Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 13 Dec 00 17:38
Honoria as Austin's own online community conceptualista has been moving in the cyber circles of Silicon Hills since the early 90's. Under honoria's alternate name, Madelyn Starbuck, she is a doctoral student with a dissertation in progress called "Clashing and Converging: Effects of Internet on the Mail Art Network." Honoria redesigned and hosted the Electronic Museum of Mail Art (EMMA). Mail Art is an international community of artists who over the last thirty years have been exchanging art through the postal systems of the world. Honoria is known to circulate in the Austin community wearing many hats as an artist, virtual community consultant, elearning designer, and theorist. She can be found swimming in Austin's spring-fed pools, Ruby Red grapefruit juice and watercolors in hand. Honoria worked with the Well's jonl on the WholeFoods.com community. Honoria is the impresaria of the first opera to be derived directly from Internet interactions http://www.cyberopera.org. The opera evolved while honoria was studying at the University of Texas at Austin in the Computers Writing and Research Laboratory (CWRL) and Advanced Communication Technologies Laboratory (ACLAB). Honoria will be interviewed by David Scott Marley, who has been on the WELL since 1990, and has been dramaturge (literary manager) of Berkeley Opera since 1994. He is best known in the Bay Area for the opera and operetta adaptations he has written for Berkeley Opera, including the sci-fi comedy "The Riot Grrrl on Mars", a critically acclaimed adaptation of "The Tales of Hoffmann", and "Beatrice and Benedick", which was revived last season to excellent reviews and full houses. Works currently in progress include a new adaptation of "Carmen" which Berkeley Opera will premiere next summer, and an original opera called "Small Packages" based on a short story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, for which Los Angeles composer Steven Gutheinz is writing the music. Please join me in welcoming honoria and Scott to inkwell.vue!
Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 13 Dec 00 17:44
Now, in keeping with honoria's premise in her cyberspace opera, which is a "romantic, collaborative opera," honoria's introduction would not be complete with a collaboration. Here, then, is honoria's introduction as provided by her friend, Mark Bloch: "Honoria personifies every positive attribute of art networking. She reaches daringly across boundaries to gently and lovingly coax her correspondents out of the isolation that comes with the pre-determined roles and patterns she accepts but also abhors, She explodes herself and everyone she touches out of these calcifying cliches with her fresh, buoyant and upbeat approach to her work. Most importantly, she effortlessly scrambles the differences between art and life with her matter-of-fact engagement with new technologies, new ideas and new mores that are very much a part of what is happening right now and now and now. She is a woman of the moment, a force we all should be happily reckoned with in the new century. Hail hail queen of the art bathtub! -- Mark Bloch, NYC" Honoria may or may not expound upon the comment about the art bathtub! So, without further delay, I give you honoria and Scott.
honoria (honoria-opera) Wed 13 Dec 00 19:15
Thanks so much! It's great to be here! I'm honored to be included in a topic with so many authors who interpret our techno culture and who document our dramatically changing times. Mark Bloch. in his comments in speaking about my work, is speaking as an expert on the Mail Art network and its founder, Ray Johnson. I appreciate Mark's assessment of my attempts to compare and contrast the Mail Art Network and Internet-based virtual communities. For clarity, let's talk about that bathtub thing... For those who can't imagine what the "queen of the art of the bathtub" might mean, please let me explain. The "art bathtub" refers to a classic (since the late 1980's) and well-traveled, snail mail art project called "Philip Guston's bat tub" (no h). The bat tub project is an international distribution, via the snail mail postal systems, of a line drawing of a bathtub with Ray Johnson's head sticking out the back as if he were reclining in the bathtub. Traditionally, mail artists intervene on the image, usually inserting more heads, photos, drawings, collage, crowding the bathtub and sending the collaborative image to other mail artists. The art images can range from lowly photocopies to elaborate hand painted collage or 3-D interpretations. The bat tub project has been bobbing up every so often since the 80s and it's always a fun project to me. At a recent correspondence art congress at the Wexner Art Center I arranged for all the women at the meeting to pose for a photo. I copied the photo of all the fe-mail artists line up and put us all in the bathtub. I sent the image from my post office into the correspondence art network to mail artists who are familiar, or not, with the project. To some correspondence artists, the bat tub may be new, but simultaneously its image of Ray Johnson may be recognizable as the originator of the mail art network. To others, the fe-mail bat tub image will be a comfortable new twist to the historical project. The subtext of my intervention on the bat tub image has to do with the under representation of women in international art in general, and in mail art in particular. Another subtext is Ray Johnson's gay sexuality, and his appreciation of women icons. We are all in his bat tub. It's fun, relaxed exchange of art. I came to the Internet with the context of Correspondence Art and, as a correspondence artist, a feeling of distributed community is natural to me. I hope this Inkwell interview will explore collaborative creativity in relation to distributed community.
