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Doctor Atomic or: How John Adams Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Sound Design

  • Ryan Ebright

Abstract

In his autobiography, John Adams mused that his 2005 opera, Doctor Atomic, challenges directors and conductors owing to its ‘abstracted treatment’ of time and space. This abstraction also challenges scholars. In this article, I bring the cross-disciplinary field of sound studies into the opera house to demonstrate that Adams's obfuscation of operatic space–time is achieved primarily through the use of a spatialised electroacoustic sound design. Drawing on archival materials and new interviews with director Peter Sellars and sound designer Mark Grey, I outline the dramaturgical, epistemological and hermeneutic ramifications of sound design for opera studies and advocate for disciplinary engagement with the spatial dimensions of electroacoustic music generally, and within opera specifically.

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Ryan Ebright, Bowling Green State University, USA; eryan@bgsu.edu

Earlier versions of this research were presented at the autumn meeting of the Southeast chapter of the American Musicological Society, East Carolina University, September 2013; and Left Coast Minimalism: The Fourth International Conference on Minimalist Music, California State University, Long Beach, October 2013. I am grateful for the thoughtful discussions at each, and am particularly indebted to Alice Miller Cotter, Sara Haefeli, Bob Fink, Mark Katz, Will Robin and the anonymous reviewers of this journal for their generous feedback and comments. I wish also to thank Thomas Faulds for his assistance with Ableton Live, Carol Ann Cheung at Boosey & Hawkes and my interviewees, who gave generously of their time and thoughts.

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1 Adams, John, Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life (New York, 2008), 208.

2 Georgina Born divides scholarship on space and music into three camps: studies of musical ‘pitch space’, those that interrogate in ‘Euclidean terms’ the spatialisation of sound via multichannel technologies, and ‘postformalist’ approaches that engage with the notion of space on a more abstract level. See Born, , ‘Introduction’, in Music, Sound and Space: Transformations of Public and Private Experience, ed. Born, Georgina (Cambridge, 2013), 920. For a brief history of spatial music, see Rogers, Holly, Sounding the Gallery: Video and the Rise of Art-Music (New York, 2013), 8297.

3 See especially Johnson, Victoria, Fulcher, Jane F. and Ertman, Thomas, eds., Opera and Society in Italy and France from Monteverdi to Bourdieu (Cambridge, 2007).

4 See, for instance, Levin, David J., Unsettling Opera: Staging Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, and Zemlinsky (Chicago, 2007).

5 Pamela Rosenberg, Donald Runnicles, Clifford A. Cranna, Jr., Ian Robertson and John Adams, Doctor Atomic: The Making of an American Opera, interviews conducted by Caroline Crawford and Jon Else, 2005–6 (Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2008), 22.

6 I am sympathetic to theatre historian Ross Brown's argument that sound design ‘can only be discerned and judged in situ and in the moment of performance’, and thus fits uncomfortably in the category of scenography. Brown, Ross, Sound: A Reader in Theatre Practice (New York, 2010), 127.

7 Adams, John, Doctor Atomic: Opera in Two Acts, Full Score (New York, 2012). Examples 1 and 3, although in reduced score format, approximate how the sound design elements are indicated in the full score.

8 Eidsheim, Nina Sun, Sensing Sound: Singing & Listening as Vibrational Practice (Durham, NC, 2015), 8. See also Abbate, Carolyn, ‘Music—Drastic or Gnostic?Critical Inquiry 30 (2004), 505–36.

9 Two DVD recordings of Doctor Atomic have been commercially released, along with one audio recording. Adams, John, Doctor Atomic (DVD), dir. Sellars, Peter (East Sussex, UK: Opus Arte, 2008); Adams, John, Doctor Atomic (DVD), dir. Woolcock, Penny (New York: Sony Music Entertainment, 2011); Adams, John, Doctor Atomic (CD) (New York: Nonesuch, 2018).

10 Alice Goodman, the librettist of Nixon in China and The Death of Klinghoffer, withdrew from the project in mid-2003. On Goodman's withdrawal and the opera's reception, see Fink, Robert, ‘After the Canon’, in The Oxford Handbook of Opera, ed. Greenwald, Helen M. (New York, 2014), 1065–86.

