S.A.L.O. (The Standard American Lexicographical Opera)


World premiere on May 21, 2010
Second performance on May 22, 2010

Location: Grand Theatre Groningen

Composition, libretto, set-design and visuals: Michael Karr
Conducted by Simona Strungaru
Stage direction by Javier López Piñón
Light direction by Andre Pronk
Sound direction by Igor Shumlyanskiy
Technical design by Ron Edens



Soprano Dory Grandia as the fundamental frequency of her own American accent
Alto Esther Maas as the fundamental frequency of her own American accent
Countertenor Harm Huson as the fundamental frequency of Joe Schlesinger’s American accent
Tenor Edwin van Gelder as the fundamental frequency of Richard Zook’s American accent
Bass Niels van Doesum as the fundamental frequency of Mitchell Sandler’s American accent

Sebastian Burneci, piano and electro-acoustic mains organ

Instrumentalists in score order (characteristic to)

Iulian Vecliuc, english horn (Dory)
Lorin Lepadatu, basset-horn (Esther, Mitchell)
Wendy Mermet, horn in F (Esther, Joe, Richard)
Pablo Ruiz-Henao, bass trombone (Richard, Mitchell)
Goran Krmac, tuba (Mitchell)
Adam Jeffrey, vibraphone/timpani (Richard, Mitchell)
Henning Luther, timpani/tubular bells (Dory, Esther, Richard)
Laurent Warnier, tubular bells/vibraphone (Dory, Esther, Joe)
Alessandro Florio, semi-acoustic guitar (Dory, Joe)
Melanie Waite, violin (Dory, Joe)
Antonis Pratsinakis, cello (Esther, Joe)
Joao Santos, double bass (Richard, Mitchell)


A production of Michael Karr/Grand Theatre Productions
Copyright Michael Karr 2010, all applicable rights reserved



An opera in two acts, to a libretto mathematically extracted from two dictionaries of American English. There is a period of some 50 years between the two dictionaries. Based on the number of pages in each book, a polyrhythm was extracted to determine which words would be chosen for the libretto. The first act, one scene, consists of a roulette of arias amongst the singers, who interrupt each other and occasionally sing different words in unison. The second act, five scenes, is a gradually rising architecture of the five voices, from solos (with the five supporting instruments) to tutti (with the entire ensemble playing).


The most prominent instrument of the piece is the ‘mains organ’ entitled The nineteen summations of A0. It is an extrapolation of the overture The nineteen summations of A4. The organ (8 feet tall, 27.89 feet wide) consists of 19 wooden panels fitted with 2,973 relays which each produce a mains hum equivalent to the inputting power frequency, in this case the American 60 Hz: a microtonally flat B-flat. The relays were distributed over 13 groups, each with its own degree of loudness. The dynamic range was from hardly audible at all, to louder than a jet engine. The organ was controlled via an electric keyboard and used to reflect the intensity contour of the cumulative speech of all five voices.



The 2565 words of the libretto were distributed amongst five singers of the voice types Soprano, Alto, Countertenor, Tenor, Bass. The music, instead of being generated from pre-determined image, was composed from the American English pronunciation of the words, as spoken by five American singers of the appropriate voice types. These recordings were converted into spectrograms (graphical representations of complex sound) and this served as the basis for the score. Each role has five supporting instruments to their character, assigned based on the spectral structure of the voice. The ensemble was translated back to color and the libretto to a visual structure, to trace back from music to image. The singers sang the fundamental frequency (the lowest frequency track in the spectrogram) and the five characteristic instruments played the overtone series (the frequency tracks above the fundamental).




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