David Scott Marley (nightdog) Thu 14 Dec 00 15:44
Hello, honoria. I'm delighted to have this chance to talk to you and get to know about your work. Let's start with your "cyberopera", which I'm very curious about. Can you tell us about it, and how it came to be written?
honoria (honoria-opera) Thu 14 Dec 00 21:13
Hi Scott, The opera grew out of observations of virtual communities. I was hanging out in some MOOs and listservs with groups of good writers, dreamers and utopian strategists. At first I was impressed by the obvious spirit of sharing such as moo objects, fleshmeeting, and online poetry readings but as I hung out longer I realized that in these interactive environments were power plays, political intrigue, gender switching, deceit, fights -- hey -- just add music and that's opera. About that time, 1994, I needed a project for a really fun class called Virtual Reality Cyberspace and the Arts at The University of Texas. I sent out a call for rhymed couplets about people's actual online experiences. I was barraged with couplets and a few longer poems that turned into the arias. A group of friends cobbled together a libretto from the emails. I rounded up a bunch of wonderful performance artists and dancers. They dressed up and talked/sang/danced the libretto in front of a web cam and it turned out to be the first opera ever webcast. It was far from being a "real" opera but it was a cyber opera. Turning the libretto into a staged opera is still a work in progress. I'm sure there are several operas in the Well's history and some more happening right now. Where do your opera ideas come from?
David Scott Marley (nightdog) Fri 15 Dec 00 00:13
Every one's a little different. Sometimes it's something that makes me laugh or something that moves me. Sometimes it's just reading something that makes me say, wow, I could make a great scene out of that -- but how do I lead into it, and where does it go after that? So I think about it for a while and if I come up with some good answers, I start sketching out a plot. But sometimes what seems like a good idea for a scene doesn't really go anywhere. What defines a "real" opera for you? How are you fashioning the material you have now into something to be staged?
honoria (honoria-opera) Fri 15 Dec 00 10:06
"Real" opera poses some interesting questions, Scott. "Real" opera to me means a dynamic collaboration of artists such as librettist, composer, artistic director, dramaturge, musicians, singers, set designers, costume designers, lighting designers, sound designers, technical directors, stage manager, and an organization to administer all of the above plus more like fundraising, public relations, educational outreach...the list goes on in the "real" world of opera! For example, until recently I didn't know what a dramaturge was. I had some vague idea from vocabulary building left over from my GRE preparation but I had no idea that I personally needed one in my life. Now I know the next step to bring the cyberopera to stage is to dramatize the libretto for performance. When I heard that you were a dramaturge I felt that fate was giving me another lesson in how to make an opera! Fashioning the material is an ongoing saga. As you can probably tell by now I didn't know much about opera when I got the idea to make one. I've learned by doing, or talking other people into doing:-) - our scores of volunteers have been fantastic. Everyone involved has learned from each other. The cyberopera's virtual community story brought people away from their computers and into f2f contact with each other to build small performances from stories that evolved in the libretto writing/editing. The performances consisted of readings at various stages of the libretto's development. One of the readings was done in a swimming pool and is affectionately known as "the wetware reading." Another reading involved a lot of glitter and overhead projections...low tech and casual. There is an opportunity for the cyberopera to incorporate lots of multimedia but so far we are working on the story. Have you had a chance to look over the cyberopera libretto? It was written by over 60 people. Ten people edited it. The libretto contains a lot of stories woven together. It has that online communication choppiness about it and will take some serious dramaturging to develop impact. passion and performability. Have you ever worked with a collaboratively written libretto? Do you see a stage in your mind when you work with the words? Do you draw storyboard sketches of action? What goes on in the mind of a dramaturge?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 15 Dec 00 11:51
Hi, Honoria! Great to have you in the inkwell! I took photos at a reading of the "Honoria in Ciberspazio" summer before last. Various cast members showed up at Honoria's apartment, drank some wine, and hopped in (and around) the pool for the reading. Some of the photos are posted at http://www.well.com/~jonl/honoria/honoria.html The article I wrote around the same time is at http://www.auschron.com/issues/vol17/issue12/screens.opera.html
David Scott Marley (nightdog) Fri 15 Dec 00 13:23
What a dramaturge does varies from company to company. At Berkeley Opera I'm sort of the "house writer" -- I write a libretto every year or two and I also write most of the advertising copy, program notes, that sort of thing. Most opera companies don't have anything like a dramaturge -- it's something you see mostly in companies that do spoken theater. I think one reason is that most opera companies do well known works with a well established tradition of how they are performed. With that approach, you don't have a strong need for someone who specializes in drama -- you rest on the tradition, the tradition tells you what to do and (if it's a good tradition) it supports you, and you can focus your energy on the other values. And also audiences often go into the opera house with low expectations -- opera isn't "supposed" to be good theater, the plots are all silly anyway and no one can act, so just enjoy the gorgeous singing and don't worry about making sense of any of it. Which is a shame because it's not really true, but that's a very pervasive mindset. It's stronger here in America than Europe, though, and I think that's partly because in this country we've never had a strong tradition of doing opera in our own language. I'm trying to wrap my mind around the idea of 60 writers and ten editors working on one libretto -- that's an impressive feat. As impresaria of this project, how did you bring that many collaborators together? And how did you meld all of their efforts into a single work? I'm curious about the process by which this all happened.
