The birth of colour

My brain functions at a very simple level. Easily bamboozled by technical details, I have no great need to know how something works as long as it works. I like big picture stuff, simply explained. I rate neither science nor performance art: it’s all too confusing and takes too much time and energy to understand.

When I first heard of something called a ‘frequency opera’, I switched off.  It was beyond the limits of my willingness to understand. The idea of immersing the audience in an hour-long a cappella portrayal of the creation of the universe based on ancient and new scientific ideas and images ‒ well, I just couldn’t see myself queuing up to get tickets for that. And then I met Honora Foah.

A pioneer of multi-disciplinary art, Foah is in Budapest to record The Birth of Color, a Marriage of Darkness and Light, the first work in a performance cycle of seven, entitled Recombinant DNA. It involves a 60-strong male and female chorus (each one individually recorded) and crystal singing bowls, accompanied by light and projection. It is, she says, both about ‒ and told through ‒ frequency and vibration, in sound and light. I was struggling to understand, but still I wanted to know more.

Honora and Ferenc (c) Harlan Cockburn

Honora and Ferenc (c) Harlan Cockburn

The series ‒ created, written, and directed by Foah ‒ is based on love stories between two polarities, starting with the marriage of darkness and light and ending with the relationship between the two trees in the Garden of Eden: the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. In between, there’s Mr and Mrs Hades, a mythical marriage that Foah exploits to tell the story of chlorophyll. Other lovers include Shiva and Sati and Elizabeth and Viktor Frankenstein. But let’s take this first piece, the story of ‘the sudden emergence of the homogenous universe splitting into time and space, light and dark’. Each misses the other and when they get back together, ‘the intensity of their crashing together creates the harmonics, the colors, the strata of creation’.  I was impressed. But still confused.

What might I, as an audience member, expect, I asked?  Think of expanding circles with the crystal bowls taking centre stage, she said. These are surrounded by the audience, who in turn are surrounded by the chorus. Lights project everywhere as the audience is immersed in a vibratory field. As far back as 10 000 years ago, the Vedas spoke of the world being made of vibration, so this isn’t new. But add the scientific discoveries of quantum physics to this ancient wisdom, and you have the makings of a frequency opera.

(c) Harlan Cockburn

(c) Harlan Cockburn

It all sounds a little fantastical. But the more Foah spoke about it, the more convinced I became that this could well be a twenty-first-century must-see. Pulitzer-prize-nominated poet and author David Brendan Hopes wrote the lyrics. Italian choral conductor Lucio Ivaldi and Atlanta-based Tristan Foison wrote the music. Added to this creative mix is the legendary Hungarian conductor Ferenc Sapszon Jr, founder of the Zoltán Kodály Hungarian Choir School, a genius of whom the world needs to hear even more.

Talks are underway with a prominent US scientific institute about an interactive website. And, subject to funding, Foah hopes to premier in Budapest’s Kiscelli museum next year.

“You never know what will become visible as you stare into the dark. The bogeyman shapes, the illusions, give way to the truth of your life that is waiting down there in the dark for you. Then it asks a question. Then you have to answer. Who knows what lurks in the hearts of men and women? The shadow knows. The shadow of darkness is the light. And they love each other.”

Yes, Honora Foah, you’ve sold me. I’ll be first in line for a ticket.

First published in the Budapest Times 16 October 2015