Musical Theatre

7 Musical Theater in the Interplay between Electronic and Digital Visual Media

The interactive forms of musical theater that John Cage developed not only represented the use of new technologies for realizing music scenically but also led to fundamental shifts in the possibilities for musical representation using new media. After first experimenting with forms of interactive musical theater and instrumental theater, Robert Ashley composed his first opera for television: Music with Roots in the Aether (1975–1976), which was not simply a television version of a stage action but also grasped television technology as an autonomous medium for musical composition.[13] Music with Roots in the Aether took the act of composing of seven different artists — David Behrman, Philip Glass, Alvin Lucier, Gordon Mumma, Pauline Oliveros, Roger Reynolds, Terry Riley, and Robert Ashley — as the theme for a kind of documentary. Nevertheless, it was not a mere depiction; rather, the creation of music became a visible, immediate act for the viewer. Avant-garde music, which at first seems lost in reverie, becomes a theatrical action to which the audience can relate. This basic model was continued in the opera Perfect Live (1979–1983), produced for Channel 4, and then in the fourteen-plus-hour opera tetralogy Now Eleanor’s Idea (1983–1993), composed of the sections Improvement (Don Leaves Linda), Foreign Experiences, eL/Aficionado, and title piece Now Eleanor’s Idea, which Robert Ashley has, however, thus far been able to produce only for the stage.

The development of digital visual media offers new, more flexible design possibilities than traditional television and video technology. As a result, not only it has been possible to realize completely new concepts for the space and the action, but there is also an opportunity for the spontaneous interaction of different media, which previously did not seem possible, given technical and institutional limits. One exemplary work in this direction is the video oratorio Paradiso (2001) by the Dutch composer Jacob ter Veldhuis, who has managed to combine the traditional genre of oratorio composition with forms of expression from VJ culture.