BARBARA ELLISON – CyberOpera – A Trans-Human Opera In Three Acts

Self Release

A lot of things are taken for granted when it comes to technological progress. However, our mind is often limited to a hands-on approach to these advancements, without actually delving into the creative possibilities offered by a given medium. Ireland-born, Netherlands-based Barbara Ellison certainly does not belong to the category of minds in question. Her compositional focus in CyberOpera has in fact to do with the integration of sampled voices and elaborated Text-To-Speech fragments, the whole finely organized inside (un)conventional opera structures. Those combinations are masterfully manipulated and enhanced by Ellison, thus increasing the psychoacoustic effects in the listener’s brain as the main objective – eliminating actual singers from the equation – is achieved.

After this introduction (as always, please read the fascinatingly detailed liner notes at the link above), the worst one could do is imagining the result of these efforts as something “cold” according to the commonplace. On the contrary, here lies the demonstration of Ellison’s sensible talent, which informs three hours and 18 minutes of refined interaction between the various components.

The music is, well, spectacularly trans-human. The extreme minimalism grounded on the obsessive rhythmicity of semantic and instrumental snippets finds an ideal counterpart in choral openings of impressive beauty, occasionally pervaded by sublime stasis. The incessant repetition of harmonic particles and splinters of phrases, changing infinitesimally with the intensification of their cyclicity, inexorably delivers our systems from any residue of traditional logic. We are entirely possessed, turned into physical containers of information totally deprived of “extramundane junk” implications. This is essential nourishment for an individuality aware of the very short path within the unnerving futility of earthly existence.

The usual list of (vague and ultimately silly) stylistic/atmospheric comparisons might include names such as Gyorgy Ligeti circa “Lux Aeterna”, Paul Dolden, Carl Stone; conversely, the sections where smithereens of multilingual speech intersect and multiply like wet Mogwais are practically impossible to associate to anything or anyone else.

Quality time for serious listening is obviously prescribed, but CyberOpera – rather unsurprisingly, we should say – also works in subliminal ways. On the one hand, a therapy against the cathartic dramaturgy connected to the delusions of typical “cosmic ceremonials”; on the other, a fundamental page in the book of artistic evolution. Ellison, for years interested in “(…) ghostly presence and substance in a plethora of sonic and visual realms [while] playing and exploiting the phenomenon of pareidolia and apophenia (…)”, gave us a work which, for this writer’s understanding, is gifted with the same momentum of genuinely groundbreaking operas – think Einstein On The Beach – and is definitely superior, for overall gravity and prescience, to certain “masterpieces of the avantgarde regime” revolving around verbal nothingness. You know what I mean, hopefully.

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