11 Kreuzer, Gundula, Curtain, Gong, Steam: Wagnerian Technologies of Nineteenth-Century Opera (Berkeley, 2018), 5. Whereas Kreuzer unearths (audio)visual technologies and agents, this article focuses primarily on electroacoustic technologies. On music's inherent technicity, see Sterne, Jonathan, ‘Afterword: Opera, Media, Technology’, in Technology and the Diva: Sopranos, Opera, and Media from Romanticism to the Digital Age, ed. Henson, Karen (New York, 2016), 159–64.

12 Operas by Osvaldo Golijov and Kaija Saariaho, for instance, include the sounds of wind, water and birds as environmental enhancers. Everett, Yayoi Uno, Reconfiguring Myth and Narrative in Contemporary Opera: Osvaldo Golijov, Kaija Saariaho, John Adams, and Tan Dun (Bloomington, IN, 2015), 61–2.

13 Alice Miller Cotter, ‘Sketches of Grief: Genesis, Compositional Practice, and Revision in the Operas of John Adams’, PhD diss. (Princeton University, 2016).

14 Throughout the score of Doctor Atomic, the character of Robert Oppenheimer is referred to as ‘Oppie’.

15 The initial musicological responses to Doctor Atomic focused primarily on its temporal aspects. See Everett, Yayoi Uno, ‘“Counting Down” Time: Musical Topics in John Adams’ Doctor Atomic’, in Music Semiotics: A Network of Significations: In Honour and Memory of Raymond Monelle, ed. Sheinberg, Esti (Burlington, VT, 2012), 263–73; Everett, Reconfiguring Myth, 124–65; Robert Warren Lintott, ‘The Manipulation of Time Perception in John Adams's Doctor Atomic’, MA thesis (University of Maryland, College Park, 2010). Two exceptions to this focus come from Alice Miller Cotter, who uses Adams's private archival materials to examine the creation and revision of the opera, and Caroline Ehman, who studies the character of Oppie as a morally ambivalent Faust figure. Cotter, ‘Sketches of Grief’, 261–372; Ehman, ‘Reimagining Faust in Postmodern Opera’, PhD diss. (University of Rochester, 2013), 101–30.

16 I am adopting theatre scholar Manfred Pfister's terminology in distinguishing between ‘fictional time’ and ‘performance time’. Pfister, Manfred, The Theory and Analysis of Drama, trans. Halliday, John (Cambridge, 1988), 283–8. The performance timings in this paper are drawn from Adams, Doctor Atomic (DVD), dir. Sellars.

17 Everett, ‘“Counting Down” Time’, 264.

18 On operatic temporality, see, for instance, Zeiss, Laurel E., ‘The Dramaturgy of Opera’, in The Cambridge Companion to Opera Studies, ed. Till, Nicholas (Cambridge, 2012), 191–3.

19 Adams notes this alignment earlier in the score, immediately before Oppie's final line when the orchestra gives way entirely for a few measures to electroacoustic sounds (Act II scene 4, b. 366), by labelling it ‘Clock time’.

20 Everett, ‘“Counting Down” Time’, 264. Everett, however, leaves room to explore just what these messages may be.

21 Adams, Hallelujah Junction, 293. Emphasis mine.

22 Sellars created a second production at Santa Fe Opera in 2018. Adams, Doctor Atomic (DVD), dir. Sellars, disc 2, 00:32:15.

23 Pierre Ruhe, ‘“Doctor Atomic” has Hole at its Core’, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3 October 2005; Steven Winn, ‘The Bomb may be too Big for even Art to Grasp’, San Francisco Chronicle, 6 October 2005; Jim Edwards, ‘Lyric's “Doctor Atomic” is no Bomb’, The Beacon News, 10 January 2008; Mike Silverman, ‘Lyric Opera of Chicago's “Doctor Atomic” Begins with Excitement but Stalls in Act 2’, Associated Press, 17 December 2007.

24 For a measured consideration of this practice, see Anthony Tommasini, ‘Opera is at a Technological Crossroads’, New York Times, 31 December 2005. Tommasini uses Doctor Atomic as evidence of amplification's increasing role in opera.

25 Adams, Hallelujah Junction, 290–1.

26 Bolter, Jay David and Grusin, Richard, ‘Remediation’, Configurations 4 (1996), 339.

27 Whittington, William, Sound Design & Science Fiction (Austin, TX, 2007), 23; Murch, Walter, ‘Sound Design: Walter Murch Interviewed by Franke Paine’, Journal of the University Film Association 33 (Fall 1981), 1520.

