Surreal dog opera as a live game

Oikospiel II:
Heat Cantata

world premiere

David Kanaga, Maze, Claron McFadden, Mattijs van de Woerd

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Oikospiel Book I is an award-winning dog opera in the form of a computer game. It tells the absurdist story of a pack of dogs who are hired to convert the novel Tristram Shandy into a computer opera, but run into all kinds of problems. The experimental game was created by the American composer David Kanaga, known for his interactive scores for computer games. Oikospiel Book II: Heat Cantata is a live theatrical sequel to Book I. Live gameplay on a big screen is augmented with music by the Amsterdam ensemble Maze, soprano Claron McFadden and baritone Mattijs van Woerd. In Oikospiel Kanaga blurs the boundaries between video games and musical theatre. Oikospiel Book II: Heat Cantata, along with Dear Esther, is one of two works exploring live video games as music theatre.

background information

Is it a computer game? Is it an opera? Both. It’s Oikospiel, a dog opera in the form of a computer game, devised and created by the American composer and games developer David Kanaga, 

described by the press as ‘a mad genius’. Oikospiel Book I, the first part of the opera cycle, was released in 2017 and won several prizes. Oikospiel Book II: Heat Cantata is the first chapter of the cycle’s second part and will have its live world premiere at the Holland Festival. 

Oikospiel is an absurd work of art that pushes at the boundaries of all kinds of artistic disciplines: gaming, music, and visual arts. Exactly as in a normal computer game the player controls a character (or in this case several characters) and takes this character through various worlds. But this game is full of weird and incongruous moments. At one point the player is in an operations room in a plane with a pianist on board. The next moment he or she is at the North Pole surrounded by dogs. Wherever the player ends up there is water, because the ice caps are melting. And at the same time the dogs are supposed to be making an opera. 

One of the most outstanding aspects of the game in this respect is its music: a collage made up of fragments by The Beach Boys, Brahms, Celine Dion, Monteverdi and Wagner, among others, transformed and distorted as soon as the player moves the mouse. Kanaga’s cut-and-paste aesthetic is also apparent in the game’s visuals: an eclectic mix of images, effects and symbols. A theme that clearly keeps returning in this unique story is that of climate change. From this starting point Kanaga has created a work of art with multiple meanings which at one and the same time is innovative, politically aware and incredibly humorous. 

The move into live performance is not as crazy as it seems. Kanaga is a composer and focuses strongly on the musical elements of the game. A recent review of the work has highlighted its importance: ‘If there's a musical tone to Oikospiel, it's pluralism. The digital sheen of MIDI harps bleed into delicate, restrained piano before dissolving in a well of clipped animal and human vocals.’ 

Oikospiel: Heat Cantata takes things even further than Oikospiel Book I. The world of Oikospiel now contains living human voices. These voices belong to the CEO of Oikospiel Opera (Mattijs van de Woerd) and his mother/employee Erde Wolff (Claron McFadden). Both singers interact with ‘a living, thinking sonata’ given shape by the experimental ensemble MAZE, which is known for its performance of unconventional compositions. And the dogs are back again. The one certainty is that everything is possible, and a lapse into craziness is not ruled out.

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biographies

David Kanaga is an American composer and games designer known for his interactive scores for computer games, including Proteus, Dyad and Panoramical. He is also an essayist who has 

written philosophical pieces for his blog Wombflash Forest and the recent Oxford Handbook of Algorythmic Music, in which he reflects on computer games and their significance for a broader art audience. His music has been described as ‘otherworldly’, ‘eclectic’ and ‘important’ and has been released on various labels, including Software Recording Co., the brainchild of David Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never. Oikospiel is his first solo game project. 

Amsterdam-based ensemble MAZE is dedicated to the playing of unconventional forms of music. The ensemble works with pioneering composers to develop open scores, hybrid forms of notation and performances. In addition to concerts, lectures and panel discussions about the future of compositional practice, MAZE organizes a yearly festival of sonic textures and field recordings. The ensemble’s main focus is the exploration of the possibilities that new forms of media present for the creation of notation and scores. This is particularly clear in the work of members Anne La Berge and Yannis Kyriakides. Dario Calderone, Gareth Davis, Reinier van Houdt and Wiek Hijmans are also members of the ensemble. MAZE has collaborated with guest composers such as Christian Marclay, Annea Lockwood, Michael Pisaro and Okkyung. In 2013 MAZE appeared at the Holland Festival performing their interpretation of Christian Marclay’s works The Bell And The Glass, Shuffle and Screen Play

Soprano Claron McFadden comes from America, where she studied at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. She made her operatic debut at the Holland Festival in 1985 in a production of Hasse’s L’Eroe Cinese, which was first performed in 1990 at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence in a sensational production of Rameau’s Les Indes galantes conducted by William Christie. She has since built up an impressive career. McFadden sings a wide repertoire, from baroque and contemporary music to jazz and cross-over projects. She's worked with leading conductors such as Kurt Masur, John Eliot Gardiner, Marc Minkowski, Neeme Järvi, Ton Koopman and Frans Brüggen, and with large orchestras and ensembles such as the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, The King’s Consort, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Arditti Quartet and the Nash Ensemble. McFadden is a popular opera singer and has participated in productions of the Théâtre du Chatelet, the Glyndebourne Festival, the Salzburger Festspiele, the Bayerische Staatsoper and the Dutch National Opera. She performed in Claude Vivier's Rèves d’un Marco Polo, directed by Pierre Audi. During the Holland Festival in 2013, she performed in the 3D opera Sunken Garden by Michel van der Aa. At the Holland Festival 2016, she sang with Son Lux in the Concertgebouw. McFadden has made various recordings, including for EMI and has appeared in numerous radio and television productions. In 2006, she received the Amsterdam Award for the Arts. 

Baritone Mattijs van de Woerd started his singing career with the Rotterdams Jongenskoor (Rotterdam Boys’ Choir). He studied at the conservatoires of Rotterdam and Amsterdam. In 2001 he was awarded the Vriendenkrans prize by the Friends’ Association of the Concertgebouw and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, as well as the Concertgebouw Prize. In 2003 he also won First Prize in the Wigmore Hall International Song Competition in London. Van de Woerd is a member of the male ensemble Frommermann and actively involved in Splendor, and also sang Schubert in the Leiermann Ensemble. Apart from performances with orchestras and in operas, Van de Woerd also makes regular solo appearances in concerts around the world. Previous Holland Festival performances include Laika (2014) and Theatre of the World (2016) by the Dutch National Opera, and Koeien in 2015.

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Credits

concept, development
David Kanaga
performed by
Claron McFadden, soprano
Mattijs van de Woerd, bariton
Maze:
Anne La Berge,
flute, elektronics
Dario Calderone,
double bass
Gareth Davis,
bass clarinet
Reinier van Houdt,
piano, keyboards, elektronics
Wiek Hijmans,
electric guitar
Diamanda Dramm,
violinist
sound
Micha de Kanter