New Multi-Media Work for Orchestra by Alex Temple

Photo by Marc Perlish
Photo by Marc Perlish

In 2013, composer Alex Temple wrote a piece for Cadillac Moon Ensemble called Switch: A Science-Fiction Micro-Opera. In that piece, (fictional) engineer Sylvia Wald found a way to record audio signals from parallel universes, and learned of a world where people were forced into strict social roles based on right- and left-handedness. Cadillac Moon singer/cellist Meaghan Burke played a transdextrous radical — born a lefty but, as a righty, founder of a utopian community called the Free Zone and one of the few left alive after it was burned to the ground by an army of right-supremacist zealots.

Temple is now at work on a sequel, this time for Meaghan Burke and the American Composers Orchestra. A century or two in the future, a scientist finds a way to go beyond merely eavesdropping on other worlds, and actually travels to the alternate Earth depicted in Switch. By then, the society has changed. Power dynamics are subtler. People no longer have to be violently coerced into following traditional hand roles, but willingly police their own behavior. The destruction of the Free Zone lives on only as a trace, an unspoken and unconscious collective memory. In many ways it’s an easier place to live than the repressive society of the early 21st century — but it proves challenging for Temple’s protagonist, who knows things about the past that the locals don’t, and has trouble relating to people whose understanding of themselves is fundamentally tied to which hand they write with.

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