Afterword: The AACM (as) Opera

Composer and musicologist, George Lewis, composer and director of Opera Povera, Sean Griffin, and film and theater artist, Catherine Sullivan (University of Chicago, Department of Visual Arts), embark on the creation of an opera, film and related presentations based on the final chapter of Lewis’ award-winning 2008 book A Power Stronger Than Itself: the AACM and American Experimental Music.

Founded on the South Side of Chicago in 1965, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians has long played an internationally recognized role in American experimental music. On the occasion of the AACM’s 50th anniversary, George Lewis, Catherine Sullivan, and Sean Griffin have joined forces with the trail-blazing new music group, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), to fashion a multimedia opera that functions not as a history of the collective, but as a Bildungsoper--a coming-of age opera of ideas, positionality, and testament. The libretto is drawn from Lewis’s award-winning 2008 book, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (University of Chicago Press).

Sullivan and Griffin have collaborated since 1996, creating historically minded performances in immersive theatrical environments that deploy unexpected turns of logic and deconstructed modes of behavior. The staging and choreography they have created deploy a very tangible and essential sense of ensemble that grows out of a rehearsal process born in improvisation.

Afterword eschews direct character representation of AACM artists. Rather, vocal and instrumental sections become avatars for young black experimentalists facing issues of power, authority, identity, culture, aesthetics, self-fashioning and representation. The awareness that we are hearing history, as it was being made in real, human time, brings us face to face with contingency, empathy, and wonder.