Blowback at Breakfast (A Dr. Kissinger Mystery) or “the unconstitutional takes a little longer” (2003)

For solo piano, live analog electronics and 17 mini-speakers.

52 minutes

English Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham outlined the design in 1787 of a model prison, the panopticon, a round-the-clock surveillance machine. A circular structure, the panopticon allows an observer to ostensibly observe all the inmates without them being able to tell whether they are being observed. This “invisible omniscience” eventually has the effect of leading the prisoner to internalize the external gaze, to police himself, so to speak.

In light of concerns around the renewal of the concert ritual and its potential transformation into an active, reactive space (which radiate throughout my work as a whole), Blowback at Breakfast: A Dr. Kissinger Mystery, a critical investigation of the institutionalized, internalized structures separating the viewer from the performer, stands as a typically intricate example. In this work, the tables have been turned: “truth” no longer emanates from the protagonist on stage, a Henry Kissinger-like figure dryly reciting official congressional testimony, but from the 17 mini-speakers scattered throughout the hall, “leaking” secret conversations between President Nixon and Kissinger directly to the viewer (17 refers to the number of officials wiretapped under orders from Kissinger). Official “lies” trigger dissimulated truth. The listener’s vantage point enables the interpretation of the ongoing onstage ritual under a more subversive, critical light. However, the protagonist is still able to control (to a degree) the content and frequency of these covert disclosures via a speech-triggered noise gate, functioning unpredictably (altered circuitry).

Both protagonist and viewer are therefore caught in a perverse double-binding relationship, in which the latter, acting in a voyeuristic capacity, will attempt to separate truth from “spin”, while the former, paranoid and over-aware of his projected image, will increasingly seek to control the aspects of his persona which can be revealed. The tension generated by the concern for control also seeps into the music played by the protagonist, slipping over time from a confidently projected shuffle, to a fraught texture which begins to faithfully translate his nervous system, a somatic record replete with faultlines, inept moves and structural insecurities. The protective membrane surrounding him now in tatters, a speculative space between his spun stage image and his true nature is pried wide open.

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