Devised by Robertson (who as Ergo Phizmiz conceived similarly askew productions including an adaptation of Flann O’ Brien’s surrealist classic novel The Third Policeman) with Mahogany’s artistic director Frederic Wake-Walker, and featuring a cast including English National Opera’s Rebecca Bottone, Mozart vs Machine brings together a wealth of historical figures including the father of electronic music, Raymond Scott. When a device Scott invents to create random musical patterns accidentally tears a hole in the universe, it begins a fantastical encounter that brings him face to face with classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. “Central to the piece is the question of how vital the march of technology is to the transformation of music: to what extent composition is a product of scientific advances”, explains Robertson. “What happens when Mozart, a composer of imagination, paper, and ink, is placed in a theoretical space with Raymond Scott, an inventor of chance-generated loop machines, and what sense of mutual recognition can these disparate historical figures find?”
What follows is part surreal vaudeville, part philosophical debate, exploring creating music, random chance and the ownership of ideas … all with a little help from film-pioneer Georges Méliès, Lewis Carroll’s logic games, composers John Cage and J S Bach and a local chorus of senior citizen jurors.
The music and action of Mozart vs Machine features celebrated excerpts from Mozart’s operas such as The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute remixed by Robertson. This is accompanied by large scale video projections and animation, which the live action moves in and out of, frequently ‘breaking the fourth wall’. The result is an almost over-the-top spectacle that constantly plays with the audience’s expectations, asks pertinent questions about contemporary culture and offers an enticing audio-visual brew to boot.