This Saturday percussionist Gino Robair will be presenting a one-act opera entitled “Neither Confirmed Nor Denied.” Called both a “number opera” and an “opera of coded information,” this production was inspired by the shortwave broadcasts of so-called “numbers stations” that seem to have emerged from the Second World War (although some claim they date back to the First World War). These stations would broadcast strings of numbers and words read by either humans or synthesized voices. Recordings of these broadcasts have been compiled and released as a CD set called The Conet Project. It has never been established (neither confirmed nor denied) just what these stations were doing; but the most popular explanation seems to be that they were run by governments communicating with spies through coded messages that would never have to be exchanged through any physical documents.
Robair’s opera is actually an “action” composition. The libretto is taken from the content of those broadcasts that were preserved by The Conet Project. The “score,” such as it is, is generated in real-time based on instructions given to each performer, who then interprets the instructions either musically or choreographically. In other words, using the libretto as a point of departure, each performer becomes the embodiment of a numbers station, “broadcasting” content to both the audience and the other performers.
The opera will be realized as an installation at the Meridian Gallery, a four-story building located on Powell Street a little more than a block north of Union Square. The individual stations will be situated on all four floors, and visitors will be free to move around the gallery the same way that they would when viewing the collected pieces on display. This means that every attendee will have a highly personalized experience based on how (s)he chooses to explore the space.
The performance itself will last for two hours, beginning at 8 p.m. this Saturday, August 16. The Meridian Gallery is located at 535 Powell Street, on the west side of the street about half a block north of Sutter Street. Admission will be on a sliding scale with a recommended amount of $10.
Because of the rather unconventional approach to performance, Robair will also lead a pre-opera workshop. All of the performers of the opera itself will be present. The workshop will provide the curious with a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the creative processes involved in turning the ideas of “Neither Confirmed Nor Denied” into a performance.
The workshop will begin at 5 p.m. the preceding day, Friday, August 15. It is expected to run for three hours and will also take place at the Meridian Gallery. There will be no charge for admission.