MACHINE LIBRETTO

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Machine Promo

 

By Clark Suprynowicz
and Mark Streshinsky

World Premiere Jan 12, 2012

Machine.9  01/23/12
An opera libretto by Mark Streshinsky
Based on “Dea Ex Machina” by Derek J. Goodman
World Premiere 1/12/2012 at The Crucible, an industrial arts center in Oakland, CA

Setting: 
The set is composed almost entirely of machine parts that move back and forth, vertically and horizontally, and that—throughout the performance—stamp rhythmically. Sparks fly as metal grinds; gas flames shoot skyward at intervals. Lighting in the machine flashes on and off. What this machine makes or does is ambiguous, but it is integral to the performance. Its operation requires a large crew of workers, some who manipulate the machine, others that are percussionists playing the machine as part of the score, still others that are fire specialists who tend the two working furnaces on stage, weld, grind, blow glass, do blacksmithing etc. all as a demonstration of the art created at The Crucible. In the center of the machine is an open platform with a lattice-work grate floor, another smaller platform is high on the machine, but easily within audience line-of-sight. Beneath the set on the lower level is the prison chamber of the Goddess Brigid. From the chamber, the Goddess is able to look up through the grate to the higher performance space. The large, center platform will hold most of the main action—always surrounded by the stamping, living, almost-breathing machine. The sound of the two furnaces is also a part of the experience causing a low almost imperceptible rumble much like the constant but forgettable noise one hears while on an airplane.

Music: 
The orchestration relies on percussion performers, who will double as factory workers. The musicians accompany singers through scenes, by beating, tapping, and drumming on various “instruments” built into the machine—giving the appearance that they are machinists at work. Tonal orchestration is provided by Accordian, Guitar, Bass, Cello and two mallet instruments. There are also electronic sound effects that are triggered throughout the piece.

Characters:
William:            Factory worker                        Baritone
Sonya:              Controller                               Mezzo 
Margaret          William’s Mom                         Mezzo
Emily                William’s Sister                       High Light Lyric Soprano
Brigid: Celtic Goddess of the Forge                 Rock Singer
Red Shirt          Foreman                                 Tenor
The Workers                                                   Percussionists and Performers

Outline of Scenes:

  1. Prelude            
  2. Renewal                      
  3. Thought                       
  4. Memory                      
  5. Interlude                       (Known as The Crucible Cantata)
  6. Brigid                          
  7. The Experiment           
  8. Anger                          
  9. Emily   
  10. The Release                 

Scene 1: Prelude:
In the darkness we hear the goddess Brigid, crying. Her cries slowly turn into a structured vocalese as we slowly begin to see her in her mysterious prison chamber. She is dressed as one would expect a fiery goddess, and is very beautiful, with long hair. The workers arrive and climb the structure creating a rhythm with metal spikes as they go. William is among them. Red Shirt, the foreman is directing orders to the machine. The workers are completely without any character, soul-less. There are no expressions on their faces. They begin to play the machine and eventually begin to chant in a monotone. Some of them harvest rust from the machine.

Workers:          Rust Rust Harvest Rust  (repeat)

Red Shirt:         (spoken) Revising efficiency paradigm… Integrate plasmonic extrusion… Fastening joining assembly prototype… Extrude ribcast design.

Brigid, Redshirt, William:           Time!

The Machine comes to life.

William: (Semi-incoherent)      Pain is a drill that spins, it reaches further and further in.
(Red Shirt sings part of this):     Where is the comfort of longitude steel press. 

Pain is a rivet, a hammer. Something is not right with me...
Longitude steel press, if you could explain.
Longitude steel press, my body hurts, I don’t know why.
Longitude steel press 453209.

Comfort comes with longitude steel press.
The lubricant oil, the heated air, the mad thrust of an arm of steel.
The machine that heals me, that holds me close,
Longitude steel press 453209.

Red Shirt:         Renewal

Interlude: Sonya is seen doing a renewal ritual on a worker, a ring of fire on the floor surrounds them. She passes a lit torch over the worker’s body, then paints him with a mysterious fluid. She finishes the worker, dismisses him and touches a switch on the wall to turn off the fire ring. William comes into the space escorted by Red Shirt.

SCENE 2:  Renewal

Sonya:              Take your usual place.   (William moves to the center of the circle, Sonya removes his shirt.)

Sonya:              Worker number?