honoria (honoria-opera) Fri 15 Dec 00 17:29
Hi Jon! Your photos are so fine at capturing the true nature of the wetware reading. Scott, Thanks for the insights on how you work. It's a challenge to answer your question about bringing collaborators together. The idea of the work came first, then collaborators arrived, mostly unknown to each other, to fill the idea with content. The collaborators arrived in droves as soon as an invitation to write an opera about online identity, love, and misunderstandings was announced. I can't tell you what a rush it was to open my mailbox every day to find dozens of original rhymed couplets about love and loss, quirky connections, surreal passions. Some of it was pretty heavy handed such as: Woe, woe, to you, a thousand times woe Love does not down the Information highway go. Or silly: Unless you seek, you can't compile. Your fear will freeze you for a while. I remind you of the method how, sir, You can't carouse without a browser. Or romantic: I feel your presence in cool electric heat I touch your soul and paralyze reflections of our dreams fill the misty skies and when you send to me the essence of your inside we meet in sacred space, our atoms do collide I received several hundred couplets, about twelve whole poems plus some long segments of blank verse in Italian during the semester. The editors were a fun group: the opera's editor-in-chief is an economist who loves opera, a Shakespearean scholar arrived from Spain, a zen consultant added the spiritual comments, an eighteen year old Goth joined the group, and several graduate students helped to bring us to the current version. The libretto won a number of awards for innovative interactive use of the Net. Our brick and mortar cultural organizations are striving to be on the net. The cyberopera project is born of the net and moves in the opposite direction, out of the Net toward a real stage. Is it appropriate for the cyberopera to emerge from the Net and onto a stage, to tell the story of Net culture in exaggerated manners common to both the wired world and to opera? I hope for advice and connections that will facilitate a performable text and music so that all the hundreds of participants over the years will be able to see a staged production and so that the Net's story will be written by its players.
David Scott Marley (nightdog) Sat 16 Dec 00 11:17
I'd like to hear more about the inception. What made you decide upon opera as a form to work in? And what was the invitation process -- how did you go about inviting people to take part?
honoria (honoria-opera) Sat 16 Dec 00 16:38
The cyberopera's inception takes me back one hot Texas August day sitting in a cool computer lab at school. The idea came to make some creative project about how people felt about their net identities and the relationships that the identities had with each other. I wanted the project to concentrate on just the projected identities and their online culture, not the real people sitting at the keyboards creating the identities. I wanted to embody the drama of the real time instant fiction created in the communities. For an opera to be the end product just popped into my head. I looked up from my reverie thinking about making an opera about online identities and said outloud to the friendly looking man in a long skirt sitting next to me who looked arty enough to handle an inspired outburst in an otherwise quiet lab. "I'm going to make an opera." He said that he made operas all the time. It turned out I was speaking to Ryan Goertz, a composer and opera freak. Suddenly with an expert on board it seemed quite possible to actually create an opera. So we did. That next semester saw phase one when performance artists realized the webcast from Sandy Stone's living room. I find that conceiving an opera is like getting pregnant. As soon as you decide to do it everyone in the world tells you how hard it is, all the bad stuff that can happen, and how much money it costs. But by then its too late. The wheels of fate are in motion. The art work is destined to be born in one form or another and you just try to do everything possible to make the birth healthy and easy. Since you probably haven't been pregnant you probably have a different way to think about the birth of an opera. What is your description?
