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|An Ancient Epic
Gilgamesh, the world's oldest known written story, tells the dramatic tale of one man's arrogance, crisis, and quest for immortality. As its events unfold, King Gilgamesh dares to defy the will of the gods again and again, only to find his victory answered by the sting of their wrath. Moreover, the gods themselves spark additional unexpected plot twists as they argue, lust, and become jealous of both each other and the mortals they govern, fueling a fierce struggle for love, glorification, and ultimate power.
Told with Contemporary Media
Combining elements from puppet theater, installation art, chamber music, and ballet, this unique telling of the Gilgamesh story heats up the inherent tensions of the plot by presenting it as an improvised game of the gods. The three players in this game are a violinist, computer musician, and actor/puppeteer; and their only "speech" is music. Beginning with a seemingly static installation, the performers breathe life into the objects with music and motion and immerse themselves in the epic. The characters' evolving relationships oscillate between cooperation and revenge, bringing about both symbiosis as well as destruction. It is sometimes purposely made unclear who is 'animating' whom, and occasionally even the music, from which all of the action and emotions arise, completely breaks down.
The Artistic Team
Gilgamesh was conceived by Douglas Geers, who composed its music and developed the story for this adaptation in collaboration with violinist Maja Cerar, who performed music and acting in the piece, and with contributions by writer/director Mirjam Neidhart, who directed the 2002 production. The visual design of the work was created by artist Anne Lorenz, with contributions by actor/puppeteer Philip Siegel, who portrayed Gilgamesh in this production, and sculptor Karin Bühler, who worked to make the set pieces/costumes.
The music of Gilgamesh develops as a dynamic concerto-like dialogue between a virtuosic solo violin and a vibrant "orchestra" of electronic music. As Maja Cerar performs, her violin's sound is constantly sent via microphone into a laptop computer played by Douglas Geers, who directs it to analyze and modify the violin sound, and "conducts" its synthesized musical reactions to Ms. Cerar's performance.
Moving beyond the traditional concerto concept, the violinist is also an actor, embodying her characters' thoughts and emotions while dancing, running, and even crawling onstage, both personifying characters and operating puppets. Meanwhile the puppeteer/actor, performs with equal virtuosity, portraying all the other characters of the story--sometimes several simultaneously. Together, the musician and actor vividly trace the love scenes, deaths, battles, and quests that constitute the Gilgamesh epic.
Visually, strong design concepts imbue Gilgamesh with a unique and intriguing style, thanks to the creations of Anne Lorenz (assisted by Karin Bühler), which are better described as installation objects rather than puppets. These include life size characters that can stand by themselves or be worn as costumes, and other, seemingly mundane objects that become unexpectedly alive in the actors' hands.
Notes on the Composition
The music of Gilgamesh was the genesis for the entire work, and was designed to feature the violin interacting with the computer music in a manner reminiscent of a concerto. The violin part was written specifically for Maja Cerar, who aided in the composition process with much advice and countless hours of experimentation with Mr. Geers at the Columbia University Computer Music Center in New York City. As mentioned above, the computer instrument listens to the violin and creates music in response. The musical dialogue that results features a concerto-like virtuosity from the violin and a range of musical sounds created by the computer that possesses a variety and richness comparable to an orchestra.
The harmonic structure of the work is based on five pillar chords (which are harvested from a vocal overtone spectrum of 28 notes) from which a network of 25 chords was generated (as well as their chromatic transpositions). The chords were organized in the form of a 5 x 5 (x 12) grid to create opposing regions of consonance and dissonance. A map of tonal centers throughout the entire composition was designed, and then during the process of composition the composer "navigated" the harmonic network, moving through it to change tonal centers and explore each one. Thus the navigation of this harmonic space, which, in a psychoacoustical sense, figures as a bridge between tonal centers as well as one between areas of consonance and noise, creates a sonic metaphor of Gilgamesh's journeys.
For more information and images from this work, please see www.gilga.org.
Download the PDF document Creating Gilgamesh to read an extended explanation of the process behind the creation and premiere performances of Gilgamesh.
If you would like to know more about the methods used to compose this piece, please email Doug Geers.