The libretto for “Concrete” imitates the thoughts of an old man who spends many hours alone. The thoughts are of two kinds.
One kind is the quickly changing subject matter or the quickly changing continuity of four or five minutes of thought. In the score these are called “Discussions” and are given to the four voices in the ensemble.
The other kind of thought is a reminiscence of a person from the old man’s past. (We know he is old, because he speaks of things from fifty years ago that happened when he was a young man.)
The libretto imitates only the subject matter of the thoughts.
The libretto does not imitate the way the ideas and images happen in the mind. That would be impossible.
In everyday life the jumble of images associated with the thoughts is, to the thinker, a kind of all-at-once package. That is, the images do not necessarily appear in an intelligible order. And since the thinker has probably gone over this package of mysteries, regrets, pleasures, understandings and misunderstandings, etc. too many times, the lack of an intelligible order hardly matters. (“Arguing with yourself’ and reminiscence can become unpleasant and something of a burden, as we all know. But the singers are caused to keep the tone neutral and a little buoyant by the requirement in the score to accent the sung line in the peculiar pattern of accents given to the title of each Discussion — one of the five, quickly changing subject matter scenes. This way of speaking — rhythmically out of the ordinary — is mentioned very briefly in the last Discussion. “We did ‘talk in strange rhythms’.”)
In everyday life the form is always one of randomness in the order of the images.
Obviously, one cannot do this in story telling without the randomness becoming a kind of puzzle — for which there is no spare time in opera, unless the opera has no obligations to an audience. In a novel, yes, maybe. Because you can interrupt the reading the novel and think. But in an opera, no.
The opera libretto has to take the form of stories told in a linear way.
So the libretto imitates only the subject matter of the thoughts.
The Discussions scenes — using four voices in a randomized order --are fairly clear in demonstrating what the thinker is thinking about, though the Discussions do segue from one subject to another rather quickly.
The thought that is a reminiscence of a person from the old man’s past is told in a simple chronological telling of a series of events. Each singer in the ensemble is given one of these Stories. The singer is free to tell the Story in her/his story telling style.
In both the Discussions and in the solo Stories the singer chooses pitches (and attitude) from an orchestra made up of groupings of orchestra samples made previously by the composer and chosen (sequenced) in the computer program by the composer or other performer differently for each performance. In other words, the composition of the orchestra is, in a simple, free fashion style, another aspect of “improvised” performance.
At the premiere we did six performances. The first job in making the CD, then, is to select the best version of every scene from among the six performances. The rest is done in the studio. So, this CD is a version of a live performance.
Music and Libretto by Robert Ashley
Voices: Sam Ashley, Thomas Buckner, Jacqueline Humbert, Joan La Barbara
Orchestra samples design and live mixing in performance: Robert Ashley
Voices and orchestra live mixing and processing in performance: Tom Hamilton
Choice of best scenes among the various (six) performances: Robert Ashley
Processing of recorded materials and mastering: Tom Hamilton
All rights reserved.
Printed in USA.
LCD 1010 DDD
© 2008 Robert Ashley / Lovely Music