Why an experimental composer is writing an opera about the news

Jacob TV has created a multimedia opera that splices the voices of Trump, Putin and more with music, building into a kaleidoscopic portrait of American media

When Jacob TV sits down to watch the news, hes less interested in learning about the state of the world than being entertained. Its amusement, especially Fox News, says the Dutch composer. I cant believe people think like that. And I cant believe people buy it. But buy it they do, and lucky for TV (short for Ter Veldhuis), because thats what hes selling with his open-ended multimedia opera, The News, at Santa Monicas Broad Stage for three performances, beginning on Sunday. A mash-up of news clips edited for content and rhythm performed by anchor women soprano Maeve Hoagland and rhythm singer Loire Cotler, The News is scored to Ter Veldhuiss delirious postmodern mlange of minimalism, pop, rock and jazz.

World figures like Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin are spliced with anchors like Wolf Blitzer, Megan Kelly and Bill OReilly, audio from the news clips, the band and the live singing anchors all combining in the music. Not surprisingly its often hilarious, ironic, tragic and sometimes poignant, as when an ad for artificial tears implies we may be all cried out over the state of things.

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Its really an invitation into the unseen sonic and rhythm language and atmosphere that resonates beneath the surface of our fast-paced listening, says Cotler who specializes in scat singing and the Indian form of <a href=”http://languageofrhythm.com/indian/konnakol/” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>Konnakol, a demanding technique that reproduces uptempo notes played on an instrument.

As far back as the early 80s, composers such as Scott Johnson and Steve Reich have based music on recorded speech and tape fragments (Cotlers husband, percussionist <a href=”http://glenvelez.com” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>Glen Velez, is a longtime Reich collaborator), but The News, now in its fifth edition, goes a long way toward lifting the technique out of the avant garde and placing it in the mainstream.

Described as the Andy Warhol of new music, Ter Veldhuis arrived on the scene in the 80s with his acclaimed video oratorio, <a href=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AsTE7RRPcRO” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>Paradiso, based on Dantes Divine Comedy. The News began on a cold Chicago morning in 2009 when he walked past the ABC News studio where anchors were sipping coffee and reviewing copy. Surrounding them were cameras and monitors while a glass wall reflecting the city made a fitting backdrop. Thats when it hit him an opera about the news, a fiction about non-fiction.

Scouring through clips, he quickly noticed Putin has very little melody in his voice, whereas Obama, Trump and Hillary Clinton are the opposite. Many Americans do have a lot of melody and they all speak rather loud. And that is very, very important for me as a composer cause I use the melody of speech as a leitmotif for my music. It all starts as one-liners that are interesting for several reasons the musical quality, the content.

Of course a look at the current news cycle would not be complete without Donald Trump, who has only recently been added to the show. I actually think theres a hypnotic quality going on, observes Cotler. Anytime theres words being repeated over and over and over again, you cant deny when something has entered into the spheres of your thoughts even if you dont want it there. Hes like a jingle.

Ter Veldhuis sees a fool when he looks at Trump, but notes that America hasnt cornered the market on bull-headed populists. Similar ideas have taken root throughout Europe while in his home country of Holland the rightwing Freedom Party <a href=”http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17811509″ data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>forced the resignation of Mark Rutte as prime minister in 2012 and still holds a significant number of seats in parliament. A new kind of Nazism can turn out of it. With Trump I see a little boy, he explains. Weve all been laughing at the guy but at the same time, its also very dangerous if this man becomes the most powerful man in the world.

According to Ter Veldhuis it all points to the current dysfunction of western democracy the veto-cracy of an intransigent US Congress, and unprecedented amounts of money flooding the electoral process. A man like Obama is a smart, intelligent guy and he cant do his job because people prevent him, says the composer. If you have a lot of money, you can become the president of the United States. Thats very scary. Is that still democracy?

While Ter Veldhuis poses questions, Cotler feels The News might be part of a solution. It offers a new dimension for us to listen and reach beyond our superficial experience of words and into a kind of a deeper understanding of each other and how we connect in the world.

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  • The News is at Santa Monica Broad Stage from Sunday. <a href=”http://www.thebroadstage.com/en/Performances/visiting_events/Productions/The-News/” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>Details here
  • Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/jun/17/jacob-tv-the-news-experimental-composer-donald-trump

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