Thursday, April 21, 2011

IRMA, an opera by Tom Phillips

Hey all!
No blogging in a while, just because of the new album coming out, and wanting to keep that as the top blog post for awhile surrounding the release. So far successful release for a digital only release. We did well on the iTunes charts initially, and starting to get the word out for reviews. More to come later as I start getting album reviews published, and do more legwork getting the word out to other publications. Side note, I cannot stop listening to the Beach Boys "Pet Sounds," damn good record!

Now I have a few different ideas for blog posts to come, this was the shortest and perhaps most recent post, which is dealing with Tom Phillips' opera "Irma." The opera is a chance operation piece (but very controlled chance) seemingly coming out of a Cage tradition, in how the opera works. THIS is a link to the composer/artist's website to check out the score. The concept is that Phillips went into a bookstore a while back to purchase a cheap victorian novel to do some art projects with. What he bought was W.H. Mallock's "A Human Document." Since then he has released several editions of his treated version of this novel, called "A Humament" by cutting out words/letters, or blocking out certain words/letters, to give the novel new meaning. The opera IRMA is one of the ideas based off of this, that comes out of this same novel.

There are two recordings that I know of, of the piece. One is by Gavin Bryars that is the earlier recording, and more minimalist (HERE is some audio from that) and the other is from a group I can't stop thinking about and listening to, AMM. The AMM version is how I first came across this opera, looking at some of their collected albums online. AMM is freer than the Bryars, but both are incredible to listen to, and also show just how varied this opera could be upon performance. I wish there was a DVD version of it, to see how both performances were staged, since the action and theatrical element is a very huge part of it (like hearing the audio of a TV show, it's good, but it's not the complete idea/picture).

Like my crazy self, I went through Tom Phillips score and typed it up neatly in a word document, to study and also possibly try and program a Colorado performance of the piece somehow, if I could find a creative music venue that would host it. The score is very open-ended, and very open to improvisational elements, and I think it has a lot of potential!

BELOW are my typed up notes from the score:


“Love is help mate”

“Irma you will be mine”

“Perhaps to treat the indications here given as if they were the only surviving fragments of an ancient opera, or fragments of eye and ear witnesses’ accounts of such and given no knowledge of the performance tradition of the time, to reconstruct a hypothetical whole which would accommodate them economically, would be an appropriate basis of approach to a production.

Perhaps –

Ritual, pageant, ceremony, parade, cantata scaenica, spectacle

The work is made up entirely from treated fragments of A Human Document, by W.H. Mallock or its complete treated version A Humument. It can be performed by a number of players, singers, dancers, mimes, etc… Performances may last any length of time: compactness however should be aimed at.

Although moments of extravaganza + grotesque comedy are implied, the general mood of the work should be sober, and the outlines of the action as rational as possible.

Any production should have an overall director.

Parts may be allotted in any way although each performer should at some time see the whole score.

Separately shown are the little aria “Irma, you will be mine” and the chorus “love is help mate.”

These must be performed at least once in every staging of the opera: prominence might be given them by suspending other action, etc…

All other material is optional, including the melodies, including the melodies, which may be used vocally or instrumentally.

As often as possible links should be made and found between action, text, score and décor.

A plot or sequence of action can be devised with reference to all the material given and not merely to the libretto similarly, décor and sound-material can be taken from other sections.

Two characters at least must be realized in any staging of the work. i.e. the eponymous heroine and the hero Grenville (these are also the chief characters in A Humament)

The motifs associated with Grenville and Irma are indicated by name. All melodic material may be transposed, fragmented or combined in any way.

Cf. The music making described in Francis Bacon’s “New Atlantis.”

Cf. Plotinus “it is the reasonless soul, not the will or wisdom, that is beguiled by music, a form of sorcery which raises no question, whose enchantment indeed is welcomed……”


Love is a fool robbed me of my ordinary cool

We start tomorrow and unbelievable dream

‘Stop,’ and be consistent.