David Scott Marley (nightdog) Sun 17 Dec 00 20:38
What was it that inspired you to think of it as an opera? Instead of, say, a poem or a play or a comic book or whatever? Just a whim, or did you have a reason? I've been involved in with a lot of operas that ended up not happening, and a few that haven't happened yet but are still possibilities, so I can't say that I think the artwork is "destined to be born" -- I find it takes an enormous amount of work and sometimes you work and it still doesn't happen. Sometimes you think the project is dead and then it comes back to live three or four years later; sometimes it stays dead so long that you're a completely different person from the one who had the original idea and even if you wanted to go back and complete it, you couldn't.
Konsigliari Kafka of the Cosa Nozzo (kafclown) Sun 17 Dec 00 21:05
I'm also interested in that as well. When I heard the description of your show, it sounds much like a George Coates work from a few years ago, in which the band performed a kind of virtual rock concert, where the musicians were contributing their music from far-flung places via the internet. I guess the question I have is: What makes it a cyber opera and not a cyber melodrama?
honoria (honoria-opera) Mon 18 Dec 00 08:56
Why opera? Great question, Konsigliari Kafka of the Cosa Nozzo and Scott. At the time the cyberopera was conceived online communities were speaking grandly of an emerging globally linked culture. The text-built landscape was sweeping, grand and operatic. Now the Net seems much more tawdry, commercialized and less dramatic. The cyberopera libretto represents the cultural themes from the time when it was written by those 60 collaborators. While some of the writing has not kept its relevance and some of it truly registers the importance of those early days of intensity and passion. How do you characterize the character of Net communications through your experiences with it? Do you think the patterns of how people interact have changed over the years?
honoria (honoria-opera) Mon 18 Dec 00 09:46
Several other operas popped up about the same time as honoria in ciberspazio. BRAIN OPERA There was MIT's Brain Opera organized by Tod Machover. I did my master's thesis on the Brain Opera as a constructivist teaching tool. The Brain Opera was a great academic project and I enjoyed Marvin Minsky's Society of Mind as a libretto. I saw the Brain Opera four times with a group of people who also work on the cyberopera team. We learned a lot about what we were not from the Brain Opera. http://brainop.media.mit.edu/indexold.html ULURU Another opera webcast and with an expansisve website was ULURU by Robert Bachman. Uluru is called a fractal opera about Australia aborigines and complex mulitiplicities. You can read more about it at http://www.orbitex.ch/uluru/ The story has nothing to do with net culture. Recently we received some strongly worded mail from the Uluru people telling us to take the words "first cyberspace opera" off of our site because they claimed to be the first. I wrote them back explaining that our story came from the net and thus it was, as far as we knew, the first opera about cyberspace. ROME The most interesting other cyberopera was performed in Rome. I really wish I'd seen that one. It was an adaption of Jason and the Argonauts story adapted to the Net. The producer of this opera also objected to our use of the term "first cyberspace opera" but when we checked the dates of performances our's actually had been webcast before his was produced. Unfortunately my correspondence with the creator of this opera is on an earlier hard drive and my search strategies in my brain and in Google are not pulling it up. If anyone has the link to this opera I'd like to revisit it. The best source to learn about great Net projects used to be Matt Mirapaul's Arts@Large column in the CyberTimes section of the NYTimes on the web. Recently that column was discontinued but you can still look at the archives. Do you know other web opera projects?
David Scott Marley (nightdog) Mon 18 Dec 00 10:04
Nope, I'd never even heard the word cyberopera before this. You say the opera represents cultural themes from the time when it was written. Can you tell us a little more about what those themes are, and how you think the 'Net has changed?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 18 Dec 00 10:13
I'd also like to hear about the comment you've made to me, perhaps half-jokingly, that the opera is about 'sex in cyberspace.'
honoria (honoria-opera) Mon 18 Dec 00 11:04
The cultural themes of the time were concepts such as - McLuhan's idea that by inventing electric technology we externalized our central nervous systems; - information wants to be free; - the Net is anarchistic in terms of access, distribution and contol; - technology is an enabler of human creativity; - we have begun a communications revolution, and - my personal favorite by Sandy Stone: The war of desire and technology at the end of the mechanical age. Look at that: war, freedom, anarchy, desire, human creativity, revolution, externalized mind. It looks like an opera to me.
honoria (honoria-opera) Mon 18 Dec 00 11:27
Sex, Jon, yes. The plot of the opera is about four people who type their desires and then press return. Their words merge in the net to eventually form reflections of their desires. Their desires return to them in the form of idealized lovers. Each of the four has a separate relationship/story to live with their net-born lover. We called the lovers "clones," not genetic clones, projected desires cloned from the characters words. Confused by the clones, the four characters seek advice from an oracle who seems to be a great prophet but soon disintegrates into random databasish trash. The oracle's power is assumed by a mysterious cyborg born in the mists between human longing and technological potential. The four characters and their clones get into some hot and heavy interactions on their paths to ideal love.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 18 Dec 00 12:02
That's what I love about the libretto... it finds the operatic grandeur within cybersex relationships and elevates sexual longing to the level of a spiritual quest.
