This is a modern retelling of the traditional story of a young girl's voyage of self-discovery through her encounter with the Beast in the enchanted castle. A Narrator introduces each part of the story with the illusion that his musical instrument is reciting the text (which is portrayed on the screen), beginning with Beauty's ride through the forest to the castle. In a twist to the traditional version, she cannot find the Beast when she arrives because he hides and spies on her. Computer images, created with an Amiga mainly through digitized visual imagery, show the story unfolding including the dialogue. The music was entirely created by stretching the sounds of the dialogue and the English horn, using a granular synthesis technique which treats the sound in short segments called grains. It dramatizes the "magic" which surrounds Beauty and includes the horrific voice of the Beast.
In our version, we follow a modern interpretation of the story, as suggested by Bruno Bettelheim in his 1976 book The Uses of Enchantment, that the Beast represents a part of Beauty's self which seems frightening at first but which she must accept if she is to mature and become a unified person. Left alone in the castle with her dilemma, she finally demands to see the Beast. He first dons a beautiful golden mask and then removes it to reveal his true face. She is torn by her feelings towards him and her sense of devotion to her father, and so requests to return home. The Beast acquiesces as long as she returns in a month - by the next full moon. When the month is up, the moon is seen behind the castle and as we approach it we discover the Beast searching for Beauty through binoculars. However, she is at home and has forgotten. As soon as she realizes her forgetfulness, she is immediately back at the castle where she pledges never to leave the Beast again. Her decision breaks the spell and she is united in the healing glow of the full moon with the handsome prince. The magic thus removed, we see and hear the natural images of the characters, and even the Narrator leaves us with a tantalyzing clue as to his real identity.
Beauty and the Beast is available on the Cambridge Street Records CD Inside (whose cover features one of the graphic images used in the piece). The entire work is available as a DVD video.
Beauty and the Beast was commissioned by oboist Lawrence Cherney for the Musical Mondays series of young people's concerts, with the assistance of the Laidlaw Foundation and the Music Section of the Canada Council.
Duration: 23 min.
Recommended Age: 8 yr and up
Technical note: The work was realized using the composer's PODX system which uses the DMX-1000 Digital Signal Processor controlled by a PDP Micro-11 computer. The principal signal processing technique involves time stretching of the sampled vocal and instrumental sound with software for real-time granular synthesis developed by the composer in the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University. Sound densities ranging up to 2000 events/second were recorded on 8-track tape and mixed down in the Sonic Research Studio at SFU.