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The Curious Case of a T-Rex and a Pack of Montreal Song Wolves

Posted by Sisi / September 29, 2008

The Liederwölfe Collective - Allison Corder.jpgPicture of Liederwölfe by Allison Cordner.

24-year old Francesca Perez is a sensible woman.

Wearing a purple knit scarf, striped tee, and green beaded necklace for our interview at Santropol, the recent McGill grad is the picture of demure charm. How, then, to explain the decidedly insensible things coming from her mouth?

“We’re going to present the world’s first webcomic opera, based on a comic about dinosaurs.”

Perez is part of a rising Montreal-based classical music collective called Liederwölfe. The group currently has a dozen or so active members and has welcomed over 50 more throughout its almost 3-year existence. You can hear Liederwölfe this week in Jer's Pop Montreal podcast.

The webcomic in question is written and drawn by Toronto-based Ryan North. Also known as “Qwantz” (after the site’s domain name), Dinosaur Comics is so popular it boasts its own Wikipedia page. Since 2003, it has published over 1,000 strips and been reprinted in two collections and several newspapers.

A bit of a curiosity, Dinosaur Comics (pictured below) is a fixed-art comic in which the images always stay the same and only the dialogue changes. The title is derived from the three recurring characters: a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a Dromiceiomimus, and a Utahraptor. The strips are wide-ranging in topic: ethical relativism, the nature of happiness, beauty, free will, etc.


Which brings us to the question: just who would write an opera about Dinosaur Comics, and why?

“Brodie [another member of Liederwölfe and Perez’ boyfriend] is an avid reader of Dinosaur Comics,” said Perez. “We were trolling the site when we saw in the fan art section an opera based on the comic. We thought it was hilarious, approached Ryan North for permission to present it, and got in touch with the author of the piece.”

This is where things get a bit quirky. The author is cited as Dr. Eggbert McMuffin of Stuttgart University. Apparently, he could only be reached through his PR man, David Blankenbaker.

I managed to contact Blankenbaker, who reported to me his “client’s” dictated replies. The line constantly blurred between reality and fiction as the eccentric but solemn nature of Dr. McMuffin’s answers made me doubt more than once whether this was simply a clever Internet persona.

When asked about the impetus behind the opera, Dr. McMuffin answered:

“The short and telegraphic nature of Mr. North’s dialogue fit exceedingly well with my own tendency and wish to write brief and direct melodies, songs without expansion or elaboration.”

The premise of the opera is simple enough: “T-Rex confronts his fear of raccoons; the raccoons, it turns out, have taught themselves to speak English,” said Dr. McMuffin. “His friends provide little comfort, even going so far as to mock him. T-Rex fails to come to any satisfactory conclusion; his friends depart, the raccoons close in.”

“I’m not really sure what to make of him myself,” said Perez. “But the show is going to be awesome.”

No one is more excited about Liederwölfe’s upcoming show than North himself. In an e-mail, he wrote:

“I was thrilled and flattered when Dr. Eggbert McMuffin sent me the opera version of one of my comics, and even MORE thrilled and flattered when I found out about Liederwölfe's plans. It wasn't so much of them asking me permission as me opening my inbox and finding out that things we Already Set In Motion, which is awesome. It's not every day you wake up to find out an opera that you kinda sorta inspired a little is going to be performed. So far it has happened to me only once.”

Liederwölfe was formed when the craze for Montreal indie bands with the word “wolf” was in full swing: Wolf Parade, We Are Wolves, AIDS Wolf, etc.

20080926_wolfparade.jpgRemember these guys? Picture taken by Flickr user Aalyela.

“Lieder is also a type of 19th century German piece set for voice and piano, so there’s our classical music reference,” said Perez. “And the umlaut, we threw in to be funny.”

Lindsay Michael, now a CBC producer (find some of her Outfront work here), has been with Liederwölfe since the beginning.

“I am stunned at how the group has evolved in both depth and breadth,” she said. “We keep trying to push new boundaries, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.”

Last fall, Liederwölfe produced a staged opera at Sala Rossa, complete with orchestra. The collective has also completed its first music video and made inroads into the mainstream music world. Texas-based Soundcheck Magazine dubbed them one of the 20 Montreal bands to watch and this year marks their first appearance at a non-classical festival, Pop Montreal.

Jordan Gasparik, another Liederwölfe member, often hosts the collective’s shows by presenting the pieces to be sung.

“I find that people our age really are willing to open their ears to classical music... and I think they do listen,” she said. “Oftentimes the places you have to go to hear the music is more foreign than the music itself. You're supposed to get dressed up and clap at all the right places – that can be a pretty big turn-off. But if you can feel comfortable when listening, you're more likely to take something special away with you.”

Both Michael and Gasparik have memorable anecdotes about Liederwölfe’s very first show.

“That snowy Sunday in December at Le Divan Orange was pretty magical,” recalled Gasparik. “It was this little experiment that turned into a bar full of people hooting and hollering at music hundreds of years old. It was amazing!”

“We really tried to advertise it as a mystery indie band,” said Michael. “There was a bit of media speculation that because our name was Liederwölfe, we were a secret superband of some of the other Montreal wolf bands. So we attracted a big, diverse crowd who didn't know what to expect. One punk guy, after the first few songs, yelled in French: " What is this crap! But that singer is pretty hot though.” That was my favorite reaction.”

Liederwölfe: Opera Undressed performs at Pop Montreal on Oct. 3rd at Les Saints. The show starts at 10 p.m. Admission is pay what you can. You can watch a performance here.



Mishy / September 30, 2008 at 09:10 am
Hey there - I love your blog, but as an opera and webcomic enthusiast, I have to point out that there's a bit of an error. “We’re going to present the world’s first webcomic opera, based on a comic about dinosaurs.” - I know these aren't your words, but unfortunately, they're just not true. Someone ought to inform that Liederwölfe that they're about 2 years late for this claim. The first webcomic opera was "Too Much Coffee Man" produced in Portland, Oregon in September 2006. (In fact, it even has a sequel, "Too Much Coffee Man: The Refill"). You can read about it here:
Lindsay of Liederwolfe / September 30, 2008 at 11:53 am
Hey Missy-

Just to clarify, we are not claiming to be the first webcomic opera (Thanks for the link I'll check it out), only the first webcomic opera about Dinos. At least, I think we are the first webcomic opera about dinosaurs. I know there is another opera about dinosaurs...but I don't think it is based on a webcomic.
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