Composed by Keiichiro Shibuya. Android production by Hiroshi Ishiguro. Accompanied by the Adelaide Art Orchestra under the direction of composer/trumpeter, Peter Knight. The Space Theatre. Adelaide Festival Centre. OzAsia Festival. October 1 2017.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
|Skeleto. - Scary Beauty - The Future of Al Robot|
The eyes flicker spasmodically. The white masked face swivels slowly while the white gloved hands jerk in accompaniment to the electronic voice of Skeleton, the singing android. The haunting sounds of the six piece Adelaide Art Orchestra conjure a desolate landscape of sweeping, shrill winds, luring the senses into a wasteland of the human spirit, corrupted by the innovative invention of Japanese composer Keiichiro Shibuya. Percussion, wind and strings conjure a landscape of dehumanized sentiment and aspiration. Created by a team of engineers under Hiroshi Ishiguro with Kohei Ogawa, the android, clothed in black and adorned by red strands of wool, sings of love embraced on the eve of death and the futility of existence in three movements. Knight refers to it as “the Australian Jazz of 2017”, improvised, random and evocative in its musicality.
As I watch Skeleton’s mesmerizing “dance”, reflected in the video with words of the opera upon the screen, I am reminded of the Japanese dance form, Butoh, often referred to as the force that exists between the flesh and the bone, the erupting scream for identity. As a chilling and exhilarating emerging art form Skeleton’s androidal performance could be described as the song between the flesh and the bone. “She” intones the despair of struggle, the desire for love and the scorn of the pursuit of happiness.
As Stockhausen radically changed the way we regard music in the Sixties, so too has Shibuya with Knight and their team challenged accepted musical genres and radicalized our view of music and opera in a rapidly changing digital and technological age. To some, Skeleton’s song, accompanied by Adelaide’s leading improvisational and contemporary orchestra, may appear discordant, defying rules of harmony and assonance. To others it will be an exciting and thrilling way of identifying a new movement and by its assault on perceptions of humanity define the very essence of humanity. It is the gist of collaboration between Western and Asian art forms.
In the first movement, Skeleton performs in operatic voice the excerpt from Michael Houllebeca’s Possibility of an Island. In the midst of terror and the abyss, there is love and hope. Instead there is the scary beauty of “a kind of joy that descends from the physical world”. In the second movement of this intriguing electronic composition, Shibuya draws on Yukio Mishima’s The Decay of the Angel. Skeleton sings in electronic tones, “There is no special right to happiness and none to unhappiness. There is no tragedy and no genius.” In the final movement, which is largely improvised, the work draws on the chaotic and purposefully random musings of rebellion and meaning to existence with The Third Mind by William Burroughs, the writings of Brion Gysin. and excerpts from Sinclair Belles prose poem Stalin. It is a cacophony of contemporary existential contemplation, often meaningless, recalling Lucky’s diatribe from Beckett’s Waiting For Godot in a mire of absurdist philosophizing.
Scary Beauty fascinates and intrigues. A new musical art form demands investigation and confronts the ordered reality of our existence. It offers both hope and despair. It challenges both preconception and expectation. To the untrained musical ear it is thirty five minutes of confrontation with our own perception of our universe and the meaning of our lives. It may not be to everybody’s taste but it is a glimpse into the future and the questions that such a future will demand. To that end, it is one of the most stimulating, disturbing, confronting and exciting performances that I have seen in recent times.