Unreal City is an interdisciplinary musical adaptation of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. The show combines classical, electronic, and experimental genres of music with elements of video media, sound installation, textures and aesthetics, choreography, and vocal-based repertoire.
With a passion for orchestrating interdisciplinary artists and composers, director Sara Sinclair Gomez brings together the diverse talents of five L.A. composers whose styles range from sparse minimalism to fully composed thematic scoring. Christina Ward, Danny Wood, Christoffer Schunk, Coleman Zurkowski, and Chris Prophet each actualize a different chapter of The Waste Land to create an expressive and colorful sonic environment.
Vocalists Sara Sinclair Gomez, Micaela Tobin, and Sharon Kim embody the essence of three beings who find themselves in the austere, aural, and visually arresting landscape of The Waste Land. These characters, the three Who’s, explore themes of birth, play, lust, morality, and death. Static electricity versus lightning. Cool rain versus flooded catacomb. In “Burial of the Dead,” sonic and thematic ideas that are polarly opposed to each other are pitted against one another, creating a schizophrenic atmosphere that reflects the state of mind into which the three Who’s are thrust when they are birthed unexpectedly into the electric desert. After being injected with life and death, they navigate through the barren ruins of The Waste Land and the fractured landscape of their own minds.
During “A Game of Chess,” the vocalists alternate between confrontational silences, obsessively iterating Eliot’s famous “goodnight” sequence and pose-based choreography. This austere pattern is made colder by a heavy subwoofer electronic track.
“The Fire Sermon” is twisted in emotion and dismal in character. The music uses sine tones to portray contrived beauty while the vocalists scream behind it, allowing repressed anger to slip through the cracks. Towards the end of the poem, as a musician fails to harness a lighter mood, so does an obnoxious fugue that lies beneath the continuing yells of the vocalists.
In “Death By Water,” the vocalists sing into bowls filled with water and amplified with hydrophones. The voice is then processed live using MaxMSP, allowing the cries of Phlebas the Phoenician to be heard from the depths of his final resting place.
“What The Thunder Said,” presents itself in two opposite and yet complementary halves, each interpreting time through a different philosophical lens. The first half culminates in a giant crescendo with each instrument playing different pieces of music to represent the falling cities of the west which are swallowed up by the full-spectrum sonic storm of the electronic instruments. The second half exists outside of time, and delicately attempts to transcend the chaos created by man, and to return to the cyclical constant of nature and the universe.
Melding the borders of artist, musician and composer, this large collaborative work invites all the creative parties to work in conjunction with one-another: the artist provokes the performer, who inspires the composer, whose music animates the lighting design, and so on. By basing the creative foundation of Unreal City on notions of play, experimentation, and instinct, the ultimate creation can therefore be credited interchangeably between all artists involved.
The instrumentation of Unreal City integrates both acoustic and electronic soundscapes, including prepared piano, upright bass, violin, electric harp, amplified voice, and computer. By fusing acoustic, digital, and analogue electronics, the musical experience becomes multidimensional in reference to timbre and time.
The show is woven together by the Lady Sosostris, a famous clairvoyant, played by actress Julia Barna. Using 3-D mapping technology, the “telepresence” of Lady Sosostris is projected onto a cast figure. In collaboration with Michael Jr. J. Day, we create an anamorphic surround sound array. Lady Sosostris’s voice and vibrations are transferred to chairs scattered throughout the theatre using tactile transducer speakers. This interactive experience gives purpose to the audience, who literally feel the vibrations and become vessels for sound themselves, creating an immersive, multi-sensory experience. By incorporating the audience members as apparatuses for conducting sound dispersal with the physical environment built by our complex soundscape, Unreal City requires ample space come to fruition. Because of the dense and complex relationships between the multi-dimensional sonic and optic landscapes, Unreal City can only flourish if it can occupy a large performance space with room for the audience to perceive the variety of flavors woven into the fabric of space-time around them.