David Scott Marley (nightdog) Mon 18 Dec 00 22:35
Can you give us a specific example, maybe tell us about one of the four characters and his or her relationship with a clone? I'm particularly interested in how these themes work out in terms of the specific details of a story.
Madelyn Honoria Starbuck (honoria-opera) Thu 21 Dec 00 14:28
The characters are all based on real people, by the way. I'll take the character bookish. Bookish has the fiestiest clone. He is a scholarly type who reads French philosophers and who thinks he wants an intellectual counterpart in his clone, however the clone reads between the lines of his mail and presents a rather brazen sensual persona who teases him about his intellectual pretenses. Here are some lines by bookish's clone. -------------- Objectivism, Structuralism, Past-Post Modernism. I'm sure in the texts seduction fits in. For knowledge and experience from French philosophers and machines is much more revolutionary and dangerous than it seems. It can liberate those from human regimentation Transforming modern culture to allow autonomous experimentation. no longer will you need only your critical lenses, As people reappropriate all of their pleasurable senses. -------------- Bookish is the one character who becomes totally seduced by his clone and merges with her in ciberspazio. Ciberspazio is the Italian word for cyberspace. Where or what ciberspazio is and how it's represented will be up to the creative director. I often wonder, if we get that far, how ciberspazio will be represented. Maybe it will be formed by mysterious abstract lighting dimensions, a wired techno nightmare, or a product placement arena. It will be fun to find out. Have you ever seen the web depicted in an artistic representation that could be used in theatre design?
David Scott Marley (nightdog) Thu 21 Dec 00 17:07
I've seen a few attempts, but none of them blew me away. So am I right in thinking you see ciberspazio, within this piece, as someplace the characters can actually inhabit, someplace they can merge with each other in a meaningful way? You say Bookish is the only character who becomes seduced by his clone -- do the other characters meet their clones, too, but aren't too crazy about them? Or is there some outside obstacle to forming these relationships? It's always seemed to me that cyberrelationships are especially vulnerable to illusions and false expectations, that people in cyberspace can't help but present an idealized view of how they see themselves even if they're trying not to. Are these clones real people, other people in cyberspace? So that perhaps Bookish is a "clone" to the other person, too? Or are the clones more like invented personalities, so that Bookish's clone is more a function of what he wants to find in cyberspace, and doesn't really have an independent existence apart from him?
Konsigliari Kafka of the Cosa Nozzo (kafclown) Sat 23 Dec 00 04:20
I'd like to hear more about the process, not of creating the ideas behind the cyber-opera, but more about the staging process of giving flesh to the cyber-opera. Or to quote one of my teachers "Ideas are cheap. Making the audience see your ideas is expensive." I viewed a bit of the 1999 video on your web site, which was a staged reading/singing. The music seems good, although it's a little hard to concentrate on it. (even on my fast connection, the singers are badly out of synch with what they're singing) Have there been other performances? How are you hoping to go from web-page to stage? What cuts/changes/re-thinkings do you anticipate having to go through as you make the cyber-opera a real opera. And what are you thinking in terms of set design?
Konsigliari Kafka of the Cosa Nozzo (kafclown) Tue 26 Dec 00 06:28
One stage design element that I think might be good for your show is something I saw Fred Curchak and Daniel Stein use in a show-- which is a very long string that cordons off the stage.. The string goes in between the audience and the stage, back and forth, until it becomes a web of sort that encloses the audience in it. There's this real geometric beauty to the different figures that you can make with this one long string.... The other thing that I think might be interesting from a cyberspace idea is the Dance of the modems-- the negotiation that has to take place between two computers in order to exchange and receive information. In some ways, it seems that even though this is a cyber-opera-- in order to make it a live event you need to stage a story about the connections between people. (Even if those people are the clones) It's the connection (and their striving/longing/desire for connection) to others that seems to be at the heart of the story....
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