The Carbon Copy Building
The Carbon Copy Building, a comic book opera, is a dynamic and visually stunning trip through the gritty underside of urban life. Words and drawings by celebrated New Yorker comic-strip artist and recent MacArthur Grant recipient Ben Katchor (best known for the dark, witty humor of his cult-classic comic Julius Kniple, Real Estate Photographer) are vividly brought to musical life in a completely collaborative effort from Bang on a Can Co-Artistic Directors Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe. The revolutionary show won the Village Voice 2000 OBIE Award for Best New American Work. After several years, the work is finally out on CD – accompanied by Katchor’s beautifully illustrated libretto – in a limited edition hard-bound Book and CD case.
This revolutionary new production embraces the dark, witty humor of Katchor, known for his cult classic underground comic, Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, to look at a pair of buildings constructed from the same architectural plan. One stands on a wide, wealthy avenue and the other on the forgotten alley of a fringe neighborhood. Architecturally, the buildings and their plans are identical, but their uses and the people and businesses that inhabit them could not differ more. Combining the striking projections of Katchor’s comics with powerful virtuoso performances by a cast of four singers and four musicians (winds, keys, guitar, and drums), the production inventories the contents of the buildings, explores the parallel yet opposite lives of their inhabitants, and uncovers the strange and hilarious places in which the two worlds overlap – finally bringing together the odd lives of each building over a single piece of cherry cheesecake.
Katchor’s stark line drawing reverberates with the jagged angularity of Gordon, Lang, and Wolfe’s explosive new music to depict a strange and powerful American urban experience.
The Carbon Copy Building was commissioned by the Settembre Musica Festival and promoted by the city council of Turin, Italy, with additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts.
David Lang on the Origins of The Carbon Copy Building
“In 1996 the Bang on a Can All-Stars played a week of concerts at the Settembre Musica Festival in Torino. We had never played in Italy before and we weren’t sure that anyone would come, but to our delight, the concerts were packed and very successful. No one was happier than the presenter, Enzo Restagno, who was so impressed with the reception to our music that, after the last concert, he walked up to Michael, Julie and me and commissioned us to write an opera together. The only request he made was that it should have something to do with life in New York. After much thought and discussion, we decided to do a project with a comic book artist. After all, comic books are America’s great contribution to world literary culture. We also thought we could make a new kind of music theater, in which the projection of texts and scenery would merge the set and the libretto into one. In particular, we thought of working with Ben Katchor, a hip underground cartoonist whose work deals with the unseen lives of urban America in a darkly comic way. Ben loved the idea of doing an opera, and he dreamed up the story, wrote the text and drew all the cartoons. Then we contacted the Ridge Theater, an avant-garde theater collective in New York known for their innovative use of low-tech projections. And so, a new kind of opera was born, and in September 1999 we returned to Torino for the premiere of The Carbon Copy Building.”