- The Carbon Copy Building, comic strip opera
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"The Carbon Copy Building" is an opera composed by committee; Bang on a Can members Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe combined their efforts on the music, whereas the text, and the lavishly illustrated hardcover booklet, is the work of graphic novelist Ben Katchor. Katchor's "picture stories" have graced the pages of Metropolis Magazine and whose radio serial, Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer, stars actor Jerry Stiller; his newspaper-style visual art and compelling stories are steeped in the lore of New York City architecture and of Jewish Culture in Manhattan. By 2007, when this was released, "The Carbon Copy Building" is old news for Katchor, who since has gone on to stage several more operas, usually in collaboration with ex-Miracle Legion frontman Mark Mulcahy. But at the time of its first production in 1999, "The Carbon Copy Building" elicited a lot of attention and collected an Obie Award for Best Production; Cantaloupe Music is to be commended for remaining dedicated to this project over such a long span of time and for doing it right. As to the work, it is very "Downtown" and has a strong rock opera feel to it; it resonates with the grit and dust of the New York streets. Katchor's libretto compares two vintage office buildings in New York, erected mere months and 75 blocks apart with an identical floor plan. Although the opera has distinct characters, it does not have a traditional storyline and consists of impressions and actions that take place in the two buildings, one swank and trendy and the other beat down by the years and its location in a bad neighborhood. The form of this "opera", in a certain sense, is more like that of a secular cantata, and if the production design looked anything like this handsome booklet, it must have been remarkable to experience in the theater. The music, though created by three minds, performs as if of one mind. One caveat is that the mix, which took engineer Damian Legassick three years to complete, is a very bright, rock-production-styled job, and at times one wishes it wasn't quite so dense -- after all, one of the attributes of architecture is physical space, and perhaps some of these pieces would benefit from some distance between elements. However, the music is provocative and grows on you with repeated exposure; combined with the extraordinary booklet, "The Carbon Copy Building" should make for a challenging and stimulating item to add to one's music collection.