POWERS OF TWO: The Artist (1995)

(Powers of Two, Act 3)

electroacoustic music theatre for two singers, dancer, video tape and eight digital soundtracks


The Artist (lyric tenor)

The Seer (counter-tenor)

Male dancer

Libretto by the composer

  Sound Example available
Video taped dancers: Marc Berezowski, Thecla Schiphorst, Douglas Huffman

Video tape editing and processing: Theo Goldberg, Thecla Schiphorst, Barry Truax

Audio taped singers: David Garfinkle, Sue McGowan

Audio taped speakers: David Garfinkle, Giorgio Magnanensi, Sue McGowan, Chris Rolfe, Norbert Ruebsaat, Betsy Smith

Powers of Two : The Artist is a piece of music theatre that explores the symbolism and dynamic tension between various pairs of opposites: the visual and auditory, the real and virtual, male and female, gay and straight. Although the characters are not intended to be realistic, they enact various human emotions in their search for unity. The Artist, for instance, though played as a gay male, is symbolic of our common search not only for love, but spiritual fulfilment. He seeks guidance from the Seer, an androgynous figure who cannot walk or speak, but who dispenses wisdom through images and song, and eventually finds insight through blindness. The Dancer, on the other hand, is the unseen "ideal partner" of the Artist with whom he seeks a union.

The work is structured around four scenes, each of which includes a video tape, and an historical musical and poetic reference. In order, these are the 15th century French tune, L'homme armé (The Armed Man); Monteverdi's Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda which tells the story of the Crusader prince Tancredi's battle with the Saracen warrioress Clorinda, in which he, not recognizing his love, engages her in combat, kills her, and as she dies, he removes her helmet and discovers her blond hair; the Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde; and the ending of Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex in which the blinded king is accepted by his people. Besides the sung text, poetic excerpts from Marino, Tasso, Cavalcanti and Rilke are heard. The tape is composed solely from sung and spoken voices, Pacific Rim percussion, and Italian ambiences, all digitally processed (using granulation and resonators) with the composer's PODX system and diffused through Harmonic Functions' DM8 signal processor.

Powers of Two: The Artist is available on the Cambridge Street Records CD Inside. Its sequel, in which the genders are reversed, is Powers of Two: The Sibyl.

Sound Example available

Review: (from The Georgia Straight, March 28-April 4, 1996)

"Vancouver New Music's latest offering promised to be an extraordinary venture into the visual realm as well as the aural. But it rarely was: only in Barry Truax's 1995 Powers of Two: The Artist were the visuals consistently integral to the piece itself.... [The piece] depicts an artist (tenor Marcel van Neer) seeking guidance from a seer (countertenor David Garfinkle) while a dancer (Thecla Schiphorst) mirrors his progress towards psychological and spiritual integration.

"With two voices often singing in counterpoint against an intricate web of electronic sound, and Schiphorst's agile, expressive dancing before a video screen, Powers is complex and multilayered. The pace at which the events unfolded, although stately, was at least commensurate with audience comprehension. The ritualistic vocal lines could have become monotonous if not for the beautifully modulated singing of van Neer and Garfinkle, whose words were articulated with perfect clarity except when engulfed by the electronic sounds.

"For a time the dance element was almost redundant, but toward the latter third of Powers, the images on the video screen and Schiphorst's eloquent moves began to bear a tangible visual relation to one another. Powers, the only work in Sound in Sight that truly lived up to the program's billing, is another winner from Barry Truax."

- Robert Jordan


B. Truax, "Sounds and Sources in Powers of Two: Towards a Contemporary Myth," Organised Sound, 1(1), 1996.

The work was commissioned by The Banff Centre with the financial assistance of the Canada Council and premiered at the 1995 International Computer Music Conference. Special thanks to Peter Froehlich, Heather Blakemore, Dave Murphy, Brent DeWaal, Randy Raine-Reusch, Chris Rolfe, Grant Gregson, Stephen Coulson, Lisa Nagel, Tim Bartoo, and Guenther Krueger for assistance in the production of the piece.