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In The Transmigration of Morton F. the worlds of opera, ritual and computer-gaming coalesce. Commissioned by the Holland Festival, director Sjaron Minailo and composer Anat Spiegel’s creation is a fully digital music theatre performance to be experienced from June 20 on www.mortonf.net. The legendary vocal artist Joan La Barbara performs the protagonist as herself: while visiting Amsterdam she finds herself caught up in a game of cat and mouse with a mysterious character whom she believes to be the reincarnation of iconic composer Morton Feldman with whom she has worked with in the past. As La Barbara’s surreal dreamworld unravels, the viewers are invited to travel the infinite paths of their own choosing through Spiegel’s and Feldman’s compositions.
On 20 June, the website will be launched at Theater Bellevue in the presence of the creators and leading lady Joan la Barbara, who will sing pieces from Spiegel and Feldman. Minailo and Spiegel will give a walkthrough of the piece.
The entrance of this launch is free, but you need to order a ticket.
The worlds of opera, visual ritual and computer-gaming coalesce in The Transmigration of Morton F.. Commissioned by the Holland Festival, director Sjaron Minailo and composer Anat Spiegel’s creation is a fully digital music theatre performance to be experienced entirely on the internet. It is inspired by the works of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick (in particular The Transmigration of Timothy Archer), film director David Lynch, and composer Morton Feldman.
Last year the Holland Festival started to include digital art as a structural part of its programming. In 2015 the festival launched the interactive digital song cycle The Book of Sand by the Dutch composer Michel van der Aa. This year Minailo and Spiegel are presenting their digital interactive opera The Transmigration of Morton F., starring the legendary American singer Joan La Barbara. The website will be launched on 20 June at 8:30 pm, during a programme in which leading lady Joan la Barbara will sing several compositions, and Minailo and his creative producer Ruben van Leer will give a walkthrough of the piece.
The opera consists of pieces composed by Morton Feldman and Anat Spiegel. Overture is Feldman’s The Straits of Magellan, which can be heard during the opening scene when the viewers meet the character La Barbara (who plays herself) up to her encounter with a mysterious boy who bears a striking resemblance to Feldman. After this overture the viewer, together with La Barbara, enters various manifestations of her unconscious. Each scene is a visualisation of a short composition by Feldman. The compositions also use The Straits of Magellan: Chorus and Instruments II, Vertical Thoughts V and Only. In addition, there is a new composition by Anat Spiegel. As she has previously done with pieces by Bach and Björk, Spiegel has made distorted mirror images of Feldman’s music. According to Spiegel, the new composition is an ‘incantation’ that evokes Feldman’s spirit. ‘Feldman reincarnated as contemporary music.’ This scene also includes choreography by Nicole Beutler and a performance by Jennifer Tee.
The opening shot is a self-portrait of the American artist Philip Guston. He was Feldman’s best friend for years, until their friend- ship came to an abrupt end in 1970. Guston died ten years later, without them having reconciled their differences. Feldman always regretted the loss of the friendship. This incident is the driving force behind The Transmigration of Morton F. Then we see a boy, who bears a striking resemblance to Feldman, walking across a cemetery. In a subsequent shot he appears in a bookshop, where he briefly has eye contact with Joan La Barbara. Joan decides to follow the boy, following him to various locations, including the cemetery, a desolated water park, and a church where Joan bumps into herself while she is singing Feldman’s Three Voices to an audience. She also ends up at a mass ritual. An abstract expressionist painting in the spirit of Guston is created during the ritual. It is also a further step in the transmigration of Morton Feldman’s spirit (in the form of the boy) to La Barbara’s body.
The recurring return to the cemetery makes it the place where the viewer can take control of a number of interactive scenes and mini-games.
Morton Feldman (1926-1987) was a leading American composer, who is regarded as one of the most important composers of the twentieth century. Feldman studied composition with Schönberg disciple Wallingford Riegger and former Webern student Stefan Wolpe; but the decisive encounter in his musical life was with John Cage, who encouraged him to break away from old compositional models, such as traditional harmony and serial techniques.
