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About this Piece

Matt Marks is a composer/performer of innovative opera and music-theater works, as well as unique and exciting instrumental and electronic music.  A founding member of Alarm Will Sound, he also performs as a French hornist with such acclaimed new music ensembles as the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Signal, and ACME. He has recorded for Warp Records, Nonesuch, and Cantaloupe Music, as well as many other independent labels. As a composer and arranger, Matt’s work has been called “staggeringly creative” by The New York Times and has been performed at Carnegie Hall, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Lincoln Center, The Barbican Center, The Bang on a Can Marathon, and live on WNYC radio. Matt’s first album, his post-Christian nihilist pop opera, The Little Death: Vol. 1, was released on New Amsterdam Records.

Other recent projects include a sold-out run of his “pop horror fashion show” The House of Von Macramé at the Bushwick Starr, his short operatic work Bluetooth Islands for the Brooklyn Philharmonic, a remix for Meredith Monk’s latest album, and a live realization of The Dirty Projectors’ album/opera The Getty Address. Upcoming projects include his opera Mata Hari: The Great Imitator at the HERE Arts Center in NYC; a piece for the D.C.-based Great Noise Ensemble; and his follow-up to TLDV1, The Little Death: Vol. 2.

The composer has written the following note:

Strip Mall is part of a serial dramatic work I’ve been writing with librettist Royce Vavrek called Strangers in Many Ways, which is comprised of short operatic episodes such as this. Other episodes include A Song for Wade (This is not that song), written for Alarm Will Sound, and Bluetooth Islands, written for the Brooklyn Philharmonic. Strangers in Many Ways centers around a suburban teenaged boy named Myles and his family: his apathetic couch-stranded parents, his rebellious older sister Sheena, and her college dropout boyfriend, Christian Boy. Fifteen-year-old Myles is quite isolated from his family, not the least because of his hidden homosexuality. Unbeknownst to everyone else, Myles has a secret life on the Internet, filming himself dressed in drag and performing the songs of The Carpenters, Doris Day, and Judy Garland for throngs of middle-aged male admirers.

“In Strip Mall, the story opens with Myles demanding his sister to drive him to the Dairy Queen, located at the local strip mall. He whines and begs until she finally gives in, knowing that this will give her a chance to visit her boyfriend at the Christian bookstore. At this most suburban and banal of destinations we dive into the complicated world of these three characters and learn of the boiling tensions and suspicions between each of them.

“Musically, the piece is an extensive exploration of various genres and styles, how they interact and conflict, and how such genre fluidity can guide the drama in unique and novel ways. The piece often swings wildly between such styles as rock, classical, bubblegum pop, waltz, funk, musical theater, and hip hop. There also tends to be a hysterically romantic quality to the music: the dolce moments saccharine, the darker moments melodramatic, for example. But despite these excesses, camp is used more as a flavor than as a modus operandi.

“The vocal writing is perhaps the most unique and challenging aspect of the music, as it demands vocalists who are classically trained opera singers, but who are equally comfortable and proficient at singing rock and musical theater. Additionally, the work is essentially a dark psychological comedy, so riding that delicate line between irony and pathos requires a strong commitment to character, amidst all of the musical challenges.

“In the end, Royce and I wanted to create a work that was entertaining, funny, unsettling, a little bit sad, and quite morally ambiguous. Hopefully, Strip Mall makes you feel at least a few of those.”