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Perfect Lives Manhattan FAQs

November 2, 2011

Now would be a good time to clear up some inevitably lingering questions about what were about to do.

What’s Perfect Lives Manhattan?

Perfect Lives Manhattan is a day-long, site specific interpretation of Robert Ashley’s opera Perfect Lives, performed by Varispeed and presented by Performa.  We hesitate to call it a straight performance of Perfect Lives, which is originally an opera for television – this has some other kinds of things going on.

When & where does it happen?

Sunday, November 6th, from 11 AM to ~11:30 PM.  The locations are listed to the right on this page.  They’re all within comfortable walking distance of one another, you shouldn’t need to swipe a metrocard for the whole day.  Get in touch with us if it’s at all vague where these places are, we’ll explain.

Does it cost money?

Nope!  This is a free event.  That said, we’ve collectively spent hundreds of hours on this since June and if you feel so moved to offer a donation in our name, we’d gladly accept contributions to help offset the costs bringing you Perfect Lives Manhattan.  We’ll have a place for donations on Sunday.

Are you performing that whole time?

No!  There are seven episodes, which take 15-30 minutes to perform.  Each episode begins on the hour (promptly!), every other hour.  So for instance, we’ll start the Park at 11 AM, go until ~11:25, and then pack, move on to the Bank, set up, and start right at 1 PM.  Thus, there’s plenty of time to hang out with the performers & fellow audience members.  We’re trying to foment large fun community feelings, people!

Is it outside?  What happens if the weather’s crummy?

The Park, the Bank & the Backyard are outside, the others are inside.  We have ideas of rain sites for each, but we plan on going on unless the weather’s so bad the city transit shuts down.  We’ll post updates here if the weather turns sour.  We’ll have heat lamps at the Backyard, no dice for the Bank & the Park.  There will also be hot chocolate to make it more worth your while.

What’s Perfect Lives?

Perfect Lives is an opera for television created by Robert Ashley and his collaborators (Blue Gene Tyranny, Peter Gordon, Jill Kroesen, David Van Tieghem, John Sanborn, Dean Winkler, Paul Shorr, Mary Perillo, Jacqueline Humbert, et al) from 1978-83.  It started as a touring piece of storytelling with piano (just Bob & Blue), and developed in a few directions.  There was Private Parts, a record of The Park & The Backyard in different musical versions, released on Lovely Music.  There were live performances with impressive technological set ups, as seen in the Peter Greenaway documentary “Four American Composers“.  There’s the television version, available on DVD & shown on television in the UK & Austria.  There’s the libretto published by Burning Books (about to be reissued).

What’s the story of the opera?

There’s a synopsis right here.

What does it sound like?

Definitely not bel canto singing.  One person in each episode (except the Living Room, which is 3 people) talks in a really interestingly animated way – animated pitch, rhythm, inflection, stresses, intonation, etc. – while several other people echo what’s being said.  It’s very musical if you’re listening to that, or else it’s just interesting story telling if you prefer thinking of it that way.  Each episode has been arranged for us & our friends as performers.  The original has piano & synth, but we’ve focused on our main instruments: euphonium, guitar, synth, percussion, melodica.  We’ve added in violins, flute, tabla, accordion, and other good stuff.

Who’s Robert Ashley?

Robert Ashley is a great composer & a great guy.  He’s written a host of operas that reimagine & question the basic tenants of opera.  These are generally similar to Perfect Lives in that they involve some singing/heightened talking with minimal instrumental accompaniment.  He’s also a pioneering figure in electronic music and claims to be the oldest user of Ableton Live.  There’s a lot of his work that’s being presented around NYC these days (a lot of which we’re also involved with).  Details are on his website.

Who are you?

We are Varispeed.  By name, we are Aliza Simons, Paul Pinto, Gelsey Bell, Brian McCorkle, & Dave Ruder.  We’ve worked together in various capacities before, but we came together as Varispeed (before we had the name) for Perfect Lives Brooklyn in June of 2011.  We hope to go on to more great things!  Our name comes from Bob’s writing/music, and brownie points to anyone who gets the reference.  You can find out more about our individual projects at those various pages.

Is Robert Ashley involved in Perfect Lives Manhattan?

Not as such.  Bob Ashley & Mimi Johnson were in attendance for almost all of Perfect Lives Brooklyn, and they have been invaluable to us not only for the access they’ve provided us to information of Perfect Lives, alternate scores, and advice, but their vocal support of what we do has lead us to where we are today.  They are not directly involved in the performance, but if they hadn’t come to the last performance, this wouldn’t be happening.

Why is this site called Perfect Lives Brooklyn?

We did a similar re-imagining of Perfect Lives in June in Northern Brooklyn, for which this site was created to serve as a map & bulletin board.  After we started planning this version, it didn’t seem worth it to change the name to us.  So we’re a little confusing in that regard, but let us assure you the 11/6/11 performance is in Manhattan.  For PLBrooklyn info & documentation, go back a few months in these blog posts.

Is there anything I can bring on Sunday to enhance my experience?

Bring am FM radio to the Backyard if you have one (particular to The Backyard).

I can’t be there on 11/6.  Will there be documentation?

Thanks to many generous funders, yes!  We’ll have video ready for distribution before too long.

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