William:            (reading it from a tattoo on his wrist. 7593-421 (she notes it on her PDA)

Sonya touches the switch again and the fire ring lights. She lights another torch and begins to pass it over William’s body as she sings incantations in Gaelic.

Sonya:             
Tá an geimhreadh imithe uainn               (The winter is gone from us)
Athmúsclaim thú inniu                            (I re-awaken you today)
Cosnóidh an Bandia Bríd tú go deo/inniu           (The Goddess Brigid will protect you forever)
Is beidh tú beo                                                  (And you will live)
Go deir’an lá                                                    (‘Til the end of days)

Transliteration: Taw on gee reh im eh heh ooen. Ah moo-usk-lim hoo in-new. Cuss no-ee on Ban-dee-a breed to God-ot Iss bay to bee-oh Guh dare on low.

William:            (suddenly) Not the same controller here as last time.

Sonya:              (freezes... stares at William in disbelief...) Did you just speak to me?

William:            (can’t get the words out)   I did something wrong.

Sonya:              (Comes closer to William, looks in his eyes.)You can speak... And you can... You can...  What are you thinking now?

William:            I am thinking I must have done something wrong.

Sonya:              You can think and reason, how can that be?

William:            Strange thoughts since yesterday
flash across my mind like lights in a city flashing off and on.
Strange thoughts: If I could only turn them off I would.
Strange thoughts: these thoughts that seem out of time.
What I can’t touch or see is hurting me.
Something is not right with me.

Sonya:              How can this be? How is this possible?... Come over here!

                        (He goes to her and gets too close...)

Sonya:              (Spoken): No! Don’t touch me! You’ll smear the sigils… the rust signs... You can’t do that!

(She checks her rust patterns to see they are not smudged, then stares at
him from all angles.)

William:            (sadly) I don’t know what to do.

Sonya:              (suddenly) Hop on your right leg. (without hesitation William hops)  Now scratch your
arm ‘til you bleed. (he starts to) No, no you don’t really have to do that. (she stares at him) Try not to think of anything. Try not to think! (William is unable to comply and has a painful headache.)

 

William:            I cannot stop the things that I remember. I can see things, those faces, that blue sky.
(He turns to her) I don’t know what this pain means, who you are, what I am.. (Redshirt enters having heard something out of the ordinary)

Redshirt:           Hey! What is all this?

Sonya:              Take this one back to his station. I want to see him later.

Redshirt:           Well this is highly unusual.

Sonya:              (spoken) Do as I wish, I’m the one who thinks around here.

Redshirt:           (spoken) As you say.

 

Interlude:          William puts his shirt back on, Redshirt takes William back to his station.

 

SCENE 3:  Thought

Lengthy Interlude in which the machine goes full force including welding, grinding etc. The machine suddenly stops and we see William at his station clearly in mental and physical pain.

William:            I can only try to lose myself in Longitude Steel Press 453209
I can only tell myself that whatever is happening to me will be fixed soon.
That is what I want.
It is infinitely strange that I want anything at all..

William writhes in pain as Sonya enters the main playing space looking at her PDA

 

SCENE 4: Memory

William approaches Sonya looking at her in an uncomfortable way.

Sonya: My name is Sonya, I don’t think we got to that yesterday.
Why do you look at me that way?

William:            When I look at you... this is hard.

Sonya:              It’s alright, you can say it…

William:            But it’s hard, usually it is soft, but now, when I look at you...

Sonya:              (blushes, but is obviously delighted

(William has difficulty from his erection. He gets too close to Sonya, she looks panicked, scoots away, checking her tattoos)

Sonya:              You mustn’t touch me, you mustn’t destroy these signs..

William:            I want to ask a question. Dreams that I have, those faces, that blue sky.

Sonya:              You must be careful. In this place not everyone can ask questions. I must give permission,
and I will give it.... What do you remember, what do you see?.

William:            A fence on a long dusty road. Barley, a white house and blue sky.

Sonya:              Do you remember faces and people?

William:            My father.

Sonya:              Yes.

William:            My mother, my mother Margaret.

Sonya:              That’s right.

William:            and my sister. I can see her running.

Sonya:              And you? Do you know your name? Who you were before?

William:            (shakes his head no)

Sonya:              William Bellemer

Interlude as William remembers. Part of the set opens to reveal the Bellemer kitchen. William’s Mother and sister stand by the kitchen table looking worried... William goes to the table and sits with posture of a younger man.

Margaret:         William, your father would have said no to this. So much money, what is it for?

