Joshua Fineberg (Music Composition Fellow ’11)
My work Lolita: An imaginary opera based on the novel by Vladimir Nabokov is a strange sort of musical portrait: one which is being deliberately created and distorted before our eyes by the very narrator who tells us his is crafting his own self-portrait. The work is constructed entirely within the mind of its narrator Humbert Humbert, who is writing his memoir/novel. All that is shown or heard on stage are the projections of his visions/fantasies. This places us in the heart of Humbert’s perspective and allow us to witness the unfolding of his delusions. This movement from internal to external perspective places the audience in the deeply uncomfortable situation of feeling simultaneously attracted to and revolted by this most seductive monster.
In composing the piece, I thought of the work like an opera, but one that occurs completely within the mind of the narrator. All the “sung” voices are the result of computer transformations of the narrator’s spoken voice. To transform the narrator’s “real” voice into this exalted song, a specially developed computer program separates his speech into two components: A source — the sound as if the computer could directly capture the uncolored vocalizations made by the narrator’s glottis — and a filter that reproduces the effect of his body (vocal cavity and sinuses, etc.). This allows the narrator’s actual voice to be twisted and pulled into various new lines while retaining much of its original color. It can then be “sung” through a hybrid, imaginary body calculated by the computer that contains some parts of the narrator himself and some parts from anything else he might imagine. We recorded many of the same phrases sung by singers of different genders and ages to create material for these hybrids. With these “filters” from other bodies our Humbert tries to sing through the bodies he imagines, though he can never completely eliminate the solipsistic sound of his own voice. These voices are not intended to sound like the voices of real singers. However, they should not sound like electronic transformations either. They are meant to evoke the unreality and strangeness of a fantasy, the sound of voices in our heads.
Hear an excerpt from Lolita: an imagined opera based on the novel by Nabokov
The narrator, Humbert, is placed on a platform in the audience, facing the stage and the conductor – video screens offer us mirrors (sometimes accurate, othertimes not) allowing us to see his filmed face. Like him, we are lost in his illusions and, like him, we are facing the stage where his visions, his fears, his mirages are projected.
On stage are a triptych of screens where the outer two can close in towards the central screen. The dancing takes place on a platform placed behind the central screen, raised 3 meters above the stage. At a slightly lower level, two men sit on stage: the sound engineer and the video engineer. Like beings created by the mind of the narrator, they are at once Humbert’s alter-egos that he tries to keep under strict control, but they are also psychological testers who react in real-time.