"...Simulacrum addresses the anxieties created by an increasingly technological world, and the subsequent humanity of such anxiety." -- I CARE IF YOU LISTEN
"Simulacrum is about the conflict between human and machine. More specifically, it is a story of futuristic angst told against a backdrop of techno-existentialism." -- SCHMOPERA
Combining contemporary music with live action, interactive performance, wearable techniques, Scenic design and contemporary dance, Simulacrum is a large collaboration chamber opera which narrates a dancer Lydia who is dealing with the loss of her leg and her acceptance of a new bionic leg. The entire opera abstractly explored the problem between organic and mechanic happens during the process that the whole civilization is moving gradually from agricultural to scientific and technological. Human and machine keep constituted and reconstructed each other. Nowadays, the machine has steadfastly narrowed the gap with mankind, on the other hand, human beings subtly accept the transformation brought by the machine. As the result, human is losing the original feeling with nature. In Hegel’s Elements of the Philosophy of Right, he suggests that “The abstraction of one man’s production from another’s makes work increasingly mechanical, until finally man is able to step aside and install machines in his place.” The highest stage of dialectical movement between human and machine is the state of mutual reconciliation.
As a new media chamber opera, Simulacrum is composed by six different composers from all over the world, and premiered in New York, 2018. The entire opera is divided as 6 scenes, and each composer composed one of them. Every scene can also be considered as an independent piece.
Lydia, a dancer who lost her leg, struggles to reconcile herself to the loss – and to her newly attached bionic limb. Elias, her partner in love and dance, attempts to connect with this new Lydia. At times Lydia occupies the identity of Stump or her body and biology as it used to be and craves to be again, and at times Elias occupies the identity of Bionic Leg, the voice of the technology as it attempts to fuse with biology.
Simulacrum (plural: simulacra from Latin: simulacrum, which means “likeness, similarity”) is a representation or imitation of a person or thing. The word was first recorded in the English language in the late 16th century, used to describe a representation, such as a statue or a painting, especially without the substance or qualities of the original. Philosopher Fredric Jameson offers photorealism as an example of the artistic simulacrum, where a painting is sometimes created by copying a photograph that is itself a copy of the real. Other art forms that play with simulacra include trompe-l’oeil , pop art, Italian neorealism, and French New Wave. Through the struggle of Lydia, this opera is trying to explore if the bionic limb (as a representation of technology), a trompe-l’oeil, a mere mirage, or a real chance for a better future.
Scene I: Lydia has surgery to replace the missing leg with a bionic limb. Lydia’s sensory sensations are numbed at first, she struggles to feel a connection to the new leg, while the phantom limb pain, the sensation that her old leg is still there, creeps in.
Scene II: Elias, Lydia’s lover and dance partner, ties to remind Lydia of happier days, but both of them despair over the possibility that their old hopes and dreams for the future may now be impossible. They hope that the advanced bionic technology will help them forge a hopeful future, just as the doctors promised.
Interlude I: Lydia questions who she is now, and whether she’ll be able to connect to the new leg, and to life at large. Will she able to reassemble herself or is she just another uncertain element between body and technology, nerve endings and wires?
Scene III: Elias attempts to stimulate Lydia’s sensation in order to connect with her. Lydia tries to respond and to reconnect with her own identity. The memories flicker in tantalizing wave but she can’t quite grasp them.
Interlude II: Lydia finally connects with her new bionic leg! Her childhood identity as a dancer come flooding back. She reconnects with her body and with her partner.
Scene IV: Lydia exults in her new leg and in the identity of being able to feel again. Elias is overjoyed to have Lydia back.
Scene V: Lydia experiences an intense, hyper-blissful series of synesthetic experiences. However, when the clock strikes midnight, she loses the connection with her new leg. Elias is left all alone.
Epilogue: Lydia has transcended her struggles and reflects on her feverish nightmare.
Photos by Pierre Liader
The main mood of the first scene (composed by Longfei Li) is intensive and painful. Therefore, the entire movement uses rather fast and rhythmic music materials. Also, irregular and regular repetitions of fragmented patterns imply the idea of running machine and “glitch”. The baritone voice is always repeating the similar pitches and quarter tones, then covered by the vocoder filter to imitate mechanical and robotic sound. After rehearsal letter H, Lydia and Stumps sing similar materials, and Stump is always singing the high partials based on Lydia’s pitch to imply the idea that Stump is “part” of Lydia, as lower pitches always include higher frequencies. The last part, Stump is asking to take away the bionic leg, so the music is gradually dropping materials. The text includes English, Germany, French, Russian, and Latin because this opera is a cooperated work by composers from all over the world.
Libretto of Scene I
I want so badly
to be part of you.
That you are.
Carbon nano sheet
Micro thin wires
I am merely
Il n’ya rien pour moi
Ya vso patiryala
Wo bist du?
Simulacrum take me away
/Do you presume to
Replace my soulmate?
Give me my ghost back
Give me sensation
I Care if You Listen. (2018, June 22). Path New Music Theater Debuts with Simulacrum at 3LD Art & Technology Center.
Schmopera. (2018, June 15). Simulacrum: Futuristic Angst and Dance.
Meng Wang, Co-founder, Producer
Longfei Li, Co-founder, Artistic Director
Yifei Xu, Production Manager
John Hong, Marketing Consultant
Alexis Nalbandian, Stage Manager
Hassan Khan, Technical Director
Lucy Dhegrae, Lydia
Nathaniel Sullivan, Elias/Bionic Leg
Nina Dante, Stump
Margaux Maeght, Scenic Designer
Kyle Soble, Lighting Designer
Nina Vartanian, Costume Designer
Alisya Razman Adam
Hye Young Jo Borden
Dante J. Norris
Eric Wenqi Li, Visual Artist
Jacob Sachs-Mishalanie, Sound Designer
Lena Vidulich, Violin
Midori Witcoski, Viola
Isidora Nojkovic, Cello
Sam Zagnit, Double Bass
Francesca Ferrara, Flute
Lehaier Ni, Oboe
David Valbuena, Clarinet/B. Clarinet
Sara Konvalin, French Horn
Michael Sinicropi, Trumpet
Kai Wei Chang, Trombone
Zhen Huang, Tuba
Kexin Li, Percussion
Violetta Norrie, Harp
Thomas Feng, Piano
Ivan Filipchyk, Accordion
Sample Score of SIMULACRUM, Scene I: