[Black Inscription] keeps breaking my heart… Every single moment comes from a place of truth… it is a journey both devastating and exhilarating... The most perfect opera of today: so dramatic… and so inventive in the way the vocal parts portray complex emotions!
— Osvaldo Golijov,
With lyrics about coral spawns, dislocated aquatic creatures and the water cycle, the project reads... like a love song to the changing sea...
— Zara Abrams, The Huffington Post
World Premiere | Multi-Media Concert
January 11-13 and 17-20 at 9:30pm
January 20 at 4:00pm
At HERE's Dorothy B. Williams Theatre
A free diver descends into the depths of the ocean, never to resurface. As her terrestrial ties dissolve, she embarks upon an Odyssean journey. Transported by the sea’s currents, she encounters a mystifying underworld with billions of bioluminescent creatures, endlessly inventive structures of coral, gyres of human detritus, and abandoned nets still fishing for no one – sights both awe-inspiring and devastating. Black Inscription is a multimedia contemporary song cycle written by a team of veteran creators, drawing on the most powerful aspects of rock, classical, and pop music. Through music, sound and imagery, Black Inscription plunges us into our oceans and fills us with wonder, outrage, and hope.
Composers Matthias Bossi, Jeremy Flower, & Carla Kihlstedt**
Lyricist Carla Kihlstedt*
Directors Carla Kihlstedt & Mark deChiazza
Producer Rabbit Rabbit Radio
Environment & Video Designer Mark deChiazza
Sound Designer Quentin Chiappetta
Lighting Designer Mary Ellen Stebbins
Costume Designer Sylvianne Shurman
Live Sound Engineer Eli Crews
Spoken Text Hannah Silva
Freediver's Spoken Voice Tatyana Gessen
*additional lyrics by Natalia Molchanova
**Octopolis composed by Kristin Slipp & Jeremy Flower with lyrics by Carla Kihlstedt
Voice & Violin Carla Kihlstedt
Voice & Viola Ariel Parkington
Voice & Keyboard Kristin Slipp
Voice, Guitar, Keyboards & Electronics Jeremy Flower
Voice & Drums Matthias Bossi
Guitar Michael Abraham
Bass George Ban-Weiss
Video Diver/Dancer Julie Worden
Underwater Camera & Lighting Marine Imaging Technologies
Underwater Cinematographer Evan Kovacs
Underwater Camera Assistant David Ullman
Lifeguard Kimberly Malkoski & Patrick W A Jenkins
Black Inscription is dedicated to the memory of Arnold Bossi, ever devoted to the ocean. He liked it clear, murky, wavy, flat, smelly, brinny and cold. He was not a seaman, a fisherman, nor an oceanographer, but as long as the ocean was close, he felt at home.
Black Inscription is a theatrical expansion of Lost City: Songs from a Changing Sea, which was funded by Visions and Voices at the University of Southern California.
The spoken text by Hannah Silva is adapted from Jump Blue - an Afonica production for BBC Radio 3.
Additional underwater footage courtesy of William Lange, Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory, WHOI.
Show run time 80 minutes
Photo by Valentina Suarez
Rabbit Rabbit Radio (Producer) is the song-spinning duo of Carla Kihlstedt and Matthias Bossi. Their music is intelligent and visceral, intimate and powerful. Its appeal is not limited by genre or by age. They weave together the expressive detail of contemporary composition with the visceral power of a rock band. Between them, this husband and wife team are founding members of the iconic bands Tin Hat, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, 2 Foot Yard, Causing a Tiger, The Book of Knots, and Fred Frith’s Cosa Brava.
Carla Kihlstedt (Composer, Lyricist, & Director) is a veteran of folk/pop, contemporary classical, improvised and experimental music, she is a founding member of the bands Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Tin Hat, Rabbit Rabbit, The Book of Knots, Minamo and 2 Foot Yard. Besides the pieces she’s written for her bands, her large-scale pieces include a song cycle for the International Contemporary Ensemble inspired by the language of dreams, a song cycle called Necessary Monsters for eight performers based on Jorge Luis Borges' Book of Imaginary Beings, and a musical/radio piece for the ROVA Saxophone Quartet about the coming of the Machine Age. Her shorter commissioned pieces include a song about the miraculous life journey of herring for the San Francisco Girls Chorus called “Herring Run”, a reflection of the surreal photography of Shana and Robert ParkeHarrison for the Brooklyn Rider string quartet, and a song made of comments by women about their own bodies (commissioned by the New York Festival of Song). In 2014, her score for the Folger Shakespeare Library’s production of Romeo and Juliet was nominated for a Helen Hayes Award, and in 2015, she was given the Rising Star award for violin in Downbeat Magazine’s Critic’s Poll. She is on the faculty of the Contemporary Improvisation Department of the New England Conservatory, and of the MFA composition program of the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Matthias Bossi (Composer, Voice, & Drums) was a member of the seminal bands Skeleton Key, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, and Fred Frith's Cosa Brava. As a founder of the recording collective The Book of Knots, he's had the pleasure of collaborating with Mike Patton, Blixa Bargeld, Tom Waits, Mike Watt, David Thomas, and Jon Langford. Studio credits include records with John Vanderslice, St. Vincent, Pretty Lights and The Tiger Lillies. His production company Ridiculon has written soundtracks for the best-selling video game "The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth" as well as "Super Meat Boy 5th Anniversary" and "The End Is Nigh." Bossi's voiceover work can be heard on the sensational "Little Baby's Ice Cream" commercials, and also on a guided audio tour of Golden Gate Park produced by SF-Based company, Detour.
