An experimental opera in three short acts
For the Australian Bass Orchestra, choir and four vocal soloists
Composed and directed by Cat Hope
Produced by Tura New Music
Supported by Development Partner Vitalstatistix though the 2017 Incubator Residency Program.
Speechless is a 70-minute opera that is a homage to persons rendered speechless through political means.
In contemporary Australian culture, a number of cultural groups find themselves in positions of impotency, where they are left without a voice – legally, politically or culturally. Speechless draws score and thematic material from the 2014 Human Rights Commission report entitled The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention. The work is an abstract examination of how wordless music – vocal and instrumental – can empower text that is hidden or suppressed.
Using graphic notation and experimental vocal approaches, the work explores vocal techniques that owe more to electronic music than classical voice, engages a 10-piece shouting/screaming choir and the Australian Bass Orchestra formed from bass guitars, bass brass, bass drums and electronics supported by a powerful PA consisting of mostly subwoofers. Think of Diamanda Galas meeting the Finnish Screaming Men’s Choir in an orchestra pit full of Glenn Branca’s guitars reworked by Zbigniew Karkowski.
Producer Annalisa Oxenburgh, for Tura New Music
Musical Director Aaron Wyatt
Sound Design Guy Smith
Presented in an open warehouse space, the work follows the structure of conventional opera with an overture, arias, recitatives and choral sections. Yet the score is created using graphic notation, deriving material from aspects of the report such as drawings, graphics, tables and design schema. The vocal material is presented as notated, ‘voiceless signing’ – a type of singing without understandable words pioneered by the likes of Ennio Morricone in the 1970s, informed by the experimental work of singers such as Cathy Berberian, Joan La Barbara and sound poet Amanda Stewart. The orchestra provides a visceral element to the sonic world, with performers illuminated simply but dramatically to keep the focus on the human aspects so central to the work.
Cat Hope is a composer and sound artist whose work explores bass noise, graphic notation and drone. As a solo bass noise artist and in groups such as Abe Sada and Lux Mammoth, Hope has created numerous soundscapes, songs and installations. She has also directed dance collaborations, short films and music videos. She has won numerous composition awards, including the Inaugural APRA|AMC Award for Experimental Music, the Civitella and Visby International Composer residencies and a Churchill Fellowship. Her music is released internationally and she has an active touring schedule. This work was developed under the Australia Council funded Peggy Glanville-Hicks residency in Sydney in 2014.
Tura New Music and Speechless are supported by The State Government of Western Australia through the Department of Culture and the Arts, in association with Lotterywest, and The Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding advisory body.