PITTSBURGH: “The rules of democracy are under pressure,” states the Dutch avant-pop composer JacobTV. “Our government makes decisions without asking the parliament for permission. The Dutch government bailed out corporations and paid too much money. Everything in the world is changing right now. In a way, that has always been the case, but I think we have come to a new era.”
JacobTV’s words resonate strongly to American ears as the economic depression deepens both in Europe and the U.S. In the wake of Occupy Wall Street, the bailouts of U.S. corporations that were deemed too big to fail remain controversial to this day, and they will certainly return when the November 2012 presidential elections come full swing.
The parallels are striking. JacobTV is referring here in our conversation to huge errors the Dutch government made in its own bailouts in 2008 and 2009 — bailouts of such corporations as Fortis, ABN Amro Holding NV and ING Groep NV (INGA) that pushed up risks and costs for the taxpayers of the Netherlands. At this moment, the Dutch government is on the brink of collapse after their politicians hit an impasse; they cannot come to an agreement on implementing austerity measures required to secure the bailout to save the Dutch economy. The alternative is to tell bankers to shove it and take the path of Iceland.
Given the tightening of belts in the Netherlands and other parts of Europe (notably Spain and Greece), it is interesting that the Dutch government still enjoys a reputation for being in the avant-garde of arts diplomacy. Dutch embassies around the world are viewed as progressive models in terms of financially supporting Dutch culture and disseminating Dutch artists abroad.
Witness, for example, JacobTV’s The News, a so-called “reality opera” that makes its world premiere Friday April 27 in downtown Pittsburgh as part of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Distinctively Dutch Festival. (It’s a co-presentation with Andy Warhol Museum’s Off the Wall series.)
After Pittsburgh, the show will then perform at the city where it originated: Chicago’s Fulcrum New Music Project on May 4 and 5.
“If you compare to America, our embassies worldwide have cultural attaches,” says JacobTV. “They try to recommend Dutch artists abroad. In New York City, we have a consulate that is very active in promoting me for the last couple of years.”
In addition to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, The News is made possible by Muziekcentrum Nederland, the Consulate of the Netherlands in New York, the Nederlands Fonds Podiumkunsten, Amsterdam Fonds voor de Kunst, Netherlands-America Foundation, among many others.
What’s significant is that The News originated not in the Netherlands but in the U.S., specifically in the city of Chicago where JacobTV was visiting as a tourist four years ago and where he met the folks at the Fulcrum Point New Music Project. JacobTV saw the city reflected on the glass wall that surrounded a television studio with cameras, videos and news anchors. “In a split second, I knew it,” he says. “I new what I wanted to do. This fascinating world of media. That’s what I want to write about.”
The News roams around the world to meditate on the question of leadership as reflected by the international media, and the impact of this complex dynamic on the issues we care about and the lives of real people.
“The first half of The News begins with world leaders, news anchors, the start of the financial crisis in 2008 and coverage of Occupy Wall Street,” JacobTV says. “It has an open ending with Barack Obama giving a speech when he was still running for president. The one where he says, ‘We are one day away from changing America! You don’t need to boo. You just need to vote. We are one day from changing America. We are going to change the world.’ In my opinion, that speech does not ring true almost. We are living in a time when leaders seem to fail. Not that leaders in the past were much better. In Europe and in America, it has become more difficult to rule the country. It’s impossible for him to rule the country.”
The News starts with grim analyses. An anchor at faith channel TBN says that what our world needs today is a world leaders, with leadership, eloquence, charm, charisma, popularity and political savvy. It’s not looking good in today’s world, says Pastor Dr. Ron Phillips: “broken finances, broken marriage, broken government, broken churches, broken young people, broken dreams, broken hearts and BAM!”
Other leaders and famous people who appear in The News are Russian president Vladimir Putin, deposed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, the Dutch Queen Beatrix, film director Michael Moore, New York governor Andrew Cuomo and Pope Benedict XVI.
What makes The News different from other theatrical meditations on the Zeitgeist is JacobTV’s compositional technique. Live music is synchronized with non-fiction video footage from the international media, based on speech grooves. A classical musician who started in the rock music world, JacobTV works with visual artists Kristien Kerstens and Jan Boiten in order to deconstructs the video images taken from the media and then to reconstruct them with syncopated rhythms. As a result, it would seem as if Obama himself is rapping the speech he gave when was running for office.