28 Ben Burtt's work constructing the sounds of light sabres, R2-D2 and Darth Vader in Star Wars is an iconic instance of this latter definition.

29 George Devine's 1940 production of The Tempest for the Old Vic was one of the earliest experiments. On theatrical sound design, see Brown, Sound; Kaye, Deene and LeBrecht, James, eds., Sound and Music for the Theatre: The Art and Technique of Design (Oxford, 2009).

30 Peter Sellars, ‘Foreword’, in Sound and Music for the Theatre, viii–ix.

31 On Wagner's innovations see, for instance, Salter, Chris, Entangled: Technology and the Transformation of Performance (Cambridge, MA, 2010), 14; Forsyth, Michael, Buildings for Music: The Architect, the Musician, and the Listener from the Seventeenth Century to the Present (Cambridge, 1985), 163–96.

32 Varèse, Edgard, ‘The Liberation of Sound’, in Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music, ed. Cox, Christoph and Warner, Daniel (New York, 2006), 18.

33 Both Symphonie and Gesang used five-channel speaker systems. As Gascia Ouzounian points out in her discussion of sound installation art, Cage, Feldman and other avant-garde composers engaged with the spatial dimensions of music, but to different ends, such as the dissolution of conventional composer–performer–audience hierarchies. Ouzounian, ‘Sound Installation Art: From Spatial Poetics to Politics, Aesthetics to Ethics’, in Music, Sound and Space, ed. Born, 77–8.

34 Oullette, Fernand, Edgard Varèse (New York, 1968), 201–2. On Poème, see Treib, Marc, Space Calculated in Seconds: The Philips Pavilion, Le Corbusier, Edgard Varèse (Princeton, 1996).

35 Frank J. Oteri, ‘New York: Countdown to Dr. Atomic’, NewMusicBox, 11 August 2005, www.newmusicbox.org/articles/New-York-Countdown-to-Dr-Atomic.

36 On musique concrète, see Teruggi, Daniel, ‘Musique Concrète Today: Its Reach, Evolution of Concepts and Role in Musical Thought’, Organised Sound 20 (2015), 51–9; Teruggi, , ‘Technology and Musique Concrète: The Technical Developments of the Groupe de Recherches Musicales and Their Implication in Musical Composition’, Organised Sound 12 (2007), 213–31.

37 On Die Soldaten, see Pollock, Emily Richmond, ‘To do justice to opera's “monstrosity”: Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Die Soldaten’, Opera Quarterly 30 (2014), 6992; William Robin, ‘Staging the Apocalypse: The Atomic Bomb in Bernd Zimmermann's Die Soldaten’, paper delivered at the conference ‘Music in Divided Germany’, University of California, Berkeley, 11 September 2011. In the first production, the director shone lights into the audience's eyes, effectively blinding them as the bomb detonated.

38 Zimmermann, Bernd Alois, ‘Zukunft der Oper’, in Interval, ed. Bitter, Christof (Mainz, 1974), 3846.

39 Stockhausen first outlined his ideas in his 1958 article, ‘Musik im Raum’. Stockhausen, Karlheinz, ‘Music in Space’, trans. Koenig, Ruth, Die Reihe 5 (‘Reports—Analyses’, 1961), 6782. On Stockhausen's spatial theories, see Sara Ann Overholt, ‘Karlheinz Stockhausen's Spatial Theories: Analyses of Gruppen für drei Orchester and Oktophonie, Electronische Musik von Dienstag aus LICHT’, PhD diss. (University of California at Santa Barbara, 2006); Paul Miller, ‘Stockhausen and the Serial Shaping of Space’, PhD diss. (University of Rochester, 2009).

40 Paul Miller has shown that in these operas, Stockhausen used spatialisation ‘not only to clarify contrapuntal structure, but also to paint various rotations, shapes, and forms in space’. Miller, ‘Stockhausen and the Serial Shaping of Space’, 18. Space has continued to play an important role in late twentieth-century music, both in the concert hall and outside it. See, for example, the works of John Luther Adams, Hildegard Westerkamp and Henry Brant, whose Ice Field premiered in December 2001 in San Francisco and won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Music.

