Ars Electronica 1990
Festival-Program 1990
Back to:
Festival 1979-2007


An Interactive Opera

'Richard Teitelbaum Richard Teitelbaum

Shelley Hirsch: Voice
Ned Rothenberg: Wind Instruments
Carlos Zingaro: Violin and Electronics
Mary Oliver: Violin, Viola
Samm Bennett: Percussion
Richard Teitelbaum: Synthesizer, Computer, Robot Pianos
Alvin Curran: Shofar

Composer/Artistic Director: Richard Teitelbaum
Stage Director/Set: Roy Faudree
Video Production/Performance: Jona Jonas
Technical Director/Video Post Production: Ben Rubin
Computer Programming: Joe Chung
Camera (Prague Images): Jiri Pechar, Joan Jonas, Richard Teitelbaum

Original Images "Der Golem: Wie er in die Welt kam", von Paul Wegener (1920)

Production Assistant: Jana Cernikova
Producer: Barbara Mayfield

The composer wishes to thank the participants of the original New York premiere showing at the Jewish Museum: Kit Fitzgerald, Nik Williams, Joe Chung, George Lewis, Shelley Hirsch and Samm Bennett.

Special thanks to Cantor Victor Feuerlicht and the Jewish community of Prague, the congregation of the Altneuschul, Mrs. Smekolova and the Prague Jewish Museum, Tom Kotik, Norman Manca, Melissa Gould, Branda Miller, Neil Strauss, Wendy Lindbergh, Liam Nelson, Susan Ray, Vit, Frank E. Hurd, and many others.

Grateful acknowledgement to the Yamaha Corporation, Bösendorfer Klavier AG, Arts International, the United States Information Service, the National Endowment for the Arts, Pioneer Communications of America, Inc., the Barendorf Studio in Prague, and Montage in New York.

The concept of the golem is an ancient one, stretching from its Biblical source, as Adam's "unformed substance" (before receiving a soul) to its later incarnations as an artificial man, and as the modern day robot. I first became fascinated with the golem in the summer of 1984 on a trip to Prague, where I visited the magical tomb of Rabbi Lowe, who is said to have created his golem on the banks of the Moldau in the spring of 1580. I was struck then by the parallel with my own attempts to develop an intelligent, interactive artificial "pianist", and also by the golem as a symbol for the promises and dangers of our technological society. In the story of Rabbi Lowe, he created his golem to aid and protect the community from danger, but, growing too strong, it ran amuck and had to be destroyed. As such, the legend has seemed an increasingly fitting metaphor of the dangers of unchecked power of various sorts ––– not only technological and military, but also political and social ––– as the recent history in that part of the world has confirmed.

Traditionally, a golem was an artificial man made of clay and brought to life by the incantation of magic formulas derived from the Cabbalistic manipulations of the Hebrew alphabet. In my piece, I have digitally sampled the sound of the river banks in the voices of the spring peepers, and also certain Hebrew letters; and texts, based on the ancient kabbalistic Book of Creation. Through the use of MIDI control, these formulas and texts can be "played" on keyboards (as well as triggered by vocal control), such that playing different melodic patterns will, in the words of the Book of Creation, "ordain them, hew them, combine them, weigh them, and interchange them." Live audio signal processing, FM, and speech synthesis all form ingredients in a complex, interactive system in which the performers process and control each other's inputs. When, to this witches brew, feedback is added through a circuit that "listens" and responds to itself, the golem comes alive and begins to act with a mind of it's own.

In this performance, the golem will be represented by several interactive systems embodying artificial intelligence techniques: In one, a computer controlled interactive player piano "listens" and responds to live music played on acoustic instruments, other keyboards and the human voice. In another, the movement of images projected from a MIDI-controlled interactive video laser disk responds to the musicians' live performances in real-time. These images include extensive excerpts from the German expressionist classic Der Golem (1920) by Paul Wegener, scenes from the old Jewish Ghetto in Prague and other specially prepared material.