the robot opera

by Andrea Elizabeth

or Death and the Powers

“Death and the Powers is a new opera by composer Tod Machover and developed at the MIT Media Lab. It is a one-act, full-evening work that tells the story of Simon Powers, a successful and powerful businessman and inventor, reaching the end of his life and facing the question of his legacy. He is now conducting his final experiment, passing from one form of existence to another in an effort to project himself into the future. Simon Powers is himself now a System. His family, friends, and associates must decide what this means, whether or not he is actually alive, how it affects them, and whether to follow.” (from the above link)

The robots don’t actually sing, the people do, thank goodness. The whole basis for Simon’s success in joining the System when he dies is that was a powerful and influential businessman. This is why he can continue to preach his gnostic philosophy that matter encumbers us by its susceptibility to pain and want, and is best transcended. The arc occurs in his wife and daughter who feel more attached to their bodies. His wife is an impassioned person who begs him beyond the grave to touch her. He ends up singing to her, since his voice is all he has left, and then she spends the rest of the evening in headphones in a musical drug trip. His daughter now bereft of her physical father and stepmother, argues that her body is more than a meat suit or a trained dog, but is indeed her. She argues that they need to physically help the suffering people in the world. Until they come after her and engulf her in their zombie-like insatiability. Her father is able to briefly assume physical form to rescue her from their clutches. She still argues that physical suffering is part of life, and life without it seems empty. Her stepmother and her father’s protégé decide to join the system anyway. She doesn’t agree, but she doesn’t think she can live without them, so at the end she joins them. Better to leave her body than live in it alone.

I was upset at the anti-matter Koolaid until the daughter had the better argument, but she chose to follow her dad and family anyway. I don’t fault her because not following him would have been a bit feminist. Not everyone is strong enough to choose right against their family whom they’re attached to. I kind of envy people who feel so contentedly, yeildedly bonded to other people. I’m more bonded to truth. But what is truth? Maybe to some people it is a bond. I’m also more bonded to faith than people. I believe God will take care of me even if noone follows.