41 On the electroacoustic music component of The Mask of Orpheus, see Samuels, Robert, ‘First Performances: The Mask of Orpheus’, Tempo 158 (September 1986), 41–4. A more critical account of the Birtwistle-Anderson collaboration can be found in Montague, Stephen, ‘Barry Anderson: 1935–1987’, Tempo 166 (September 1988), 1220.

42 Larsen’s Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus premiered at Minnesota Opera in 1990. On the sound design of Frankenstein, see Deborah B. Crall, ‘Context and Commission in Large-Scale Texted Works of Libby Larsen’, PhD diss. (Catholic University of America, 2013), 130–42.

43 Libby Larsen, phone interview with the author, 10 July 2014.

44 Damien Colas, ‘Musical Dramaturgy’, in The Oxford Handbook of Opera, ed. Greenwald, 199–202.

45 Adams, Hallelujah Junction, 208.

46 Eidsheim, Sensing Sound, 63.

47 For an overview of this relationship, see LaBelle, Brandon, Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art (New York, 2006), ixxvi.

48 On Grey, see Mark Swed, ‘Sound Reasoning? Amplification Isn't a Dirty Word to Engineer Mark Grey, Who Hopes to Make “El Niño” Pleasing to Every Ear’, Los Angeles Times, 9 March 2003. For a partial list of Grey's sound design credits, see Grey, ‘Sound Design – Mark Grey’, Mark Grey, www.markgreycomposer.com/sound-design.

49 Adams, John, ‘John Adams Discusses On the Transmigration of Souls: Interview with Daniel Colvard’, in The John Adams Reader: Essential Writings on an American Composer, ed. May, Thomas (Pompton Plains, NJ, 2006), 202.

50 John Adams, ‘On the Transmigration of Souls: Interview with John Adams’, John Adams, www.earbox.com/on-the-transmigration-of-souls. This interview originally appeared on the New York Philharmonic website in September 2002. During Adams's early career among the 1970s San Francisco avant-garde, he pursued this avant-garde aesthetic by using objets trouvées in works such as Triggering and another work that combined Machaut's Messe de Nostre Dame with taped city noises. See Thomas May, ‘Ingram Marshall on the Early Years in San Francisco’, in The John Adams Reader, ed. May, 67–72.

51 Both Cotter's dissertation and the sound files provided by Boosey & Hawkes for performances of Doctor Atomic reveal that Adams began work on the sound design in June 2005. The files date back to 18 June 2005, and many are unused (later edited versions are used instead). Adams likely turned to the opera's electroacoustic component after completing the full score in May 2005; in early June he travelled to the Library of Congress to find historical sound material. Cotter, ‘Sketches of Grief’, 355.

52 Tony Reveaux, ‘Grey Matter: Sound in Doctor Atomic’, Live Design, 1 Sept 2005, www.livedesignonline.com/theatre/grey-matter-sound-doctor-atomic.

53 John Adams, ‘Three Weeks to Go for Doctor Atomic’, NewMusicBox, 9 September 2005, nmbx.newmusicusa.org/three-weeks-to-go-for-doctor-atomic.

54 Mark Grey, phone interview with the author, 30 January 2013.

55 The digital files, however, do not provide information about what hardware configuration was used (mixing consoles, speakers), or where it may have been placed in the opera house.

56 Adams, ‘Three Weeks to Go for Doctor Atomic’.

57 Rosenberg et al., Doctor Atomic: The Making of an American Opera, 65.

58 Mark Grey, interview with the author, 30 June 2012, San Francisco.

59 Peter Sellars, phone interview with the author, 23 July 2013.

60 Sterne, Jonathan, The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (Durham, NC, 2002), 285.

61 Grey, interview with the author, 30 June 2012, San Francisco. This practice originated with Jonathan Deans, a sound designer who worked on Klinghoffer and Nixon, as well as several Broadway and off-Broadway productions and with Cirque du Soleil.

62 On the acoustic and architectural properties of concert halls and opera houses, see Forsyth, Buildings for Music.

63 I am building here on Dahlhaus's explanation of dramaturgy as ‘the origination and performance of drama’ as well as ‘the principles or rules underlying the production’. Dahlhaus, Carl, ‘The Dramaturgy of Italian Opera’, in Opera in Theory and Practice, Image and Myth, ed. Bianconi, Lorenzo and Pestelli, Giorgio (Chicago, 2003), 74.

