In 1284, the town of Hamelin suffered from a terrible pollution problem in the form of an infestation of rats. A man, soon to be known as the Pied Piper, offered to rid the town of rats in exchange for payment. With his musical magic, he succeeded in leading the rats away to the Weser River, where they drowned. But the townspeople withheld payment from the Piper - they refused to listen to his requests and acknowledge their debt to him - so he lured away the town’s children with his sounds while their parents were at church. They did not return.
.... until now. In our story, the children have returned today as the Pied People, trained in the musical magic of the Pied Way. The earth's people have a new pollution problem. They refuse to acknowledge their debt to the magical powers of (Mother) Earth - they take her for granted. The Pied People are committed to using their sounds to rid the earth of its pollution. In order to do so they must conjure up the presence of the Pied Piper, now revealed to be a woman known as MyAudia. They must use their own sounds and innate ability to listen to the environment, to its sounds and needs. And they must get the townspeople to pay attention as well, to honour the debt they owe to MyAudia and to the environment. Will the townspeople pay attention or lose another generation of children and even the town itself?
A Plea for Better Listening
by Peter Hatch
MyAudia: Return of the Pied People is a “street opera” which unfolds over the course of a weekend in a combination of announced and guerrilla (unannounced) performances throughout a downtown area. People in the area, whether there to try and experience the piece, or simply going about their everyday activities, may find themselves suddenly immersed within one of its scenes. MyAudia is designed to interact with a variety of audiences, from those very much “in the know” (i.e. those who have followed web site developments, etc.) to a large number of completely unsuspecting people who may choose to pay attention, or not.
The inspiration for” MyAudia: Return of the Pied People comes largely from the act of listening itself. The “open” environment of the listening world, without “earlids,” or a fixed focal point, has the ability to surprise and engage in a way the visual world cannot. A listening space has a different “architecture” from visually defined space - the ear enters into a dialogue differently with its environment than does the eye. To place a tubist in an outdoor urban environment creates a visual curiosity. But to hide a tuba player in a downtown setting on a Sunday morning and to hear the warm, low tones of the tuba spread throughout an area as much as a half kilometer in radius has the effect of completely re-identifying the sense of space in that environment to any ear-aware individual. It creates its own “aural architecture”. We travel through this architecture daily - most people attending very little to it. Our ability to ignore things in urban sonic realms is actually a kind of necessary self–defence against the overstimulus and high decibel levels of the constant roar of traffic and city life. By blocking out the sound world, however, we cut ourselves off from our environments, including the noteworthy, useful and beautiful aspects of it.
The act of “unlistening” can also be interpreted at a metaphoric level where its consequences are more alarming. It is our inability to attend to environmental needs – to listen to the earth - that has led to the current problems of pollution reaching unsustainable levels. We “go about our daily lives” while being increasingly cut off from our environment. From corporations concerned with profit quarters ignoring (consciously or not) the environmental consequences of decisions, to our own daily activities driving cars and using plastic, the narrow focus of our interests and actions and our lack of attention paid to the context within which they are made has led us to our quandary of impending ecological disaster. It is the urgent need to listen better - both physically and metaphorically – that is the main message our modern myth of MyAudia. The Pied People are shamans, trained in the ability to listen to the earth and to respond to its voice and needs with their own sounds. (The original Pied Piper played a similar role to the extent that he was able to cure the town of Hamelin of its pollution problem and then able to lure away its children.) They plead with anyone who will listen to them - to open their ears in an attempt to conjure up the presence of MyAudia, whose power of listening can cure the world of its environmental crisis.
In MyAudia we don’t just talk about open listening but provide contexts for it. MyAudia challenges the normal figure and ground relationship (“is that a vase or two people looking at each other?”) of most concert experiences, inviting people to look at the performers, but also to notice the expressions of those passing by; to listen to the performers’ sounds from the usual 10 to 80 foot distance from which we’re used to hearing them but also to notice the quality of sound when they are a half-kilometer away.
With due respect to public spaces we perform in, events are designed to allow for multiple levels of engagement, from active interest to no interest in what we are doing. Events flow in and out of the spaces we’re in and don’t necessarily hijack attention - if they do, they do so only briefly. While carrying a serious message, they are also playful and even fun. The Pied People are the children who were taken away years ago by the Pied Piper and trained in the Pied ways, but they retain some of their childlike characters – children can be, after all, some of the best “open” listeners in our society.
Myaudia: Return of the Pied People
2010 • approx. 5 hours • voices, oboe, tuba, percussion, misc.
Myaudia: Return of the Pied People
A tragicomic street opera in three acts
By Peter Hatch, composer and John Sobol, libretto;
with Anne-Marie Donovan, dramaturge, director
Myaudia is a “street opera” which occurred over a three-day period in an outdoor urban environment. It existed largely as a series of spontaneous urban interventions, with only the last Act at an announced time and place. These interventions took many forms, from a skate-boarding bel-canto singer to a carload of amplified singers. The work was performed at both Stratford Summer Music and at the Escales Improbable festival in the summer and fall of 2010.
Cast: Pam Patel and Elizabeth Lepock, sopranos; Margaret Bardos, mezzo soprano; Jamie Hofman, baritone; Aimee Foster, oboe, melodica, recorder; Donovan Locke, tuba, recorder, didjeridu and Richard Burrows, percussion; Joe Recchia, stage manager, Laisa Gillis, assistant stage manager
Stratford Summer Music: August 6-8, 13-15, 20-22, 2010
Escales Improbables (Montreal): September 9-12, 2010