William:            Times are hard for us and not getting better, you know it’s true.
A few years in this factory, not so bad.
Money enough to provide for us all.
With Papa gone and life so hard,
here’s money enough to provide for us.

Emily:               Bill, don’t go!

Margaret:         All this money, so much money… I don’t trust it.

William:            Well you know mother, that’s just what we need.

Emily:               and what will I do without my big brother?

Margaret:         This company… I have heard stories. (spoken): I don’t trust them.

William:            You don’t have to worry so. Lots of guys go to work in the factory.

Margaret:         Worry: That’s what Mothers do.
Once a normal human being…
Now just a machine that manufactures worry.

William:            Mother I’ll be back in two years.

Margaret          Unless we never see you again! Don’t go.

William:            Now stop all this there is no other choice.

Margaret and Emily sadly withdraw into the kitchen and the set closes.

William:            How long have I been here?

Sonya:              Nine years, seven months.

William:            What is happening to me? I’m so hungry and tired and I remember so many things…

Brigid becomes aware of William and begins to sing as if in deep meditation.

Sonya:              You are waking up. When you are the machine there is no need for food or thought. You are waking up. You were not renewed last month, the cycle was broken.

William:            (spoken:) Why?

Sonya:              (spoken): There was an error.... (starts to say something) .....this is dangerous. The last controller… The last controller died.

Sonya:              Now that you have been awakened to the truth, the company can’t know. Understand: for me to help you, you must never touch these signs. No one must know that you can think for yourself, and you must stay at your station.

SCENE 5:  Interlude.

This six and a half minute interlude is designed to show off the capabilities of the machine. At the Crucible, there was a molten glass pour, fire breathing, plasma sculpture and titanium grinding.
As the machine comes to a stop, the prison chamber lights up again and Brigid is aware of William

Dialogue:
Brigid:              William, are you there... I can feel you.

William:            Who is that?

Brigid:              A question! No one asks questions.

William:            I don’t understand.

Brigid:              Come closer… I want to see you.

William:            (moving toward her) Who are you?
Brigid’s Song:
Brigid:              I was once the healer, never the enslaver.
In my footsteps once sprouted daisies.

I’ve been waiting for you.
You’re the one who can make this right.

I was born on a sunbeam in first light of dawn.
My fires to light the forge made tools for man.
My destiny was never to destroy.

They learned to use the rust, they harvest from machine.
It makes you work. It makes you the machine.
They learned to use it to protect themselves.
It keeps me chained here, keeps me enslaved.

I’ve been waiting for you,
you’re the one who can make this right.

Dialogue:
William:            What do you want?

Brigid:              Only to free you and to free the woman you love.

William:            Sonya? Is she the woman I love?

Brigid:              I have known such love William, I can see.

William:            But she is not imprisoned as I am.

Brigid:              She is imprisoned.

William:            What must I do?

Brigid:              She dreams of your hands on her body.

William:            But I must not touch her.

(Sony enters)

Brigid:              She dreams of your hands on her body. (Brigid fades away)

Red Shirt:         (entering) Your units per hour to productivity ratio is down!.

Sonya:              Come with me to the loading dock.

 

 

Scene 6:
The Experiment
(William is hesitant to go)

Sonya:              Come outside.....(he doesn’t)  It’s ok, I give you permission. (Sonya opens the small door revealing a blue light. he still doesn’t go) I order you to come outside.

 (William forces himself to move toward the door, but is immediately wracked with pain and has to go to the rail to retch)

Sonya:              You can’t obey, it’s very clear, the trance is still on you. Well now we know.

William:            You mean I cannot leave the factory?

Sonya:              You are bound to this place.    (spoken:) The plant could be on fire and you still wouldn’t be able to leave.

William:            (spoken) What?

Sonya:              (spoken:) Come to the lower level, I need to run a few tests. (she climbs down followed by William) Take off your shirt. (he doesShe pulls over a computer that is hooked up to a testing contraption. He is reluctant but she is able to strap him into the contraption. All of this is underscored by the orchestra who vamp until they are ready.

Sonya:              First your sleep cycle... (she presses a button and William immediately collapses asleep, snoring) That’s good, that’sgood! (with her back turned) I see that your sleep cycle is at fifty percent of normal and that is more or less what I projected for the amount of time that you’ve been conscious....(turns.) William? William? (she presses another button, he wakes instantly)

William:            (Suddenly as if waking from a dream!) (spoken;) Longitude Steel Press!

