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Aleks Schürmer on holograms, baroque music, and partying like it's 1699

Posted by Greg / May 17, 2013

20130517-Chair.jpgOne of the most interesting, bizarre, and wonderful things cooking in Montreal right now is Le Pop D'Epoque, a digital baroque opera featuring a few of montreal's biggest artists. Promising everything from holograms to 18th-century period instruments, this should truly be a unique performance - the world's first digital baroque opera.

Recently I spoke with artistic director Aleks Schürmer about the project, its indiegogo funding campaign, and what we can expect when it debuts on June 22nd.

What exactly is a digital baroque opera?

Unlike how artists of 17th century France thought they were recreating Greek Classicism, Frances and my approach has been to be inspired by the aesthetics of baroque France without attempting to make a pastiche of it. Frances has studied how theatre sets physically worked, but is using completely anachronistic technology to achieve a similar spirit. We aren't confined by the physical limitations of traditional dramaturgy, so you can be looking at something very theatrical, something very real and then suddenly the scope becomes cinematographic. It's startling. When Marais premiered Alcyone in 1706, there was a storm scene. The audience started quite literally freaking out because it rained on stage. Our sensations have been dulled by technology now, but trying to surprise people through fairly simple means is important to us.

How is the digital part working with the period instruments?

Originally, I imaged that I would be performing the vocal soloists' parts on samplers as part of the live baroque ensemble. But as things progressed it seemed unnecessarily complicated and that it wouldn't really add much to the performance anyway, other than increasing exponentially the potential for me screwing everything up. So in the end, everything except the period instruments is prerecorded. The live musicians perform traditionally notated music along with the digital performers. I wanted the digital performances to feel as real as the live ones. And honestly, I don't know how many opera singers you know, but once they get started on stage, the conductor doesn't have that much control over them anyway.

How will the collaborations work? Who is writing what, who is performing what?

For the music that I've written, I used my band mate Tyr Jami (of Syngja), Caila Thompson-Hannant (of Mozart's Sister) and Devon Welsh and Matt Otto (of Majical Cloudz) as muses. In the same way that Lully wrote specifically for Madeleine de Lambert, I wanted to be able to compose pieces with specific performers in mind. It's been a really gratifying experience to transition from the 'I wonder what this would sound like if she sang that' to actually hearing it be performed by them. The energy that these artists bring to the music is so above and beyond what I imagined (and I usually imagine some pretty crazy shit). With Tyr, we work on our music together really equally, so it made sense for us to collaborate on her piece.

Chris D'Eon and I ended up outing ourselves as total baroque music nerds, debating the merits of Lully over his more modern successor Rameau one night and he mentioned to me that he was working on baroque keyboard compositions. I immediately knew his suites needed to be included in this show.

What about baroque music speaks to you? Do you see any parallels or commonalities between it and music today?

Baroque music is pretty bizarre. It's music for people with fairly inconsistent temperaments (read: crazy). They were really into stirring the affects of the audience, which is something that got lost somewhere after 1750. It's rough and vibrant and its crunchy harmonies can sound like it feels when some hot dude is biting on your neck. But at the same time, baroque composers could chill out for 5 minutes on the same four chords like a lot of pop music now, so it can be really accessible to people who aren't familiar with the genre. A lot of baroque music is dance music and the two most important things are the bass and the vocals (the rest is basically just twiddling dials on a sampler)

You're debuting the show at the Montreal Baroque Festival on June 22; how long will it run after that? Do you see this is a one-off thing or will you keep going at it for a while?

We definitely are going to look at doing the show again, but right now now all we're thinking about is getting this enormous beast of a production out of Fran and my collective womb. Our theatre, our sets and our soloists are digital, so we can easily take the show anywhere you can take an external drive.

Do you have any sense of how the classical music community feels about a show like this? Do you think any OSM subscribers will show up?

I really don't know how the classical community will feel about a show like this. Most of them don't know what a D'Eon is, or think that Mozart's Sister is actually Mozart's Sister but if the support we've been getting from the Montreal Baroque Festival is any indication, I think we'll see some OSM subscribers. I mean, Kent Nagano and Björk performed Schönberg together, so Kent, if you're reading this, "Come, bb! U and me can chill at whatever sketchy after party we all end up at!"

Aleks and company are entering the final days of an indiegogo campaign to raise $1,600 in funding for this endeavour. Watch the introductory video below and contribute here.


1 Comment / September 26, 2014 at 12:37 am
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