JacobTV and Fulcrum Point serve up "The News"
From Fox News to Lady Gaga, Dutch composer Jacob ter Veldhuis channel surfs in his new, newsy pop opera.
“I’m astonished that Jacob hasn’t been sued yet,” says Fulcrum Point New Music Project’s Stephen Burns with a nervous laugh. He’s referring to Jacob ter Veldhuis, the avant-pop Dutch composer better known as JacobTV. Although many of ter Veldhuis’s works sample elements of pop culture, his newest piece, The News, takes it a step further. The provocative “reality opera” synthesizes speech, music and video culled from international television broadcasts and documentaries.
Ter Veldhuis isn’t sweating legal action. “An artist has the right to quote and use the things he sees and hears in society,” he says via Skype from his home in the Dutch countryside. “You can’t steal things, but you can manipulate and recycle them into something new. Anyway, suing me gives me a lot of publicity. I’m not afraid of provoking an institution like Fox News.” He laughs. “I’d be honored if they paid attention to my opera.”
From Lady Gaga to Obama, Paris Hilton to Putin, many of the world’s most recognizable cultural figures feature in The News’s voracious commentary on public statements.
“Everybody gets skewered, whether it’s liberal or conservative politicians, or people making war or waging peace,” says conductor–music director Burns. “Jacob balances seriousness with a pop sensibility without getting preachy. He just presents people how they are.”
“I try not to moralize,” says ter Veldhuis in his thick Dutch accent. “I just want to reveal the beauty and fascination of the human condition. I’m a storyteller. When I was a boy I was known for inventing fairy tales. As I grew older, I became more fascinated with the real world. The real world is stranger than fiction.”
Park West proved to be the most economic and aesthetically appropriate location for the pop opera, which will receive two performances in a single day. Fulcrum Point’s setup is a mix between classical and jazz, with improv artists adjacent to reading musicians. The group plays before a large screen, flanked by two “news anchors” who provide narration throughout. “Jacob goes back and forth between straight-ahead notation to parts in the style of a Russian Gypsy band or a Congolese brass ensemble,” Burns says. “Our musicians have to be able to turn on a dime.”
The work has its origins in Chicago. Ter Veldhuis’s inspiration came during a downtown stroll three years ago. “I passed a television studio with a huge glass wall,” he says, referring to ABC’s studio on State Street. “I looked inside and saw the anchors sitting there surrounded by cameras and equipment. The city was reflected in the windows. In a split second I thought to myself, Wow—this is it! I knew I wanted to make a piece about our world—politics, social subjects and trivialities. I wanted to talk about this nonstop world of manipulation and infotainment.”
The 60-year-old began capturing clips of news programs wherever he went. He asked friends in Asia to send him broadcasts. He then set about synthesizing the footage with video artist Jan Boiten. “We realized how much of the news is purely made up.” The composer suddenly remembers a quote he wants to share and fumbles around his desk. After a couple of minutes, he’s back on screen. “Ah, yes!” he says, triumphantly. “I have it right here. It’s a quote from Arthur MacEwan: ‘News is whatever a great editor chooses to print.’ Isn’t that great?”
Fulcrum Point New Music Project presents Jacob TV’s The News at Park West Friday 4.