A new art form – the first spoken-word opera-novel – will make its Tallahassee debut at the Challenger Learning Center Planetarium on April 6 at 6:30 p.m. as a pre-festival event for the 2022 Word of South Festival.
The 13-minute work – “The Man in the Mangroves Matters to Sleep” (aka Man) is the result of the collaboration of two Tallahassee residents: composer Dr. James A. “Andy” Moorer and poet Dr. Donna Decker .
Decker and Moorer were joined by “Toy Story” producer Ralph Guggenheim to turn this musical work into an animated short that will be shown as a work in progress at the event. Decker, Moorer and Guggenheim will unite with Sopchoppy singer-songwriter Frank Lindamood. The presentation will include a question-and-answer session moderated by Dr. Helen Decker.
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Donna Decker, a creative writing grad from FSU and a transplant to Tallahassee, wrote the poem from the perspective of a homeless mathematician she met in a Key West mangrove while living there during the summer. 1996. He appears in his book of dramatic monologues, “Under the Influence of Heaven: The Voices of Key West.”
From poem to opera-novel
Moorer, an Oscar and Emmy winner for sound editing, composed the work based on Decker’s poem of the same title. Calling it an “opera-novel,” “The Man in the Mangroves Counts to Sleep” premiered in October 2019 at Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. It has since been performed at the New York Electroacoustic Music Festival 2020 and Santiago, Chile’s International Computer Music Conference 2021.
Most people are familiar with Moorer’s work without realizing it. He is the creator of “The Vroom Sound”, the THX sound logo that has been playing in theaters for decades.
Moorer, who holds an honorary professorship in FSU’s Department of Mathematics, said, “This poem particularly struck me, because the speaker of the poem could be considered a fallen mathematician. Since I have a math degree from MIT, I thought about the quirks of fate that separate me from this character.
At the Stanford University premiere in 2019, audience members spoke about how the play relates to the homelessness epidemic in the United States, particularly in San Francisco and Los Angeles. “As a poet, having these conversations with members of the public at the heart of California’s homeless dilemma was especially moving,” Decker said.
Stanford’s audience included luminaries of modern music, contemporaries of Moorer, and other pioneers of digital sound and image synthesis.
One of the first participants was Ralph Guggenheim, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and producer of the 1995 hit animated film, Toy Story. “I was impressed with the mood and tone of Andy’s composition and how he constructed an interpretation of Donna’s poem through text-to-speech. The three-dimensional sound space he creates made it easy to visualize this work,” says Guggenheim. “When I complimented Andy on his composition, our conversation immediately turned to how we could make a movie about the man.”
Animated film vision
Moorer, Decker and Guggenheim quickly decided the opera could have a future as an animated short and worked remotely throughout the pandemic to realize that vision.
A native of Tallahassee, Moorer worked on the composition for two years. He created most of “Man” on Alligator Point where he and his wife Nancy Elgin live part-time. Before the pandemic, Moorer had talked about creating “Man” with small groups of listeners who went to his surround-sound living room on Alligator Point to hear the opera.
Moorer says, “Needless to say, nobody was going to hire me to write a piece of experimental music. I had to wait until I was ready to retire to free up the time needed for a project of this magnitude, so in 2016 I retired from my role as Senior Scientist at Adobe Systems at the age of 70 years old and I started work on the piece.”
“The first challenge was finding a suitable narrator,” says Moorer. “My previous speech synthesis experiments suggested that it was better to start with a human being reading the poem than to try to synthesize all the subtlety of a real artistic performance.”
Lindamoor as narrator
He and Decker had met Frank Lindamood in 2010 at Butterfield’s, a former blues club in Sopchoppy. The following year, they collaborated on Decker’s poetry CD, “Petty Secret”. It was therefore natural that Moorer chose Lindamood’s characteristic resonant bass as the opera’s narrator.
Each of the opera’s 13-minute multi-layered electronic sounds are based on mathematical algorithms, using Lindamood’s voice as source material. It defies easy description until one listens to the finished work.
“Throughout the piece there are parts of extreme order contrasting with messy textures rising and mumbling with sweeps up and down,” Moorer says.
They then found their animators in Minneapolis-based husband-and-wife design team Squawk Productions after Decker saw their work in a short documentary about sled dogs, Lure of the North. Caitlin [Hargarten] and sat [Blake Thompson] understand the vision of man in the mangroves.
This five-person team, Team Mangrove as they call themselves, has made good progress over the past year and a half, developing visual concepts for the project and creating a draft of the film, called an animatic.
Kickstarter Grant and Homeless Coalition Donations
They partnered with the Tallahassee Writers Association and featured “Man” at one of the group’s monthly meetings. Florida State’s Division of Cultural Affairs DOS launched the project with a Fast Track grant that was complemented by a successful Kickstarter campaign.
Team Mangrove believes that it is not enough to raise funds for a homelessness project without themselves making a difference in the local community. To that end, they have given 5% of their Kickstarter donations to Tallahassee’s Big Bend Homeless Coalition and plan to continue this philanthropy with future donations.
The team is working to raise the rest of the film’s budget, and once completed, they plan to enter the animated short project into film festivals around the world.
On April 6, they will bring the opera-novel to Tallahassee audiences as a pre-festival event for Word of South. Along with a screening of the animatic being made, Lindamood will read Decker’s poem and Decker and Moorer will provide a live performance.
A Q&A panel, including Guggenheim, and moderated by Man associate producer Helen Decker, will wrap up the event.
The event will also be broadcast live by Tallahassee’s Berger Media Productions, Lee Berger. Free tickets are available through Eventbrite at mangrove-man.com or by contacting [email protected]
Decker adds, “We are pleased to have The Man in the Mangroves airing live for our backers and members of the public who live out of town. And for city dwellers, seeing it in person on the planetarium’s large domed screen, under the Tallahassee sky, while listening to the sounds flow from one surround speaker to the next is a sensory opportunity. exciting.
“It’s a conversation between stars,” says New York poet Gari Gullo, who has seen the evolution of animatic film and listened to the opera more than two dozen times in the stereo format to which Moorer converted the opera to make it accessible to a greater number of audiences.
“A poem has become an opera and now becomes an animated short,” says Guggenheim. “This is an exciting project for Andy, Donna and me.”
Now, audiences in Tallahassee will have the chance to sit under the night skies of Moorer’s hometown and Decker’s adopted town while being immersed in the cosmic conversation in surround sound of the stars talking to Man.
Although admission is free (book at www.mangrove-man.com), donations help the crew complete the film, with 5% of all donations benefiting the Big Bend Homeless Coalition.
The Man in the Mangroves is produced in partnership with the Tallahassee Writers Association and sponsored in part by the State of Florida, the Department of State, the Division of Cultural Affairs, and the Florida Council on Arts and Culture.
If you are going to
What: “The Man in the Mangroves”, an opera-novel synthesized by the spoken word
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday April 6, pre-festival of the Word of South Festival 2022.
Or: The Challenger Learning Center Planetarium on Kleman Plaza; car park at Kleman Plaza
Tickets: Free tickets available at mangrove-man.com; for more information, email [email protected] Although admission is free, donations help the team complete the film, with 5% of all donations benefiting the Big Bend Homeless Coalition.
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