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Monsters of Immersion

Philip Glass' and Robert Wilson's
Accidental Masterpiece

by Randall Packer

T he creative work of artists often follows circuitous, even accidental routes in the pursuit of new concepts, forms and structures. One thinks of John Cage’s research with the anechoic chamber in which he sought the ultimate experience in pure silence, only to find that there was no such thing as total silence. Despite the purging of all external sound, Cage could still hear his heart beating and his circulatory system buzzing. This led the composer to write his famous 4’33", in which the silent gestures of the pianist David Tudor reveals the ever-present ambiance of the concert hall, turning our attention to the act of listening.
Wilson and Glass
Robert Wilson and Philip Glass
posing in the same position as their
famous photo from Einstein on the Beach in 1976 (above)
Einstein on the Beach photo copy Mapplethorpe 1976

The new music-theater work by the legendary collaborative team of theater artist Robert Wilson and composer Philip Glass could turn out to be one of those extraordinary discoveries. Monsters of Grace 1.0, a Digital Opera in Three Dimensions, premiered in April at Royce Hall in Los Angeles. While Monsters of Grace 1.0 exhibits a number of unresolved problems in its current unfinished state, (or beta version using producer Jed Wheeler’s digital parlance), the work has detoured at least for the time being into surprisingly new territory by juxtaposing Wilson’s stage designs with stunning (if mismatched) computer animation directed by the Los Angeles-based digital artists Diana Walczak and Jeff Kleiser of Walczak-Kleiser Construction Company.
Diana Walczak (L) and Jeff Kleiser of
Walczak-Kleiser Construction Company

The disparate but complementary worlds of digital, filmic, and theatrical space collide in Monsters of Grace, the convergence of oblique manifestations of gesture, landscape, object, language, and resonance of the unconscious mind. According to Walczak, "Monsters has the scale and dynamics of film, the depth and space of theater and the sensitivity of art." Monsters of Grace unwittingly points toward a synthesis of the liquidity of cyber-architectures with the physicality and poetry of the stage, fertile ground for inspiring future interdisciplinarians who will redefine the Gesamtkünstwerk (Total Art Work) of the 21st Century.