Act I - The Flying Serpent
Act II - The Jaguar
Act III - The Coyote
Act IV - Eagle Tearing Hearts Out of Chests
Voices: Sam Ashley, Jacqueline Humbert
Voice Recording: Gustavo Matamoros
Orchestra: Synthesized orchestra parts: Sam Ashley
MIDI driven orchestra parts: Robert Ashley and Tom Hamilton
Mixing and Processing: Sam Ashley
Produced by: Sam Ashley
Background Voices: Robert Ashley, Sam Ashley, Thomas Buckner, Marghreta Cordero, Jacqueline Humbert, Joan La Barbara, Amy X Neuburg
Background voice recording: Tom Hamilton
The original seven-voice version of the opera was recorded in my studio. It was edited by Sam Ashley to match the performance orchestra that had been used in seven-voice performances to that date. Because of the way they are treated, the seven, recorded voices are referred to in this version as the "background voices." Later, Sam and Jacqueline Humbert suggested a "two-voice" version as a performance piece for themselves using the original MIDI generated performance orchestra. Jacqueline and Sam divided the seven-voice original score between them based on decisions about a new way to tell the story. They were recorded live in performance at the Subtropics Festival, Miami, 2002. Then this "two-voice version" CD was produced, to reflect that way of telling the story, using the Subtropics Festival recording along with newly created material and elements from the original performance orchestra and processed versions of the existing, edited "background voices."
Many of the background voices were processed in an extreme fashion to create extra parts in the orchestra. Sometimes they can be heard as ghostly premonitions similar to "EVP" recordings ("Electronic Voice Phenomena"). "EVP" recordings, important in the 1970's (the time situation of Foreign Experiences), frequently feature subtle "voices" that are either buried in or constructed from noise.— RA
an opera by Robert Ashley
There is a peculiar, eerie, indescribable loneliness in all of California. It permeates everything. Maybe it's just the water. Maybe there are other places of the same sort in other places on Earth. But California could be special, the place where the early European-American settlers, upon arriving - if they got there, realized they would never get back. California is the end of the Earth. That feeling is passed on from generation to generation without anyone recognizing that it is part of them. And it is passed on to the most recent arrivals. Even today in the precious palaces of Malibu, in the vast developments between Los Angeles and San Diego, in the spreading domestic comfort of the San Francisco Bay area it's there. It poisons our movies and TV shows. It generates the most violent and interesting mystery novels. Even now jet travel doesn't cure it. It comes down on you hard when you get off the plane and step outside the terminal. It drives some people mad.
Don Jr. has come to California with his family - Linda and Jr. Jr. - and his friend, "N," to take a job at a small college. They have moved from the Midwest of fractured identities to the world of no identities.
On arrival, the four of them go, on a Sunday afternoon, to visit the campus to see what is in store for them, and they discover that the campus, and especially the building where Don Jr. is to work, is haunted by some evil force from the past.
A ghost, documented in campus history, roams the area that includes the building where Don Jr. is to work and the "Faculty Village" that lies directly behind that building. The ghost is frequently encountered on the road to what was once the Main Gate - closed now ("because it was too dangerous") and now referred to as the "Back Gate."
During the months that follow the ghost becomes more and more of a presence and more fearsome, and Don Jr. becomes more and more irrational. Don Jr. has gone mad.
His family has disintegrated. He lives alone in a small, cheap apartment near the campus where he cooks rice and vegetables in a single saucepan, drinks vodka and reads books on esoteric subjects.
He has terrible problems with his teeth, a genetic disease. The constant work on his teeth means that he is always in pain and that before one part of him has healed another part has been invaded by the dentist. He imagines that this violation of the skin has made him vulnerable to the presence of the ghost.
In his madness and isolation Don Jr. has concocted an elaborate plot to explain to himself the situation he is in. This is all in Don Jr.'s imagination. In reality (Don Jr. would love to discuss that word with anyone) we never leave the sordid apartment. Don Jr. has many adventures, all in his imagination. He remembers important and unbelievable premonitions. He remembers events and people whose lives he should have seen in premonition. He confuses his past with the present. The adventures in the past and in the present lead to amazing adventures in the future. He learns a lot of things about himself and about the world. Maybe madness of a certain sort is not so bad.
