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.

7pm at Filene Recital Hall


Sponsored by MDOCS, part of the semester-long series Cosmic Tones: Mapping the Musical Multiverse in Documentary, and co-sponsored by the Theater Department

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 a 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 the data for each of the nine regions into which Lomax divided the world. Meanwhile, 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 – Music, Libretto, and Video
Phil Soltanoff – Stage Direction
Damian Calvo – Cinematography
Poe Saegusa – Lighting designPerformed by:
John Rose
Christina Campanella
Michael Chinworth
Saori Tsukada
Piano: Melinda Faylor

BOTCH Ensemble was formed in 2010 to rigorously explore spoken language as a basis for a contemporary form of opera.  The group (Joe Diebes, Christina Campanella, John Rose, Michael Chinworth and Saori Tsukada) has recently performed at HERE Arts Center, The Watermill Center, STEIM (Amsterdam), and Experimental Intermedia.

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.  

share on