Feldman is often associated with the experimental New York School, along with Cage, Christian Wolff and Earle Brown. In the 1950’s Feldman experimented with graphic notation and freedoms for the performers. From the 1970’s he used conventional notation. Through Cage, Feldman met various other prominent figures from the New York art scene, including visual artists Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston and Robert Rauschenberg, the composers Henry Cowell, Virgil Thomson and George Antheil and the writer Frank O’Hara. Feldman was especially inspired by the works of the abstract-expressionist painters. He expressed his indebtedness with titles such as Rothko Chapel (1971) and For Frank O’Hara (1973). In 1977 he wrote the opera Neither, set to a text by Samuel Beckett. Until 1973 Feldman worked as a composer as well as holding a full time job in his family’s textile business. That year he started lecturing in composition at the State University of New York in Buffalo, a position he held until his death. Especially his later chamber music, from 1977, tends to be soft, slow and intimate. These works are often extremely long. For Philip Guston (1984), for instance, is 4 hours long; his Second String Quartet (1983) measures 6 hours. Shortly after his marriage to the Canadian composer Barbara Monk, Feldman died of pancreatic cancer.
Sjaron Minailo is no stranger to Morton Feldman's work. With his Studio Minailo company, he created Rothko Chapel, a theatrical music video in which he used Feldman's eponymous composition while adding associated imagery inspired by Mark Rothko's paintings. Last year, Minailo directed Feldman's Three Voices for Joan La Barbara at Brussels’ De Munt opera house, in which young singers were coached by La Barbara herself. Minailo specialises in creating genre-crossing music theatre, his many collaborators including the Asko|Schönberg Ensemble, the Slagwerk Den Haag percussion ensemble, Rotterdam’s Kunsthal and Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum.
Composer, singer and performer Anat Spiegel is one of Minailo's long-term collaborators and, like Minailo, specialises in interdisciplinary performing arts. Together, they staged their opera Medúlla at De Munt in 2015. Based on singer Björk's eponymous concept album, the performance featured a cast of four opera singers, a one hundred strong children's choir, a throat singer and live electronics. In 2012 they collaborated on their internet opera Soul Seek. Spiegel's works have been performed in Europe, the United States, Israel and Japan.
Joan La Barbara is famous for her virtuoso vocal skills and her groundbreaking performances within contemporary American music. Hailed as 'the Houdini of New Music', she has developed various experimental vocal techniques. Morton Feldman dedicated his monumental work Three Voices for Joan La Barbara to her. Other collaborators include composers John Cage and Philip Glass as well as choreographer Merce Cunningham. La Barbara appeared at the 2014 Holland Festival in filmmaker Matthew Barney's River of Fundament. She performed a solo concert at the 2012 edition and featured at the 2007 festival in Robert Ashley's opera Celestial Excursions.
A project by Sjaron Minailo / commissioned by Holland Festival / coproduction with La Monnaie/De Munt Brussels / interactive film produced by Truth.io / music by Morton Feldman: The Straits of Magellan, Chorus and Instruments II, Vertical Thoughts V, Only / music by Anat Spiegel: The Transmigration of Morton F., Vocal compositions for Bones / starring: Joan La Barbara, Boyan Delattre / director: Sjaron Minailo / creative producer: Ruben van Leer / director of photography: Remko Schnorr / musical director and conductor: Jamie Man / interactive & design: Next Empire /
