Mikel Rouse

Failing Kansas

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A postmodern, surreal work for voices, electronics, and acoustic instruments, and an example of new narrative opera, utilizing a technique the composer calls counterpoetry, or "the use of multiple unpitched voices in strict metric counterpoint." The text is based on the Clutter family murder in Holcomb, KS (the basis for Truman Capote's In Cold Blood). The work is organized in a prelude, four scenes ("The Last to See Them Alive," "Persons Unknown," "Answer," "The Corner") connected by three interludes or "traveling scenes" ("Like My Dream," "A Brief History of My Boy's Life," "The Private Diary of Parry Edward Smith") and a postlude. There are touches of Americana, such as the sound of the lonely harmonica accompanied by acoustic guitar, quotes from the hymn "In the Garden," and primary chord progressions in unusual rhythmic cycles and harmonizations. The lyrics are keenly wrought and expressionistic, concerning obsessions with religious imagery ("Nuns nuns/Priests crossing a road/Nuns nuns/Snakes appearing in a dream"), morbid examination of the details of the crime ("There's blood on the walls/You didn't really look"), childhood memories of a suicide mixed with claims of extramental powers, and grammatical and factual obsessiveness ("CLUES ARE FEW IN SLAYING OF 4/You don't have to read it fifty times/For this killer or killers/That's incorrect/The grammar is/It ought to be 'For this killer or these killers'/Aw, come on, baby, get the bubbles out of your blood/We scored/It was perfect"). One is left with an impression of images and language floating around in the culture ready to feed and/or manipulate dangerous impulses. A remarkably original work.

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