Jeremy Flower (Composer, Voice, Guitar, Keyboard, & Electronics) is a multi-instrumentalist and composer of acoustic and electronic music. His work with electronics has landed him on stage as a guest artist with some of the world’s best orchestras as well as with world-renowned electronic producers in experimental, ambient, and minimal techno genres. He also writes and tours with Rabbit Rabbit Radio, the song spinning duo of Matthias Bossi and Carla Kihlstedt. Flower has been commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for their Music NOW series, James Sommerville and the Hamilton Philharmonic for their festival What Next?, and Carnegie Hall’s Weill Institute. He wrote the score for Laura Poitras’ 2017 feature documentary Risk, and Monika Navarro’s Animas Perdidas. He is part of David Krakauer’s Ancestral Groove project, which explores the heritage of traditional Jewish music fusing Klezmer with hip-hop, jazz, and house music. He has collaborated extensively with Argentine-American composer Osvaldo Golijov, helping to create electronic parts for the Grammy-nominated song cycle Ayre (2006) and one-act opera Ainadamar which won two Grammys (2007) on Deutsche Grammophon.
A while after Matthias and I moved to Cape Cod in 2011, the sea began to seep into our songs. It was unavoidable. Even a simple walk on the beach connects you with the vastness of our earth’s life cycle. Every grain of sand used to be a shell, a rock, a mountain. Every wave that licks your toes marks a breath.
Our subsequent move to Woods Hole clinched the deal. If Woods Hole were a clown car, its oceanographic institutions would be its clowns. In this tiny town of ours, there are no fewer than 7 distinct organizations dedicated to the study and understanding of the ocean. Living in a community of ocean scientists, fishermen and other sea-obsessed folks of one sort or another, it didn’t take long ‘til I found myself watching simulcasts of research dives half way around the world as my bedtime entertainment. So when George Ban-Weiss – environmental engineering professor and bass player – suggested we write a whole set of songs about the sea, it was like he had articulated an idea that was sitting right in front of us.
Our collective fascination with the sea is inherently as symbolic as it is scientific. Any exploration of the sea perfectly entwines our magnetic attraction to the unknown and our endless appetite for wonder and discovery. Water, quite literally, connects us all. That said, it’s a laughably large task to write a song cycle about the ocean, and it wasn’t until I read about Natalia Molchanova that I found a foothold of how to anchor our vessel in the sea of possibilities.
During a casual, recreational dive off the coast of Spain, Molchanova took a deep breath, dove to 35 meters, and never resurfaced. She was arguably the world’s best free-diver, holding multiple world records. She also wrote and spoke eloquently about the spiritual pull that free diving held for her. It was a place where she could transcend the “surface fuss” and both find and lose her self to a singular clarity and a focus. She spoke about the sense of disappointment at reaching the moment in every dive when she knew she must turn around and go back to the surface.
Her disappearance, as tragic as it was, allowed me to imagine that, perhaps, on her final dive, she was able to transcend the limits of her human form, and simply keep swimming, becoming a part of the ocean. And so the end of her story as a terrestrial surface-dweller became the beginning of her story as a witness to the deep.
While we were puzzling over how to introduce Natalia Molchanova’s character to the audience, we discovered a fictional radio piece produced for the BBC called Jump Blue, written by Hanna Silva. It is a monologue from Molchanova’s perspective that imagines her final dive. It quite literally took my breath away. On either side of the Atlantic Ocean, two teams of artists were working simultaneously on different sides of the same story. Jump Blue ends where Black Inscription begins. I reached out to Hannah Silva, and she agreed to re-work her words as a prologue to our piece, and to write a new text to bring us back to the shore again for the final two songs. In the songs between those two monologues, we explore different aspects of the ocean through Molchanova’s eyes, ears and body, as she becomes less corporeal and more simply a part of the ocean.
The title Black Inscription comes from Rachel Carson’s The Edge of the Sea, and refers to the intricate message inscribed by the micro-plants that appears the world over, wherever water meets rock. It is an invitation to learn and decipher all we can about the ocean from the small clues we receive.
Jeremy Flower, Matthias Bossi and I wrote these songs in the kind of blind tag-team exquisite corpse process that can only work with complete trust and a combination of obsession and abandon. It’s hard to say exactly who did what, but we each held an aspect of the songwriting in our sites: Jeremy created sound worlds worthy of our watery medium, Matthias kept our harmonic language fluid and moving, and I crafted words and melody lines through each song. Jon Evans anchored both our disparate studio sounds with his fabulous engineering intuitions, and our wide-ranging musical sensibilities with his deliciously satisfying bass lines.
Our wonderful design team, led by Mark DeChiazza, has helped us create an immersive world for these songs to live in. We owe a debt of gratitude to our friends at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Tim Shank and Taylor Heyl, who indulged our many naive questions and taught us about their own fascinations and passions. Black Inscription is not a documentary. It is a series of impressions. But it is our greatest hope that it might inspire you to learn more about the very real issues facing our oceans. And perhaps to take a long walk on the beach.
- Carla Kihlstedt