Varispeed Perfect Lives Manhattan


Robert Ashley: Perfect Lives Manhattan
Sunday, November 6, 2011

Throughout Lower Manhattan

11 am - THE PARK - Washington Square Park
1   pm - THE BANK - Citibank 555 LaGuardia Place
3   pm - THE SUPERMARKET - Essex Street Market 120 Essex Street
5   pm - THE CHURCH - Trinity Lutheran 602 E 9th Street
7   pm - THE BACKYARD - Performa Hub Schoolyard 233 Mott Street
9   pm - THE LIVING ROOM - 43 Great Jones Street
11 pm - THE BAR - Tom & Jerry's 288 Elizabeth Street


Perfect Lives Manhattan is a daylong, site-specific performance of Robert Ashley’s 1983 opera adapted by Varispeed, a newly formed collective of composer-performers. The performance consists of seven half-hour episodes, each at a different location in the Lower East Side, Soho, and adjacent neighborhoods.

Ashley, a major figure of post-war American composition, has written almost exclusively for opera during the past thirty-five years, and Perfect Lives was his first major opera. Its seven episodes weave the intersecting stories of the people in the American Midwest, centered around a mysterious crime, an elopement, and the mischief of two itinerant musicians. Ashley uses the everyday expressions of the region to create a poetic mix of the quotidian with the lofty. The text is delivered by a primary narrator, using rhythmically precise speech, and is supplemented by an interjecting backing chorus.

Perfect Lives Manhattan takes the events of a day in a small Midwestern town and remaps them onto Lower Manhattan, starting at 11 am and continuing intermittently until 11:30 pm. As performers and audience members journey from location to location, participants re-imagine the big city as a folksy town where the bank tellers know the captain of the football team and everyone drinks together at the end of the night.  Varispeed’s performance will use spatial intimacy to help animate the story -- performances will happen inside homes, parks, and businesses, over shared snacks and shared readings, rather than on stages or behind lecterns. Perfect Lives Manhattan will bring together musicians, performers, fans and community members alike in a celebration of American opera.

Varispeed’s performance of Perfect Lives Brooklyn in June 2011 featured ad hoc vocals and arrangements, in part from necessity and in part as an aesthetic choice. For this November performance, each episode has been newly arranged by a member of the group. These arrangements feature fresh takes on instrumentation, amplification, and melodic content, while still maintaining the formal, metric, and chordal frameworks of the originals. Perfect Lives Manhattan is not a imitative interpretation of Ashley’s Perfect Lives, but instead seeks to reanimate Ashley’s material in new ways, stemming from the Varispeed members’ own individual relationships with the piece. Along with the forthcoming production of Vidas Perfectas, a Spanish-language version of Perfect Lives, and The Incubator Arts Project’s Robert Ashley Music Series, we hope to help usher in a renewed focus on Ashley’s work.

Varispeed is a newly formed collective of composer-performers from music and theatre groups Panoply Performance Laboratory, ensemble thingNY, and Why Lie? that creates site-specific, sometimes-participatory, oftentimes-durational, forevermore-experimental events. Founded by Aliza Simons, Dave Ruder, Paul Pinto, Brian McCorkle, and Gelsey Bell, Varispeed came together in June 2011 to perform a twelve-hour celebration of Robert Ashley's Perfect Lives.  Future projects include, among other all-day musical events, John Cage's Empty Words. For more information and documentation on Varispeed's Perfect Lives, visit