of the score (please request these 6-8 weeks prior to the performance).

In the following performance layouts, the red figures are the trio personae, the green are the turba choir, and the blue are the visualist and live cameraperson. The light grey figures represent the audience, which has been rendered pale and cadaver-like while experiencing BEEST OPERA™:

FIGURE 1 – Small performance area

FIGURE 2 – Large performance area

POST-SCRIPT (ça. 2012). OK, the work has yet to be performed, and if you and your organization are seriously interested in doing so (that is, presenting the World Premiere), email me here.

To Do List™ became the working title for the film Sticky Notes™ (2008; premiered at Zero Film Festival, Los Angeles, December 2008),

Audiences are still mostly offended, amused, or bored with my work. Lately, a further emotional response, bewilderment, has begun to occur more frequently.

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