He imagines that he has been called to some secret purpose other than the work at the college and that this purpose will be revealed by a message that he is to find in the "personals" of the local newspaper. Finally, he finds what he is sure is the message meant for him. It is a simple statement, "Higher than eagles he wanted to learn to fly," along with a phone number. He calls the number.
The message from the phone number tells him that he is to go to the place of a secret, government sponsored project, somewhere near the Mexican border. The purpose of the project is to learn to act on premonitions, to take premonitions as instructions. In order to achieve this state of mind he is told to learn to curse. Cursing overcomes emotions embedded in language and clears the mind to recognize premonitions as they appear. Don Jr. learns to curse. He curses in almost every statement.
In his imagination Don Jr., along with his wife Linda, goes to the secret government facility. He meets important government people and is congratulated on his acceptance of the dangerous job he is about to undertake. He is instructed to meet a guide, who will take him to a powerful man who will teach him about premonitions.
In a motel, before the meeting with the guide, Don Jr. and Linda have some serious disagreement about the wisdom of this undertaking. Linda thinks that the project is foolish, but Don Jr. is obsessed.
He meets the guide, an "Indian," and is taken on a wild ride through the Mexican desert, with the guide taunting and insulting him about his ignorance. The guide recounts incidents of his own brushes with the law.
The guide leaves him in some remote place, where he is to be picked up by other guides in order to arrive at his rendezvous with "the man" who is to be his final introduction to the wisdom of premonitions. Twelve times he is left alone to be picked up sometime later. During this long and lonely travel Don Jr. begins to remember premonitions he has had in the past. He loses his ability to distinguish the past from the present, though he believes that eventually he will be taken to the place of "the present."
Finally he is taken to his destined meeting. The place is crowded and noisy. Before meeting "the man" he gets two lectures from persons in the crowd. Strangely, the lectures are not about premonitions. They are lessons are about the economics of oppression and the deceitful language of the oppressors.
Through all of the noise ("These fuckers talk all at the same time . . .") he gets the first lecture ("Probably none of them could get indicted for price fixing that old-fashioned way . . ."). This lecture is about the way the game is played between those who have and those who don't.
Then another voice takes over for the second lecture. This is about the way the game of politics is played. ("Have you ever thought about why your uncle who was so smart about everything and who was so admired in town and was a great success at being a human being wasn't President? Naw shit no.")
Don Jr. realizes that he is not going to learn about premonitions. He is in the presence of revolutionaries. They couldn't care less about premonitions. He is learning about politics and economics from the people who don't have anything. ("I am dumbstruck. I came all this way for this?")
Finally, he gets to "the man." ("This is what I came for.") "The man" is not well educated and defiant like the "Commandante" of the Chiupas. He's not logical and persuasive like the legendary Che Guevara. He's not ironical like Castaneda's Don Juan. He's a screamer and the subject of his lecture is nothing less than the history of commercial civilization. He wants to go back to communally owned land. His adversaries are the banks and what they represent in the way of dividing things up.
This is all happening in the sordid apartment in the middle of the night. ("Middle aged man lives alone in a shit apartment. Across the courtyard a woman with an artificial larynx. Down below the neighbor has a bar self-standing. And he plays disco records until late hours. Donna Summer and Al Green without the words. Just strong beats.")
Too many broken dreams. Too much vodka. Too many esoteric books. Too much loneliness. Too much California. We will never find out what happens to Don Jr. It seems doubtful that he will ever become a revolutionary, since it's all in his imagination anyway. Maybe he will go into writing screenplays.
Art Direction and Design: By Design
Photo by Philip Makanna
Copyright © 1994 Robert Ashley,
Visibility Music Publishers (BMI)
All rights reserved.
Printed in USA.
LCD 1008 DDD
© 2006 Robert Ashley / Lovely Music