George Lewis, Catherine Sullivan, and Sean Griffin: Afterword, an Opera

For the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians’ 50th anniversary, an unexpected trio of collaborators has created a piece that imagines a future legacy for creative music. Acclaimed composer, musician, and AACM member George Lewis; media/theater artist Catherine Sullivan; and director Sean Griffin join forces with the trail-blazing new-music group, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), to present a multimedia work that combines chamber opera with real-time improvisation.

[operatic singing]

Afterword is an opera of positions, ideas, and testament. It draws from the early experiences of the founders of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians as they struggled to reinvent themselves.

  • Two longtime associates—codirectors Sean Griffin, the director of Opera Povera in Los Angeles, and Catherine Sullivan, the theater and film artist—they are the collaborators. And they have, this week in our Design Residency, they’ve done extraordinary things with staging, with trying to incorporate two different ensembles. One ensemble is primarily singers; the other ensemble is primarily actors and movers. And so we’re seeing that the sets are actually living
  • tableaux created by the bodies themselves. So, in a sense, our bodies will be the sets for the opera.

    Musically, I’m representing what I hear in my head. It transcends that kind of historical time and space.

    [operatic singing]

  • The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, which was chronicled in my 2008 book A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. And indeed the AACM has played a major internationally recognized role in experimental
  • music since its founding on the South Side of Chicago by a group of itinerant musicians in 1965. An extraordinary number of people have
  • come out of that; an extraordinary number of techniques, an incredible fecundity has come out of this. So at this point, it’s hard to write the history of American or even world experimental music . . . well, you can’t do it without including the AACM.

  • It’s also an opera of self-fashioning, of transformation, where people felt that by transforming themselves they can transform the culture.
  • So I felt that what was important about the AACM were the ideas that came out of it. So people in the opera are avatars.
  • They stand in for ideas.
  • They can change.
  • They can grow.
  • They represent those kinds of issues.
  • They represent joy, they represent tragedy, but they don’t represent specific historical characters because this isn’t a history. It’s not a narrative. So what you’ve got are various people presenting these notions through sound, through movement, through lighting. All these elements cohere, and sometimes they conflict.

  • Since there is no linear plot or story, many people will take their own notion of what the moral of the story is, and that’s really what we want. We want it to be quite open-ended while at the same time
  • presenting a new view on how a certain group of African American people changed their lives and the lives of others around the world.

    [operatic singing]