Tomorrow, In a Year

Darwin’s theory of evolution gets an electronic operatic makeover courtesy of The Knife and leading Danish performance group Hotel Proforma.

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Rehearsal pictures taken exclusively for Dazed Dig
Rehearsal pictures taken exclusively for Dazed Digital courtesy of Hotel Proforma
Still controversial 150 years after its first publication, the evolutionary theory espoused by Darwin in his Genesis-busting On The Origins of the Species is to receive an artistic reimagining courtesy of Danish theatre company Hotel Proforma. Co-directed by Ralf Richardt Strøbech and Kirsten Dehlholm, the project marries the visionary musical talent of The Knife with Hiroaki Umeda’s transgressive contemporary choreography. Tomorrow, In a Year doesn’t so much toy with the conventions of traditional opera so much as smash its limitations against the edge of a driving electro-tinged score and an avant movement-cum-dance performance piece. 

The aim, says Ralf Richardt Strøbech, is to explore ideas of liberty, identity and inexorable change, forcing paradoxical concepts into alignment to witness the seismic creative shifts that result. The undertaking’s nothing if not ambitious, with research for the piece taking Olof as far afield as the Amazon to capture field recordings of animal noises while Karin  was back home prepping the libretto in collaboration with Berlin-based U.S. DJ Mount Sims.

Ahead of the world premiere at Copenhagen’s Royal Danish Theatre on September 2nd Dazed Digital went backstage at the rehearsals to speak with Olof and Ralf about the shifting shape of modern opera and the inspiration behind the endeavor.

Dazed Digital: What was the inspiration behind taking Darwin and his exploration of mankind's evolution as the starting point for your new work?
Ralf Richardt Strøbech: History has cast Darwin as a kind of godfather of ruthless self-promotion, right down to his most well known phrase ‘survival of the fittest’. This obviously has an enormous appeal as it proposes a very straightforward answer to what liberty is: get your own way, through strength, no matter the cost to others. But reading Darwin really showed a quite surprising insight into the ways all living things are connected and mutually depending on each other. There’s really not much point in getting your own way if it leaves everything else destroyed. So in that respect true liberty always exists in the equilibrium of balancing individual interests with a context within which to function.
Identity is also something that’s interesting seen in the context of Darwin. In a way there is no such thing as a dolphin, a dog, or an apricot - everything evolved from something else, and will, in due time, turn into something completely different again. Seen this way, things that we as humans tend to recognise as stable and identifiable are merely in a state of passage or transition that we chose to name. Dinosaurs evolved into birds and will eventually be different again. This way all living things remain connected to everything else, but have identifiable identity non the less.

DD: So will Tomorrow have a discernable narrative?
Ralf Richardt Strøbech: The piece doesn’t really have a narrative, but it does treat certain pivotal events in the life of Darwin in a chronological order. The Beagle voyage, the death of his daughter Annie, the publication of Origin of the species, his competition and collaboration with Alfred Wallace, and eventually his death.
Adventure, sorrow, career, competition and ultimately death are experienced by everyone, and to me it is interesting to see Darwin as a completely ordinary human being, an example of the species Homo Sapiens, going through emotions and needs evolved alongside man, while still respecting the overwhelming fact that, at some point, he must have realised that if his findings were true, then he must himself actually be an animal. I can’t begin to imagine the surprise he must have felt.

DD: How did you come to work with Karin and Olof? Were you conscious of wanting to expand the reach of Tomorrow by collaborating with musicians who work outside of opera?
Ralf Richardt Strøbech: I’ve known and loved the music of The Knife for a very long time. That was the initial and most important reason for wanting to make an opera with Karin and Olof. Opera used to be a popular genre, and rightly so. So the initial intent was not so much wanting to expand the reach of the piece, but rather to use the media in a way that is at once both older and more modern than the current conception allows. That being said, collaboration with world-renowned musicians is of course an entirely pleasant experience, and their success is very well earned. They are completely fantastic, and I have loved the process every step of the way.

DD: Why did you and Karin decided to get involved Olof? Has opera been a long term interest of yours?
Olof Dreijer: I actually only went to the opera for the first time a couple of months ago! Opera for me has always been the part of culture that takes all the funding away from interesting or experimental projects. I found some things inspiring, like how they work with depth in having singers perform from behind the stage, and how vocal arrangements are built in parallel but not necessarilyin harmony. I guess the key inspiration this time round has come from people like Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson, Diamanda Galas and all the frogs, fish and monkeys I recorded in the Amazon.

DD: In terms of the tone of the music, what sort of sound should we expect? Is the soundscape going to lean more towards natural and organic influences rather than the technologically filtered sounds of The Knife?
Olof Dreijer: It's a mix of everything! Trying to capture the great feeling diversity, variation and change you get when reading Darwin. From organic or electronic sounding animal recordings to very electronic irregular sounding feedback sounds and melodies built up on a development of a gene. As its being called an opera we had the idea of a real orchestra going crazy so we've recorded orchestral persussion and strings but then sampled and proccesed it a lot. For the libretto, Karin and Matthew Sims have created a piece for a female opera singer, a male pop singer and a female actor who also can sing.  The performance will mix pre-recorded mucis with live vocals streamed through voice transformers.
The biggest challenge has been writing the lyrics. Conceptual lyrics on a subject like evolution could easily come off as being really pretentious so it’s been difficult and really fun. We’ve been trying to find the emotional value of the content and trying to give a feeling of what has happened throughout the evolutionary process rather than telling a straight story, so it’s much more conceptual than writing tracks for an album.

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