Performance | Mental Radio, An Electronic Chamber Opera by Jonathan Golove
Part of Ideas Prime
Thursday, April 9, 2015, 7–9 pm
Mental Radio, is based on Upton Sinclair’s Mental Radio: Does it Work, and How? (1930), was premiered in May of 2014. Jonathan Golove attempts to situate the revolutionary musical instruments of Leon Theremin both in the history of electronic music, by combining them with instruments and technologies representing the full range of developments in human musical expression through electronics, as well as in the futurist tradition. In the latter regard, he draws a parallel between the use of new technologies to reveal and enable the human potential for music making and Upton Sinclair’s account of his testing of his wife’s purported telepathic abilities, itself aimed at revealing a potent human potential. Mental Radio was conceived as an interdisciplinary, multimedia event, yet for its premiere the focus was necessarily on the music itself. Through the support of a Technē grant Golove was able to create a second version of Mental Radio with the collaboration of video/media artist Sergio Nieto and musical futurist Rochus Aust for a public performance at the Burchfield Penney Art Center on April 9, 2015. Nieto brings both a refined visual sensibility and expertise with the Kinect system for translating motion into graphic imagery. Aust offers both a wealth of experience presenting performances in unconventional spaces which engage the public in quite direct and participatory ways, while serving as the principal architect of a futurist musical instrument known as the “Stromorchester” (Current Orchestra), an array of sound-producing machines controlled by means of various interfaces including industrial multi-channel dimmers.
For the past 12 years, Golove has been involved in a project of recreating the theremin cello, an extinct musical instrument. In terms of the history of electronic instruments, the significance of the theremin cello far exceeds the few, rather impressive uses to which it was put during the time its inventor, Leon Theremin (Lev Termen) spent in New York in the 1920s and 30s. The most salient of those uses are Leopold Stokowski’s inclusion of a theremin cello in the Philadelphia Orchestra’s low string section, and Varese’s composition of two solo parts for the instrument in Ecuatorial. Rather more important, from the composers point of view, is the fact that the instrument represents the first attempt to harness the human potential to shape and manipulate electronic sound by means of the technical apparatus of the modern player of bowed string instruments, a technique which had centuries of development behind it, but was still bound up with instruments created in a pre-technological age.
Ideas Prime is a series of screenings, lectures and conversations which create a forum for an exchange of ideas designed to understand how local, global and cultural issues are interrelated. Programs are free with galley admission.