64 Mark Grey, ‘Doctor Atomic Technical Specs’, Gordian Knot, 27 February 2014, mhgrey.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/doctor-atomic-technical-specs.

65 Director Penny Woolcock's visual design for the 2008 Met–ENO production of Doctor Atomic complements such an interpretation: large metallic fragments, suggestive of oversized shrapnel, slowly ascend from the stage floor to the rafters, and the lighting gradually reveals a mise en scène dominated by a mountainous piece of fabric that juts out violently in multiple directions.

66 My analysis of Doctor Atomic’s spatial elements is based, in part, on the 2008 Opus Arte DVD of the Netherlands Opera production, which offers digital DTS surround sound, as well as the digital sound files and Ableton Live sets provided by Boosey & Hawkes.

67 Everett, Reconfiguring Myth, 150.

68 I am using the names given in the full score because the names of the corresponding digital files can vary. The full score fails to indicate that most of the samples, although they may share a name in the score (such as ‘Long Waves’), are unique to each cue.

69 Although notated in the orchestral score, based on the archived Ableton sets it appears that ‘Timp. Spread’ was not actually used in any performances.

70 Adams describes the characters on stage as watching the detonation from 200 miles away.

71 Grey, interview with the author, 30 June 2012, San Francisco.

72 Smalley, Denis, ‘Space-form and the Acousmatic Image’, Organised Sound 12 (2007), 48.

73 This diffusion of electroacoustic samples across a multichannel environment for atmospheric purposes conforms to traditional film sound practices. Wyatt, Hilary and Amyes, Tim, Audio Post Production for Television and Film: An Introduction to Technology and Techniques (Oxford, 2005), 174.

74 Mark Grey, email correspondence with the author, 13 February 2013.

75 See, for instance, Anthony Tommasini, ‘Oppenheimer as an American Faust’, New York Times, 3 October 2005; Heidi Waleson, ‘All about the Bomb’, Wall Street Journal, 4 October 2005; Charles Michener, ‘Not Over Till Fat Boy Drops—Opera Takes on Los Alamos’, New York Observer, 10 October 2005; Timothy Mangan, ‘John Adams's Impressive “Doctor Atomic”, About the Making of the First Atom Bomb, Proves Less Than the Sum of Its Parts’, Orange County Register, 3 October 2005; Scott Cantrell, ‘It's Not a Bomb, but Production Doesn't Have Much Pop’, Dallas Morning News, 3 October 2005. The estimation of the number of critics comes from Tim Smith, ‘New “Atomic Doctor” – OperaReview’, Baltimore Sun, 13 October 2005.

76 Rosenberg et al., Doctor Atomic: The Making of an American Opera, 23.

77 Robert Gable, ‘Doctor Atomic (2005). John Adams /still in beta/’, aworks:: ‘new’ american classical music, 23 October 2005, rgable.typepad.com/aworks/2005/10/doctor_atomic_2_7.html.

78 Lisa Hirsch, ‘Doctor Atomic, and Balances, Revisted [sic]’, Iron Tongue of Midnight, 21 October 2005, irontongue.blogspot.com/2005/10/doctor-atomic-and-balances-revisted.html. Hirsch's and Gable's observations are corroborated by Sidney Chen. See Chen, ‘Doctor Atomic: Curtain Down’, The Standing Room, 23 October 2005, www.thestandingroom.com/blog/2005/10/curtain_down.html.

79 John Adams, interview with Alice Miller Cotter, 18 June 2013 (unpublished). Thanks to Alice Miller Cotter for making this portion of her interview available to me.

80 On this tension in opera, see Nicholas Ridout, ‘Opera and the Technologies of Theatrical Production’, The Cambridge Companion to Opera Studies, ed. Till, 167–72.

81 ‘01-NewLongWave#1(newbar245)’, ‘02- NewLongWave#2(newbar273)’, ‘03-NewBassClarSpread(newbar307)’ and ‘04- NewLongWave#3(ovlp-newbar245)’.

82 The documentation for Doctor Atomic specifies that the sound designer must be able to read music.

83 On the relationship between film sound and electroacoustic performance, see Jordan, Randolph, ‘Case Study: Film Sound, Acoustic Ecology and Performance in Electroacoustic Music’, in Music, Sound and Multimedia: From the Live to the Virtual, ed. Sexton, Jamie (Edinburgh, 2007), 121–41. Grey pointed out the vast discrepancy between the sizes of the opera houses in which Doctor Atomic was performed. Whereas the Netherlands Opera theatre holds approximately 1,500 theatregoers, the Chicago Lyric Opera House – the site of the subsequent performance – seats over 3,500. Grey, phone interview with the author, 30 January 2013.