Sonya:              And that means your sleep functions are already almost back to normal. Now Gastro-intestinal. (She presses a button-William suddenly begins licking his lips!) How do you feel?

William:            Asparagus, I need Asparagus!. (She pushes another button, he relaxes)

Sonya:              And what about this? (She pushes another button, William immediately looks very uncomfortable)

William:            Oh my god!  I need a bathroom… Is there one?

Sonya:              Spoken: There is no place for that. Workers don’t need that.

William:            Spoken: Please!

Sonya:              (she pushes a button and he relaxes) I think that you will feel better now. And now just one more thing and we’re done. (She pulls his pants down)

Sonya:              Let me just put this on you. (She closes a metal door over his groin and begins to connect tubes and wires to it.)We can determine if the changes here are what I believe them to be.

William:            I’m not sure I like this.

Sonya:              It’s alright, William, I am a scientist. (he looks skeptical) Please, it’s very important that I find out the information that this test will provide. Try not to move. You’re moving!  (she continues to type and monitor information coming through the computer)

William:            I feel so strange, like my skin and my mind are racing.

Sonya:              Oh, this is good.

 (Sonya attaches a collar connected with wires to the computer around her own neck) William begins to orgasm in operatic coloratura. Sonya is entranced by the computer screen eventually turning to William and participating in the cyber sex that she has found herself a partner to, though through it all, they never touch. They finally climax and Sonya removes her collar).

Sonya:              (spoken:) That was... Interesting.

Interlude: She removes all the instruments as they shyly realize what just happened .Sonya becomes introspective, realizing that a connection has been made

Dialogue:         
William:            These signs on your skin… what are they for?

Sonya:              They protect me.

(Brigid begins to sing a vocalese)

William:            From what?

Sonya:              There are forces here that you don’t understand. My turn for questions: What thought do you have the most? (she opens the contraption and pulls up his pants.)

William:            You and me. Naked. Together.

Sung:
Sonya:              Taw on gee reh im eh heh ooen...
Strange to say I’ve given all my life to this place.
Everything I am. All that I can do. Hours and hours alone.
Look at you, you’re waking up, like me.
What can I do? surely it’s suicide.
Two people alone… Now we’re alone together.
What can I do? You are on me like the signs on my skin.  

Spoken: I want to help you. How can I do that? tell me.

 

William:            I see the face of my mother and sister all the time. If you do care about me, please let me see them, or let me go to them.

Sonya:              (After a moment) There had to be a time for you to be told. After we put you in a trance…Your mother was killed, your sister went missing, and no one saw any money. This is how things work here. (She tries to go to him to comfort him, but he rejects her. She runs out of the room in shame.)

Scene 7:  Anger
(In his anger, William regresses to the machine state, his words and music are more robotic, but high, loud and angry)

William:            I want to be sick but can’t. She says she did not know, but she’s the face of all that is wrong... I could walk out that door. She knew!
(Ensemble etc. as the rage forces him to fall even more back into drone mode.)
What possible reason could there be to know all this time and say nothing after all that she said, all that we did. And she knew all the time that my Mom is dead. What a fool I have been. To think that I could have loved someone who is like her.

Redshirt:           Program schematic capture of neuron field.

William:            ( joins him in a bizarre duet) Estimate non equilibrium transport sites. Aggregate fixed base line simulate stochastic logic array. Cover optical fluidic traffic. Specification specification verifying all bipolar thermal triggered fluidic modular baseline display.  Plasmonic field integrate bipolar extruded loss manifest close. Initiate!

(Sonya and Brigid both become visible in contemplation of the loud cranking machine attended by the workers.)

William, RedShirt, Brigid and Sonya:     Just look at what man can do!

RedShirt:          Let no one say that I haven’t done all that I can do to maintain order!

William:            Will I miss this machine that once confined me?

RedShirt:          Spoken: Ratio of Units to productivity manifest for the fiscal cycle not computing with
the maintenence of energy triptych!

 

Scene 8: Emily

The percussive nature of the workers quiets and begins to blend with the sounds of the blue sky theme as William thinks about his family.

William:            Emily...  Where are you? I would give anything to see you.

(Emily appears as a vision)

 

Emily:               William… Momma is gone and I am all alone. All the lies that we were told that put a price on you. Where are you now? I am losing my mind. I would give anything to see you.

ARIA:

Emily:               I’m cold William.
I’m cold and scared and alone.
When you left we waited for the money to arrive. It never came!

