Excerpt from Robert Ashley's in memoriam ... KIT CARSON (opera) (1963).
In addition to audio electronics, Operas for Zombie Media contributes toward the repurposing of fundamental elements of the allegedly outdated (or undead) form of opera itself. Toward my own reconsideration of opera, and in addition to work by composer Robert Ashley—namely, in memoriam ... KIT CARSON (opera) (1963) — and the tabletop spectacles of artist Stuart Sherman, Opera with Objects (1997) by composer Alvin Lucier has served as a point of departure.
In the piece, Lucier instructs the performer to collect small resonant objects, such as jars, small cardboard boxes, or coffee cups, and set them out on a table. With a pencil held in each hand, the performer first taps a regular rhythmic pulse with only the sound of two pencils, and then with the tip of one pencil touching (and consequently resonating sympathetically) the surface of one of the objects. He writes that “the focus is on the change in loudness and timbre of the object, not on the rhythms of the tapping.” The performer is also instructed to move the pencil tip over the surface of the object, “exploring small changes” in the resulting sound. After playing one resonant object for a while, the performer moves to another (without ceasing to tap), varying the speed of their tapping, until all objects have been played. Sometimes objects may be placed placed on on another in order to create more complex results: “Your task is to make vivid for listeners the natural amplification inherent in physical things.” Importantly, and with a nod to the earlier piece Vespers (1968), which explores echolocation, the performer is encouraged to listen for echoes of the tapping from surfaces within the performance space. Granting a certain autonomy to its central characters, Opera with Objects constitutes a dramatization, and it in this sense that it maintains fidelity to the operatic art form.