84 Grey, interview with the author, 30 June 2012, San Francisco. The building vibration made the detonation seem louder than it was, when in fact, for the performance at the Metropolitan Opera, the dynamic level stayed within union regulations, reaching approximately 95 decibels. Mark Grey, email correspondence with the author, 30 January 2013.

85 Hall, Edward, The Hidden Dimension (New York, 1990 (orig. 1966)).

86 Kahn, Douglas, Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Voice, Sound, and Aurality in the Arts (Cambridge, MA, 1999), 69.

87 For years, Sellars has offered courses at the University of California, Los Angeles, titled ‘Art as Social Action’ and ‘Art as Moral Action’.

88 Peter Sellars, phone interview with the author, 23 July 2013.

89 Fukuyama, Francis, ‘The End of History?’, The National Interest 16 (Summer 1989), 318. For an overview of mid-twentieth-century American musical exceptionalism, see Ansari, Emily Abrams, The Sound of a Superpower: Musical Americanisms and the Cold War (New York, 2018), 127.

90 Kip Cranna, ‘Doctor Atomic early synopsis’ (Microsoft Word file), SFO archives. This synopsis is included in a 6 July 2002 email (subject line: ‘attempt at synopsis of the Faust project which still doesn't have a title’) that Rosenberg sent to potential co-producers. The outline was the product of a meeting on 30 June 2002 between the creative team and SFO personnel. For this synopsis, see Appendix 5 in Ryan Ebright, ‘Echoes of the Avant-garde in American Opera’, PhD diss. (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2014), 233–5. On the development of Doctor Atomic, see Ebright, 163–74. Sellars's criticism seems to fit the historical moment; James Thackara's 1984 novel America's Children (first published in the United States in 2001), uses a lightly fictionalised Faustian account of Robert Oppenheimer's life to make a similar critique.

91 Peter Sellars, remarks at the Doctor Atomic workshop, 30 October 2004, San Francisco. Similar documents inspired earlier instances of spoken documentary theatre, including Heinar Kipphardt's In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer (1964) and Jean Vilar's Le Dossier Oppenheimer (1965). Both draw on transcripts from Oppenheimer's Atomic Energy Committee hearings.

92 Rosenberg et al., Doctor Atomic: The Making of an American Opera, 121; John Adams, ‘Interview: John Adams, Composer of “Doctor Atomic”’, Thirteen WNET New York Public Media, www.thirteen.org/archive/artsandculture/interview-john-adams-composer-of-doctor-atomic/2044.

93 Allan Kozinn, ‘“Klinghoffer” Composer Fights His Cancellation’, New York Times, 14 November 2001. As evidence of the broader ensuing controversy, see Richard Taruskin, ‘Music's Dangers and the Case for Control’, New York Times, 9 December 2001.

94 On a similar attempt to depoliticise an opera based on a controversial subject, see Ebright, Ryan, ‘“We are not trying to make a political piece”: The Reconciliatory Aesthetic of Steve Reich's The Cave’, in Rethinking Reich, ed. Gopinath, Sumanth and ap Siôn, Pwyll (New York, 2019).

95 The next earliest synopsis (date unknown, but likely mid-2003) displays a few differences from the eventual form the opera took. After the Gadget's detonation in Act II scene 3, an orchestral interlude (‘Fallout in the Jornada del Muerto’) would have led into a fourth scene that re-enacted (with spoken dialogue over music) this telephone conversation. The opera was to conclude with an short epilogue, in which ‘Kitty and Pasqualita sing of hopes and dreams yet unfulfilled’. The telephone transcript is widely cited and published in studies of the Manhattan Project and can be found online at nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB162/76.pdf. Cotter's research reveals that this interlude became ‘Rain over the Sangre de Cristos’. Cotter, ‘Sketches of Grief’, 352.

96 Adams, ‘Interview’. Adams adapted the words from John Hersey, ‘Hiroshima’, New Yorker, 31 August 1946. On Adams's decision to use the words, see Cotter, ‘Sketches of Grief’, 355–7.

