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New Radio Operas from Harvard University's Composing Theatre Proseminar

This listening room features seven new radio operas composed by Harvard University students enrolled in Composing Theatre, a proseminar designed to explore narrative sound art led by artist Yvette Janine Jackson.


The radio operas bear little resemblance to the early twentieth-century radio operas by composers like Gian Carlo Menotti. These works range in style and approach; some will take you on a journey; some will ask you to reflect. If it is safe to do so, listen to these radio operas in the dark with headphones and surrender to the theatre of your mind.

Aeneas Setting Out from Carthage (Propempticon) by Harry Sage

The propempticon or "send-off poem" is a genre of Greek and Roman poetry that deals with moments of departure. A typical propempticon functions as a prayer to the gods that the subject of the poem might complete a journey safely, but there are also poems which upset the genre by placing curses on the traveler. Aeneas Setting Out from Carthage contemplates the genre, and moments of departure more broadly, in the context of Aeneas and Dido's parting in Aeneid Book IV. Sage places these scenes in conversation with other poems of departure, by Horace, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, in search of a common theme of near-universal human experience. Special thanks to Lucia Lin, Jenny Yao, and Brian Burke, who contributed vocals to this production, and to Noah Gold and Madi Fabber, who contributed narration.

Whisper Dramaturgy by Weilu Ge

Whisper Dramaturgy uses an abstract sonic narrative to explore the digital pattern of social complexity and chaos. The soundscape exaggerates human expressions, dramatized following some mechanical and algorithmic grammar, and invites listeners to focus on the auditory experience of abstract and pure human expression, rather than deciphering meaning of specific language.

Virus by CJ Dowd

A digital soundscape and sci-fi horror radio opera in four acts. Courtesy of 2020. Not all horror deals with some outside threat. Retreating into one's own mind and world can access great beauty and tranquility, yet there are dangers ever present. What do you do when alone in a nightmare of your own making?

For the Good and Obedient, by Ian Chan

For the Good and Obedient is a work of autobiographical fiction that meditates on the concept of the model subordinate. Drawn from a series of extant texts — ranging from Confucian to biblical traditions, from lyric poetry to documented correspondence — as well as from a series of quotations adapted from Chan's own environment, this radio opera explores the dangers of subscribing to a wholly hierarchical (and thus dependent) system of growth, which is intentionally left multifaceted (personal, familial, communal…). The paradox of the pipeline to leadership is situated front-and-center in this work, which juxtaposes elements of unbridled improvisation with rigid structure. Though, in its most literal sense, 

For the Good and Obedient is a performance in hindsight, it seeks to be an optimistic foreshadowing. Texts and quotations have been drawn from Confucius, the Bible, François-René de Chateaubriand, Voltaire, Sui Sin Far, Thomas Hobbes, Leonardo da Vinci, William Blake, Guy de Maupassant, and Charles Dickens, as well as from the many people who have been part of Chan's life. 


Thanks to: Hannah Alton, Mattheus Carpenter, Candice Chen, Kalos Chu, Odessa Deng, Madi Fabber, Nick Fahy, Caleb Fried, Angel Hoyang, Chloe E.W. Levine, Sara Komatsu, Fari Mbaye, David Moberg, JuHye Mun, Samantha O’Connell, Clay Oxford, Phiroze Parasnis, Aviva Ramirez, Julia Riew, Abbie Sage, Harry Sage, Noah Secondo, Samuel Thau, Jenny Yao, Michael Yin, and Samuel Zwickel — for lending their voices to this project, as well as to Yvette Janine Jackson and Sonja Mutic for their invaluable advice and support through the compositional process.

BKN by William Hartog

BKN is a soundscape of golden age Major League Baseball (MLB) radio broadcasts, telling the story of the rivalry between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees through their World Series matches. Inspired by the mathematical structure of the bifurcation diagram, the work tracks the musical and spoken sounds of World Series baseball as the Dodgers struggle but eventually succeed to overcome the odds and finally defeat their rivals.

TLIML by Chloe E.W. Levine

TLIML is an exploration of dissonances and surprising harmonies between the divergent definitions of American patriotism that have defined the 2020 presidential election. Listeners follow an undecided voter as she attempts to locate answers in her community, only to find it disjointed and insecure about its own relationship to national identity. The piece features the voices of prominent political figures on both sides of the aisle, as well as a diverse collection of unscripted voter perspectives. Ultimately, the undecided voter must place herself in community not by adopting its view but by developing a personal opinion. 


Thanks to Sue Berres, Rena Cohen, Charlotte Dean, Carl Levine, Yein Christina Park, Daniel Potter, Cynthia Shaw, Lucy Weinstein, Diane White, and Helen White.

Auckland by George Wang

Auckland is a meandering auditory tour through parts of its namesake, New Zealand's largest city in terms of both area and population. Using voice-over narration, field recordings, and electronic piano, Auckland is perhaps more a reflection of what the city is perceived to be, rather than what it objectively is. In the time of pandemics and travel restrictions, this piece is an ersatz-tour, a way of getting one person’s impressions of Auckland.

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