10 March 2010 at 3.24pm | Comment on this article
Have just finished writing the score of A Ring A Lamp A Thing. It’s an opera for one singer, the wonderful Melanie Pappenheim, and Ableton Live. Andrew McDonnell will be operating the technology – tricky job! Ableton Live is the programme that most beatboxers and lots of pop musicians are using; it creates loops and transforms sounds. We’re using it here to make theatre music – as a way of multiplying the voice of one singer so she can have a dialogue with herself, and transforming it so she can become different people. In particular a genie. Because this is a three-wish kind of opera.
It’s about as far from most people’s idea of an opera as it could be. I’m not even sure that we are trying to write an opera. We’re looking to make interesting theatre with lots of singing in it. You could call it music-theatre maybe, though that sounds very worthy and boring. And Melanie is not an opera singer; her voice is not huge but extremely subtle and adaptable. She’s particularly brilliant at singing very, very quietly.
The libretto’s by Caryl Churchill, so it’s quirky and strange and makes very good emotional sense. I came up with the idea of writing a piece for one singer and Ableton, partly as a reaction to having made a lot of pieces recently with hundreds of singers, partly because the technology interests me, and partly because from a theatrical point of view I don’t really like a band either in the pit or on stage. I don’t like an orchestra in a pit because they’re not really there; and I don’t like an orchestra on stage because they are, and they’re distracting.
Caryl and I talked about how people make choices, not by reason but by a chaotic accumulation of impressions and how, by using the technology, we could hear all these impressions at once. We talked about storytelling and becoming different characters by singing in several voices; we talked about nested stories and the 1001 Nights; we talked about singing in different voices because of being possessed. And all these ideas have made their way into the piece in some way.
It’s a relief to have finished the score but it’s completely obvious that in this project that’s only the beginning. We’ll be doing a lot of experimenting with the technology and with the voice; James MacDonald the director and Caryl will be looking at the staging and Paul Arditti will be coming in to work on the sound projection – all these things will affect the score, so I’m expecting to make a lot of changes.
What’s the music like? Well, it’s quite Steve Reich, it’s a bit Luciano Berio, there’s a hint of Björk, there’s a hint of Nick Cave, and by the time we’ve finished I hope it sounds like Animal Collective.