On What There Is

Title: On What There Is
Instrumentation: Chamber opera for speaker and large ensemble
Year: 2028
Duration: 50 min.

On What There Is

Image from J.H Prynne's Kazoo Dreamboats or, On What There Is

Von Heute auf Morgen

Von heute auf morgen (Arnold Schoenberg, 1930)

What does it mean to be modern? This is the question that Arnold Schoenberg’s Von Heute auf Morgen poses. It is also the question that a modern China is confronted with, as it races to catch up with the West, creating ghost cities seemingly built for no-one in a display of modernization and urban development. Under China’s rapid economic growth, a ruthless free market system with few regulations or safety standards has produced irreconcilable social inequalities. A strange marriage between capitalism and state authoritarianism seems inevitable for China to develop as the world superpower in the 21st century against the twilight economies of the United States and Europe. On What There Is for large ensemble and speaker confronts this question of what it means to be modern by reverse-transcribing Schoenberg’s Von Heute auf Morgen with spoken text and Chinese instruments. This re-composition brings together Europe’s past colonial practices in combination with China’s modernization as the music of Schoenberg is transformed to reflect our current political reality. This is a work that situates the idea of ‘tradition’ as something to be reimagined through “what there is” in order to protest the forces of capitalism which assert that no other possibility exists beyond it.