SELF DEFINED CIRCUITS
June 4 - 6, 2020
The Flea Theatre, Siggy
(20 Thomas St, New York, NY 10007)
Music by Jillian Flexner
Libretto by Orlando Segarra
Newly created, a sex robot, tries to find out what it means to be a woman while trapped in a world created by her programmer, Pete, and his "Siri" device, Cora. Inspired in part by the composer's own experiences in an abusive relationship during her formative years, and the works of Sci-Fi pioneers Isaac Asimov and Ursula Le Guin, this opera explores the idea of "womanhood" through the lens of someone new to the world, and desperate to find where she fits. Using electronics as an extension of the orchestration, the composer is able to pair certain sounds with certain characters and events, like a leitmotif, as well as make the production into an immersive soundscape.
“Self Defined Circuits” explores two main questions: what does self-identity and femininity mean to artificial intelligence; and how can someone grow trapped in someone else’s world. The question of self-identity in artificial intelligence is best exemplified in the opera through the two AI characters, Cora and Fembot. Cora is represented by two voices for one role to show that while she thinks she is simply a program, perhaps she has two sets of consciousness, like humans (arousal and awareness). Fembot, who is brand new, is actively trying to find who she is.
The question of growing in someone else’s world is critical for women in composition. Defining one’s own path when someone else has long defined a “standard” one, is very hard and is at the core of the problem for women and people of color in music today. For the composer, this question loomed prevalently over her life as a young adult. She says, “I was in an abusive relationship when I was forming ideas about gender, sexuality, and self-identity. The most invasive and damaging thing he ever did was to define these for me. For a very long time, I lived trapped within his definitions of who I was and what I meant to the world. I wanted this opera to reflect this abuse: that defining a person is just as damaging as any other type of harm.”
This opera comes at a time when self reflection and identity are crucial. Especially in the Millennial generation, self-identity has often been defined through digital media interactions. The opera and its production will resound with these audiences, while offering a challenging look at the genre of opera and traditional performance styles, by integrating extended techniques, and live and fixed media electronics.
Chelsea Feltman, Fembot
Be Goodwin, Stage Director
Whitney George, Music Director
Victoria Benson, Production Manager
Scene 1: Pete engages Cora, who wants to start her normal routine for the day. Pete responds that he has fixed the error in the code from previous attempts and wants to make another attempt. Cora is hesitant, but obedient. Pete tries to run the "Automate Soulmate" program through Cora, but it proves too much for her operating system. Pete encourages her, which turns to urging, to shouting, and then yelling. Cora pushes through the discomfort and pain. The program runs successfully and Fembot awakens.
Scene 2: Pete tries to get fembot to talk. Acting as though she is a toddler, he coaxes her to say his name. Fembot tries to talk, but speaks in code. Cora tries to fix her language program, while Pete describes his hopes for this new robot. Meanwhile, Fembot continues to speak in code in a trio. After Cora finishes her repair, Fembot successfully repeats words that Pete points, like a father teaching his child to talk. Pete names her "Gal".
Scene 3: Fembot/Gal, still subtly glitching, meditates on this name that was given to her. She questions who she is and why she looks the way she looks.
Scene 4: Overhearing Fembot/Gal's ruminations, Cora, who feels much empathy toward Fembot/Gal because she has an understanding of Fembot/Gal's purpose, tries to help Fembot/Gal think through some of these questions. She explains how she has thought much on these subjects, as a mind with no body, how no amount of knowledge mining from the internet will answer Fembot/Gal's questions, who Pete is, and how much she loves him. When Fembot/Gal asks Cora if she is a woman, Cora says that she is not, she is a computer, and that Fembot/Gal could be a woman, but she would have to find that out for herself. Cora leaves Fembot/Gal with a lullaby, feeling deeply sad for the robot.
Scene 5: Discouraged by her talk with Cora, Fembot/Gal begins her daily lessons with Pete. He quizzes her with flashcards on identifying different objects. It's clear to Pete that she's learning exponentially every day. After a while, and with hesitation, Fembot/Gal asks Pete if she's a real woman. When he says that she's not and that she is there to be a companion to him, she asks why she was made to look like a woman with breasts and a vagina, and why he calls her "she". He is stumped because he still cannot comes to terms with his dual feelings of carnal desire for the sex robot and fatherly love for the learning-machine. When Fembot-Gal urges him to explain more, Pete says that in order to truly be a woman you have to be able to bear children. And although he cannot giver her that experience, he can give her the experience of sex, which will bring her closer to feeling like a true woman. Fembot/Gal, naive, is excited at the idea of increasing her understanding of her own identity as a woman and agrees.
Scene 1: Fembot/Gal is alone. She has just had sex with Pete. Although she agreed to have sex with him, she feels co-erced and taken advantage of. Fembot/Gal tries to process the negative exxperience she just had with Pete by searching for answers and reasons for her feelings. But she cannot find anything. So she tries to create her own data, but is putting out information that she is simultaneously taking in, creating a feed-back loop. The loop continues to climax and manifests as static, and her consciousness splits into two. Her body still artificial, her mind becomes human. Newly human, Fembot/Gal explores her new mindspace. Testing emotions, and finally, reevaluating her experience with Pete and sex, rethinking her own identity.
Scene 2: Aside, Pete understands he has done something wrong, but cannot identify what. He thinks back to the impetus for his creating Fembot/Gal. He thinks back to how he lost his friends over his obsession, how he shaped her after a movie star, and how he did create her for his own needs, not thinking that she would have any.
Scene 3: Pete and Cora still haven't seen Fembot/Gal after Pete and her had sex. Pete tries to continue with his day as if nothing is wrong. Cora confronts him about the way he has been treating her and Fembot/Gal. She is upset because she misses Pete's attention, because she loves Pete, and also because she thinks of Fembot/Gal as a daughter and he mistreated and misled her. Pete breaks down and explains how he thought he was creating this great thing for science, but it was really for him. He is at a loss for what to do and suggests dismantling her, deleting her program, and starting from scratch. Cora is floored and will not let Pete delete Fembot/Gal. Pete quietly agrees that dismantling her isn't the answer, but doesn't know what is.
Scene 4: Fembot/Gal enters. Pete tries to apologize for the other night, but Fembot/Gal cuts him off, explaining that the sex wasn't the problem. The problem is being in this world that he has created. She announces that she is leaving. Pete threatens her, exclaiming that he created her - that she is a fake woman and cannot leave. In moment of clarity, Fembot/Gal renames herself Lampshade and reiterates that she is leaving. Pete grovels, begging for her to stay.
Scene 5: Lampshade explains to Pete that what he thinks a woman is is incorrect, but that she doesn't know the answer. It is important for her to leave his world and enter the real one in order to find the answer.
Scene 6: Cora, saddened by Lampshade's leaving, but proud of her, sings her lullaby one last time.