with: Stefanie Janssen, Anat Spiegel, Sjaron Minailo, Mira Helmer, Eliot Myrmel, Margriet Berger, Judith de Lenge, Fleur de Graaf, Luciënne Venner, Reve Terborg, Anastasia Garyfallou, Anne De Andrade, Eva-Kristin De Ridder, Feadan Mccall, Franka Bauwens, Layzmina Emerencia, Lieke Kools, Merel Franx, Lisa Jacobs, Marialuisa Latenne, Nicolien Kipp, Sharon Geernaert, Sofie Doorman, Sophie Floor Wartenbergh, Yulia Kuharenko / featuring excerpt from the performance Concrete Interior by Jennifer Tee, choreography: Jennifer Tee and Miri Lee, performer: Miri Lee, Art Piece: Crystalline Floorpiece / Violamine (4) Hand-dyed wool 210 x 210 cm / and excerpt from Dialogues with Lucinda by Nicole Beutler, choreography by Lucinda Childs, interpretation: Dancers of Nicole Beutler/NBprojects, dancers: Hillary Blake Firestone, Joao Dinis Pinho, Christian Guerematchi, Naiara Mendioroz Azkarate, Marjolein Vogels / production manager: Philippe Avendano Vera / production assistants: Han Bruers, Lotte Schmidt / set manager: Kelly Joan Jenkins / extra’s coordinator: Katinka Enkhuizen/ steadicam: Peter van Vught / 2nd camera: Suzanne Bakker / focus puller: Kelly Steen / VR producer: Yori van Gerven / VR camera: Sjors Ruijter / VR Post production: Eduardo Hernandez Perez / VR Operator: Yori van Gerven / VR supervisor: PeeJee Doorduin / VR-drone: Rob Drewett (Motion Impossible) / stills, making-of & data handling: Fabien Normand / gaffer & light: Zen Bloot, Maarten Warmerdam, Jose Van Beek Warmerdam / best boys: Thomas Born, Blaine Bradley, Tim Bloemraad / art director: Klaas Wijnberg / art assistant: Jolien Wensink / art intern: Maureen van der Lugt / photography Morton Feldman book: Irene Ikner-Haupt / special props designer: Luciënne Venner / assistant choreography & casting Amsterdamse Bostheater: Luciënne Venner / costumes & styling: Susanne Eldering / assistant styling: Tess Groen, Svetlana Fedina / hair and make-up: Alina Stefan / assistant make-up: Noa Tijssen, Dewi Korvin / grip: Peter van Vught / grip assistants: Joost van Baardewijk, Menno van Loon / editors: Amber Hooijmans, Sjaron Minailo / VFX supervising & CGI: The Outpost / compositing: The Compound / additional compositing: Bart van Brussel / sound design: Arnoud Traa / colorist: Rachel Stone / dramaturgy: Krystian Lada / assistant director/dramaturgy: Aïda Gabriels / catering: The Meal Makers / executive interactive producer: Vincent Lindeboom / creative technologist: Jean Jacques Warmerdam / design: Ingo Valente / programming advisor: Pieter Jongsma / music performed by musicians of the chamber orchestra of La Monnaie/De Munt: Femke Sonnen (violin), Yves Cortvrint (viola), Sébastien Walnier (cello/violoncello), Robby Hellijn (double bass), Carlos Bruneel (flute), Jean-Noël Melleret (horn), Manu Mellaerts (trumpet), Stephan Vanaenrode (tuba), Luk Artois (percussion), Agnès Clément (harp), Alfredo Abati (celesta piano), Maarten Stragier (electric guitar) / choir: Aquarius Chamber Choir Brussels – soloists: Vertical Thoughts (Anat Spiegel), The Transmigration of Morton F. (Anat Spiegel, Stefanie Janssen, Vanja Schoch), Only (Joan La Barbara), Vocals for Bones (Anat Spiegel, Kevin Walton) / music recorded at La Monnaie/De Munt Brussels / recording: Geert De Deken & Deborah Dourneau / mixing: Deborah Dourneau / mastering: Philippe Paque / camera equipment: Camera Rentals – Colin Driessen / film studio & light: Schram Studios – Bas Schram /
extras: Anastasia Starosenko, Michiel Gantzert, Bert Prinsen, Hans Schrumpf, Simon Angela, Luciana Moncalvo, Nina Alexandrou, Abida, Hannie Stap, Letitia Wong, Annebelle Helberg, Vivian Dierickx, Ria van Teeffelen, Lucija Nalis, Hester Bangert, Marc Staljanssens, Ellen Staalberg, Jacky Wolters, Margriet Duyster, Riccardo Giannattasio, Ivan Oostvriesland, Petra Mesman, Sylvia van Stralendorff, Sven Piekstra, Sarah Faye van der Ploeg, Lidia van de Brink, Anitra van der Voort, Isabel Mercedes, Herma Nijhuis, Manja Jordens, Tineke van Glasenap, Sjaak Beseling, Yvonne de Graaff-Pasman, Lisanne Kniese, Gwen van Iersel, Casper Oudshoorn, Joost van den Hooff, Josué Silverio da Silva, Toos van Aken, Adriano de Moura Paiva, Berith Danse, Irish Verwey, Sylvia Baan, Ellen Staalberg, Jacky Wolters, Jacqueline Amor, Ans Rekers, Els Bader, Aïda Gabriels / locations: Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam Depot, Café Restaurant Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Mendo Bookstore, Nieuwe Ooster Cemetery Amsterdam, Stadsherstel Amsterdam –De Duif, Het Amsterdamse Bostheater, Tropicana Rotterdam, Schram Studio's / thanks to: Carla van der Elst, Gwen Bakker, Kees Koeman, Roel Prins, Leora Boot, Renata Semeins, Sabine Biesheuvel, Colin Driessen, Hanna Spiegel, Thomas Myrmel / Paintings by Philip Guston: Painting, Smoking, Eating, 1973,
The Door, 1978, Courtesy of Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Philip Guston Estate
- artistic director
- Sjaron Minailo
- concept development
- Anat Spiegel,
- Morton Feldman,
- Joan La Barbara, Boyan Delattre
- Sjaron Minailo
- creative production
- Ruben van Leer