Elliot Cole: De Rerum (part 1: The Angle)

More on operaSHOP, taking place Friday and Saturday.

A full half of the program belongs to Elliot Cole's De Rerum, an über-mythological retelling of history, poetry set to a hip hop beat with "Super-Duper Titles" to help you follow along.

[Super-Duper Titles, according to Cole, are the words, illustrated and illuminated to help the audience make sense of the fast-paced string of images.]

The video here is only the first song of 5, the birth of the Universe.

Just like I hesitate to call it opera—considering all the connotations not relevant to this context—I hesitate to call it hip hop, though in much of the marketing material, some of Cole's work is described as such—not that it's entirely unrelated to either of those genres.

Much of Mr. Cole's compositional work is firmly rooted in the contemporary classical tradition, but like most composers today, he is not content to simply write thorny, instrumental music. He seems to relish in the challenge of learning something new, eventually using those new skills to produce work. For De Rerum, for instance, all the Super-Duper Titles were done by the composer, himself, using After Effects.

In writing De Rerum, for instance, he learned how to write rhymes and rap them, skills not common to people of Cole's ilk, hailing as he does from Austin, Texas.

I had a chance to talk with him about the project at Goose Island. He says that, in a way, writing hip hop is a way for him to produce "outsider art", something not usually possible to a composer graced with resources from academia. He follows that by saying that much of what we [composers] are producing these is outsider art, so far removed from the mainstream, completely individual, without much regard for how it fits in with a particular genre.

In stark contrast to what marketing departments are saying, composers are not breaking down genres—at least not consciously—but are simply taking the accumulation of musical experiences and synthesizing it. Marketing departments love labels; creative folks hate them.

So while it's not "outsider" in the sense that it was produced by a psychotic prison inmate, it brings in elements from a folk tradition into the concert hall. This could result in an unhappy marriage—or, worse, cultural appropriation—like has happened with hip hop, but Mr. Cole leaves out the cultural affects, the style, taking only the essentials: words in rhyming rhythm set to a beat.

As such, it appears totally natural, well worth the effort to see in person. And if you miss it this weekend, Mr. Cole will be back in town in February with the Chicago Composers Orchestra to perform it with full orchestra.

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