Go. You, who trouble

“By the way, I I find I am famous.

I know why you done me a trifle soon

Be pain of one pain ville insensible

I am not laughing—no, —I am a physiognomist.” O O ted marked

Numb French—classics ; oh, the women were in them ! one book after another. I could stand it no longer.

This woman was all torture

Art ur dulge rudge ed id

“ Never, “ said Grenville ; and I only photograph afterwards.

Last week I had my false membrane sent

About help man, ure. How vain—how vain I have forgotten that—

If I had your voice,

Earful. –I forsee it all. in the eyes—

Pose tomorrow ask her

Creditable time Silbersheim

“Mein Gott!” nobody without such a tube could perform it

I know, the purple questions

Jackson—a good looking prig has excited her

O surface longing

Trains she exclaimed ; miles! I said

Quick—quick !—out with the chance operation


Ss’s ss but with them thirty two

Constant systems mute g.

Birds sang last the unit a o

—c c E fine imitate it.

P sigh abrupt ending neigh d a

20 distant audible door burst

the Emperor ;

scratch form slowly, lines, A

ding two pop twilight

one more in tones A d

f f the first parasol, sound f

g change ; to actual hardness music

c tr completely wrong ball, crash tr a f

snatches, long held sound p

a b the Ring e

record of the ring period pp passage c

quiet high intonation divine time

quiet. Suddenly a gong in rough series

Building echoes hit after

Zz the whole ding music shining

M art —mm cum the quality Amplify it. f

Acc morning’s murmur, like butterflies.

Tr low and high, divisions s the hiss of cheeks

Tic drops the tone various phrases Instantly

Ben electric bell. P gain

Meta silence tremble ; intervals

Car a flats flat some splendid street sound

The International b p

B which coarse pitch ral

B g two thought pieces,

Requisite tube twenty minutes

Do read it. jarring read it ;

Measured rise and returning b


One dressed him amongst the eastern clouds. Four

Has movements ss smoked

Image tissues

Measureable encumbrances.

In another moment rapidly surrounded by men with stars,

As a e certain light flashed the slightest undulation imaginable Then all was over;

Red scent huge gilded vest moons

Hat feather ceremony rust

Her startling uniform dress the sea

Flickering of creamy with frocks red

A jacket clipped her figure a walking pocket-handkerchief

Above her soft black dress, the petal

Ble pale cloak, swan’s down

Shaped iron ties ble fast falling pieces

One kiss on on the table,

Paper your image

Her form tow gently tendrils no plant, lips whispering

In the glass the tips of her toes

Hat refined, wonderful velvety ff dress almost insolent in its star

Let us meet him, clothed in a suit of light brilliant flower.

Leaves. Love-making the scattered tables

Lighting a cigarette, across the gravel

Raw the hat of happiness

A mask.

What shoes step perverse elf ring ear

All lie, wicker coffin flesh violets above rave,

The tabulated hat fluttering with feathers, geranium A physical weight. D chest smothering him. Ot

Siders he sound elf blue books and blue-books

Passion w lashes W w

Breaking grass and,

The shuttered dress, hat

Sinking lights of lamps

Ormola rays, clothed V A bourgeois

Paper brown two mirrors and life sized photograph of Emperor, coloured Here and there vases candelabra arranged sale objects décor-

Trembling ging white-capped woman mit passing through arp

Scrubbing smoke


  1. Hi! I'm italian passionate of avant garde music. I have read this post:

    I have completed AGP Collection, but I dont have the release AGP 60 - Killmayer, only the piece 5.

    If you want the other releases, ask me!
    And dou have find AGP 60 - Killmayer ?

    thanks and apologyze for my english


  2. I have only found that agp 60 piece 5 as well. I've downloaded as many as I could find, but no luck with the killmayer. Thanks for the note, I'll let you know if I do come across it!