They wouldn’t tell us where you were
They wouldn’t let us in the door
Other people like us started to disappear.
Then Mama, the car… Mama and me.

Forced from the road, It rolled.
There were men in black up high on the road, staring down.
The snow was blotting out everything.
There was no sun, no blue sky, then no stars.

I must have have been dead to the world…
when I woke I looked over at momma.
Her eyes were open, but she wasn’t breathing.
No pulse!

I didn’t know what it was like to die.
I didn’t get to say goodbye.
I would give anything to see you again.

William:            Leaving here is not so easy.  (Spoken: ) My machine needs me!

Scene 9: The Release:

Brigid:              Listen to me William the time has come. Let her remove the stains from your body that
keep us imprisoned here. She wants you! It is in your hands to release all of us… She must feel your skin on hers, your sweat must mingle. You will make love to her. Our only chance.

Sonya:              (entering) Listen, William this is the only chance we have to do this.
You shouldn’t be here.

William:            What are you going to do?

Sonya:              I will free you.

William:            You say you want to free me…

Sonya:              You were not meant for this life of machine.We can be free together. I will erase the signs that bind you here.

William:            How will freedom feel after all these year years? What will I do out there without the comfort and poison that is the Machine.

Sonya:              (She removes his shirt) You will understand the feel of freedom when it envelops you. I swear that you will be free of this place at days end.

Sonya retrieves a bucket and sponge and squeezes water from the sponge. The water drips down on Brigid who reaches out for it.  Sonya begins to perform the ritual, singing in Gaelic. The removal of William’s signs causes him great pain, he writhes in agony.

Tá an geimhreadh imithe uainn              
Athmúsclaim thú inniu                           

Brigid joins her in harmony as the water pours off William’s body and into the prison chamber. .. He collapses. She kneels over him.

Sonya/Brigid:    Cosnóidh an Bandia Bríd tú go deo/inniu          
Is beidh tú beo                                                 
deir’an lá        

All sound stops. Sonya looks at William. Brigid is in deep meditation. William, exhausted looks up at Sonya. He staggers to his feet then begins to move toward her. He touches her hair and kisses her tenderly on the lips, she is entranced. All of a sudden he takes her in his arms forcefully and runs his hands all over her body in a passionate embrace, smearing her rust signs. Sonya screams and struggles, but he holds her. She finally breaks free as the roof of Brigid’s prison chamber opens. Molten metal begins to pour to the lower level signaling Brigid’s release. Brigid begins to rise out of her prison.

Sonya:              Why would you do such a thing? I wanted to free you. Sonya catches sight of Brigid.
How can this be? how is this possible?   (She stumbles away, trips and falls. She starts to
scream as her body and internal organs begin to get hot as if on fire.)

Brigid:              Turn away William... not for you to see

The set is almost completely on fire. William hides his eyes and looks away, but reacts as Sonya screams as Brigid attacks her.  Sonya is able to escape to the lower level but everywhere she turns is fire. The workers and machine are going full force in the loudest most physical movement we have yet seen.

Brigid:              (words that are barely inteligable) Abomination, hellfire!
Mankind wasted by a secret that has ruined, harnessed terror and anarchy.

William:            No, no, It wasn’t supposed to happen this way!
You promised we could be together. You tricked me!

Brigid:              Turn away, William.

William reaches down to Sonya who continues to writhe in pain. She pulls away from him and runs to the center of the machine. Brigid waves her hand and a giant mushroom cloud of fire explodes obliterating Sonya completely. The machine stops. At this moment the workers turn off the two furnaces removing the constant low pitched roar for the first time of the evening. This gives the sudden visceral feel of cleansed purity.

Brigid:              (after a moment of silence) Your machine is no longer part of you. I have taken it back.
Now walk out the door into that blue sky. You can help to make this world as once it was.

William:            I can no longer lose myself in Longitude steel press 453209

 

In a ritualistic manner, Brigid waves her hands and the huge doors to the side open magically revealing a blinding blue sky with clouds over a field of flowers. William looks at both Brigid and the outside in terror. Brigid calms him and causes him to rise, ritualistically helping him to move toward the door. Once she sees that he is on his way, she begins to sing a vocalese of freedom. She moves to the release area and the ritual fire alights around her. As her voice soars, the lights begin to go down and the last image is of William silhouetted against the brilliant light of the outside gazing into the future.

 

The End