The News is a classical music/multimedia experience. JacobTV’s work has been compared to Andy Warhol, because both of them use found materials. Except that it was not until the 1980s that composers had the actual means to grab sound bites and manipulate them. JacobTV’s technique actually follows a more direct link with the American composer Steve Reich, who used tape loops and repetitive phrases to create harmonic patterns and minimalist musical concepts.
The News is not a film concerto or a traditional opera. The stage replicates a television studio. Wide-screen video monitors projects scenes of war, politics, disasters, celebrities, high society, pop culture, scandals, along with demonstrators from the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street. Accompanying this multimedia spectacle are two singing “news anchors” (an alto and a soprano) and the nine musicians of the Fulcrum Point New Music Ensemble of Chicago.
“I listen to the color of the speech,” JacobTV says. “Then I listen to the content of the speech. If I am inspired by timbre, sound, rhythm, melody and content, than I have my composition. The words are extremely important to me.”
When the piece premieres in Pittsburgh and Chicago, American politicians and celebrities will loom large. Some of video arias in the show feature:
- Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck in “Trust”
- Paris Hilton and Lady Gaga in “Fame”
- Hank Williams Jr. in “The Change”
- Michael Moore in “Perp Walk” (when visiting Occupy Wall Street last year)
- Governor Andrew Cuomo in “Mother Nature” (about hurricane Irene)
- US marine Rob Serra in “White Flag”
- Donald Rumsfeld and Charlie Rose in “Waterboarding”
- Pope Benedict in “La Pace” (a speech he gave on world peace).
Unfortunately Jacob TV, whose real name is Jacob ter Veldhuis, did not have time to Rick Santorum, who grossly mischaracterized euthanasia practices in the Netherlands during an appearance at a faith conference when he was still a candidate for the Republican presidential ticket. He overstated the rate of euthanasia and falsely claimed that the elderly are being killed against their will and wear “do not euthanize me” bracelets. His comments prompted a furious backlash in the Netherlands.
“I am following Rick Santorum, of course,” says Jacob TV. “Mr. Santorum seems to have a funny view of our country! He would be an excellent character for our opera, especially when he mentioned Holland. It was very tempting to do that, but composing music as well as video editing is a slow and time consuming process, and so at some point we had to stop following the actuality to prepare our first edition of The News. But news is ever breaking-never ending. Who knows? Mr.Santorum might be in it in our next edition.”
There is one politician who does loom large in The News: former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi denying corruption charges. Interestingly, Americans will be able to see the video aria featuring Berlusconi, a section that was censored in Rome. At Maxxi gallery in Rome, the Dutch musician was scheduled to preview the Berlusconi selection from The News as part of a larger exhibition. Fearing repercussions from Berlusconi, the curators of the Maxxi gallery pulled this selection without telling JacobTV, who cried censorship.
This was not the first time JacobTV’s work has caused upset and scandal. For the 2008 world premiere of Lavinia Meijer’s Cities Change the Songs of Bird, JacobTV combined beautiful harp sounds with monologues of female drug addicts in the streets of New York. The juxtaposition was viewed by critics as promoting hatred toward American society. One critic said that JacobTV’s work is “another form of musical terrorism.”
JacobTV says that criticism really hurt. “I’m not like that,” he says. “I’m not that kind of person. I’m not pretending I am a wise guy. I am not a provocative type. I am a kind person. I am worried about the world. I want to comment on this world with my music, even though my music is abstract.”
He sees his musical work as closer to composing poetry. He says, “There was a French poet Guillaume Apollinaire. He used to walk through Paris and pick up sentences, and those sentences became the subjects of his poems. It was an early way of using found material. I have the liberty to be a poet.”
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust presents the world premiere of THE NEWS
April 27, 2012, 7:30 PM Byham Theater, 101 6th St., Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Performed by Fulcrum Point New Music Project, Stephen Burns, Artistic Director
Featuring Lori Cotler, alto / konnakol / jazz vocalist; Josefien Stoppelenburg, lyric soprano
Tickets: $15-$30; trustarts.org or 412-456-6666.
Midwest premiere of THE NEWS
May 4 2012, 6 & 9 PM, Park West Theater, 322 W Armitage, Chicago