97 For a criticism along both of these lines, see Andrew Clements, ‘John Adams's Nuclear Opera Opens Under a Cloud: Doctor Atomic’, The Guardian, 4 October 2005. Adams has suggested that a long, verbal coda simply would have been anticlimactic. Adams, ‘Three Weeks to Go for Doctor Atomic’.

98 Adams, Hallelujah Junction, 290–1.

99 Cotter, ‘Sketches of Grief’, 354.

100 Adams, interview with Alice Miller Cotter, 18 June 2013.

101 Joshua Kosman, ‘Using a Trinity of Unconventional Drama, Haunting Score and Poetry, S.F. Opera Confronts Our Age's Most Terrifying Topic’, San Francisco Chronicle, 3 October 2005; Wynne Delacoma, ‘Adams’ “Doctor Atomic” Shows Flashes of Brilliance’, Chicago Sun-Times, 9 October 2005. Although frequently critical of past opera composers, Adams lauds the expressivity of Wagner's music, and his calls for operatic treatments of American myths seem an intentional counterpart to Wagner's Nordic/Germanic mythical subjects. See Adams, Hallelujah Junction, 100–8, 268–86.

102 Wagner, Richard, The Art Work of the Future and Other Works, trans. Ellis, William Ashton (London, 1895; repr. Lincoln, NE, 1993), 185; quoted in Simon Williams, ‘Opera and Modes of Theatrical Production’, in The Cambridge Companion to Opera Studies, ed. Till, 140.

103 Rosenberg et al., Doctor Atomic: The Making of an American Opera, 21.

104 Chen, ‘Doctor Atomic: Curtain Down’.

105 On Invisible Cities, see Eidsheim, Sensing Sound, 80–91.

106 In Adamo's The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the sound design was minimal, a ‘method of last resort’. ‘The piece itself is acoustically conceived, but electronic sound design solved a few problems’, Adamo explained, such as the vintage newscasts in the opening and a monologue in the second act. Adamo, email correspondence with the author, 17 July 2013.

107 As Emily Thompson has detailed, listening via electroacoustic speakers in most other cultural domains had already become unremarkable by the 1930s. Thompson, , The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900–1933 (Cambridge, MA, 2002), 233.

108 On opera simulcasts, see Steichen, James, ‘HD Opera: A Love/Hate Story’, Opera Quarterly 27 (2012), 443–59; Caitlin Cashin, ‘Mediating the Live Theatrical and Operatic Experience: NT Live and The Met: Live in HD’, MA thesis (University College at Cork, 2010).

109 Kreuzer, Curtain, Gong, Steam, 164.

110 The spatialisation information, however, is stored within the Ableton Live digital files provided by Boosey & Hawkes.

111 Smalley, ‘Space-form and the Acousmatic Image’, 54.

112 Smalley, ‘Space-form and the Acousmatic Image’, 56.

113 See Auslander, Philip, Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture (New York, 2008).

114 Critic Anne Midgette has pointed out that hand-wringing over the supposed decline of singing is a common trope throughout the history of opera, dating back at least to Metastasio's time. See Midgette, , ‘The Voice of American Opera’, Opera Quarterly 23 (2007), 95 fn. 10. See also Swed, ‘Sound Reasoning?’.

115 An informal review comparing the MetHD's Doctor Atomic simulcast and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's concert version makes exactly this point about the opera's surround sound element. W. Scott Smoot, ‘Doctor Atomic Staged Two Ways’, The Word Sanctuary 23 November 2008, smootpage.blogspot.com/2008/11/doctor-atomic-staged-two-ways.html.

* Ryan Ebright, Bowling Green State University, USA;

Earlier versions of this research were presented at the autumn meeting of the Southeast chapter of the American Musicological Society, East Carolina University, September 2013; and Left Coast Minimalism: The Fourth International Conference on Minimalist Music, California State University, Long Beach, October 2013. I am grateful for the thoughtful discussions at each, and am particularly indebted to Alice Miller Cotter, Sara Haefeli, Bob Fink, Mark Katz, Will Robin and the anonymous reviewers of this journal for their generous feedback and comments. I wish also to thank Thomas Faulds for his assistance with Ableton Live, Carol Ann Cheung at Boosey & Hawkes and my interviewees, who gave generously of their time and thoughts.

Doctor Atomic or: How John Adams Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Sound Design

  • Ryan Ebright

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