Mikel Rouse of the Contemporary Opera gives his rhythm to the Avant-Garde

Mikel Rouse of the Contemporary Opera gives his rhythm to the Avant-Garde


George Grella

· September 7, 2023
Mikel Rouse of the Contemporary Opera gives his rhythm to the Avant-Garde 1

In every human endeavor – science, politics, business, art – there is often a price to pay for being ahead of the times; never fully seen in the present, then easily brushed aside by the torrent flowing through the door we opened. In a word, it is the story of Mikel Rouse.

Originally from the Midwest, Rouse arrived in New York in 1979 with his avant-garde rock band, Shoot Pull. He studies world music, classical composition and trains his Broken Consort Bedroom Set in 1980. Common to all of his projects was an interest in rhythmic complexity, combining multiple lines and pulses and desynchronizing them with each other. Or Steve ReichRouse’s early experimental works focused on the continuous transformation of one impulse into another. Rouse juxtaposed the tension of independent lines with the sense of beauty and liberation that occurs when they come together, an idea found in both Beethoven and African music. And he did it all with rock and jazz instruments, making him one of the pioneer composers of downtown post-minimalism.

Perhaps the first post-minimalist, certainly one of the first great post-minimalist composers – and still one of the best and most important – Rouse’s music embraces the world of pop culture. He is one of the essential composers of contemporary opera; in addition to covering contemporary topics that can appeal to any type of audience, his operas use new musical ideas like few others do. Yet Rouse is still under the radar, with virtually no institutional support and little recognition from the public and even the music world.

It’s hard to be first, especially when your style is too urban for uptown folks and too urban for downtown folks. The subject matter – true crime, TV talk shows, going to the movies, and even trying to make money as an artist – should have immediate appeal but becomes powerfully poignant through the prism of empathy, of the humanity and irony inherent in Rouse. Rouse’s music is beautiful, fun, danceable, moving and has a basic sense of decency that is unusual in itself. Avant-garde with rhythm in the background, experimentalism in major mode, these are the highlights of a wonderful career that deserves more attention.

Mikel Rouse consort broken
LIVE 1987

Rouse’s Broken Consort have been called a jazz band and a modern classical ensemble, which is both true, but fundamentally they’re a post-minimalist band, probably the first of their kind. Rouse’s compositions combine repetition of minimalist motifs, jazz and progressive rock, blended through his own rhythmic ideas. What emerged was the Knock on a can idea before it even exists; music composed for a rock band, minimalism for a jazz band, classical music revived with ideas of African music, the sound of the future.

Mikel Rouse

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Roger Linn built his pioneering and seminal LinnDrum electronic drum machine in 1982. In 1984 Rouse designed these two extended studies for the instrument, for a piece from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. This music is one of the earliest ever created solely for and with a drum machine, comprising both groundbreaking experimental work and a sort of guidebook to Rouse as a composer. He built the pieces by working on a variety of basic classical composition techniques, including layering and synchronizing different numbers of rhythms, shifting accents, adding and removing parts and complexity, working with sounds and technologies typically associated with pop and rock music. The tension builds as the patterns and layers gradually begin to fit together before synchronizing with immense satisfaction.

Kansas Failure

This is the first of what Rouse calls his ‘Opera Verite’ trilogy, a group of pieces that manage to be both among the finest contemporary operas and the least performed. Kansas Failure is based on the famous Clutter Family Murders in Kansasthe same inspiration for Truman Capote In cold blood. For Rouse, the story is a starting point for an exploration of the thinking and intentions of the murderers Perry Smith and Dick Hicock. Rouse uses primary sources such as transcriptions and Smith’s own compositions in the first example of a technique he calls “counter-poetry”: voices in strict metrical counterpoint but without defined melodies performed in a combination of intoned speeches and occasional musical phrases. It sounds like someone gently but urgently trying to communicate with the listener, the vocal and instrumental rhythms gradually coming together in moments that heighten the expressive and emotional resonance that has been the goal of opera since the 16th century. century.

Dennis Cleveland

Talk show host Jerry Springer died in April of this year. His tabloid show had a profound influence and one of its highlights was Rouse’s opera. Dennis Cleveland, a work that brought Rouse to public attention and even eventually reached Lincoln Center. Dennis Cleveland is a talk show host and opera takes place on his show. It covers both public discussions and debates as well as the inner lives of the participants, all geared towards discovering the possibilities of redemption in the talk show format. The second installment of Rouse’s trilogy is a scathing, understated but forceful look at corporate media. Rouse’s empathy and humanity also make him deeply touching.


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Rouse’s operas are also meta-operas, pieces that ask questions and offer answers about what opera is and how it can be created. Funding follows this down to the most basic level: survival. This multilingual opera features five characters who reminisce about their attempts to make music and live in New York City, in light of how bohemian culture has been pushed aside in recent decades in favor of the financial industries and technological. Angry, funny, elegiac, sad, both sympathetic and biting. As the character Vivian says, “Knowing you’re a beginner/But so happy to finally be in the game.”

International Cloud Atlas

This is music from a performance by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. The live audience listens on individual iPods tuned to shuffle mode, ie everyone sees the same thing but hears something different. And mix the music, through a series of pop songs that range from fractured funk and contemporary bossa nova sung in Portuguese, to the punk sentiment of “Gaza Strip Mall (Get Happy)” and the Americana of “Clarion Hotel “. There’s a simple, rocky phrase and what sounds like a robotic piano that runs up and down insistently in the background of the album, tying each listener’s experience together into something common.

End of cutscenes

Last of Rouse’s trilogy, End of cutscenes follows the deterioration of the cinematic experience over the past 100 years, refracted through MTV and the essays of Susan Sontag. With Rouse, this also means the music has a backbeat and generous helpings of soul, funk and Beatles heritage. It is an opera in the form of an imaginary film soundtrack, offering multiple levels of high concept that Rouse delivers with musical punch and irony that is both caustic and charming. One track ends with the relaxed delivery of a nonsensical pitch for a movie: “So the girl and the guy they are, you know, they don’t even have a clue/ And when the neighbor gets away mix/ It’s like that triangle/ And explosions, lots of explosions/ So that when everyone wakes up / It’s like it’s a dream/ And now they can see how much they’ve been hurt / But no one meant to do it/ And then he walks off into the sunset/ Yeah, sunset is good.

Source link: https://daily.bandcamp.com/lists/mikel-rouse-album-guide

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