The Mask of Maximus

Plasm over ocean
The Dashuki Music Theatre performs Plasm over ocean a chamber opera in three scenes music by Dennis Báthory-Kitsz text by David Gunn

The Dimmax Mask Costumes and masks: Janet Passow Gillock after designs by the composer
Lighting and audio: R. Bernard Fredette
Instruments designed and built by the composer

The Characters

Augmax   /  Shirley Strock Albright
Dimmax   /  Linda Kay
Retromax /  David Gunn
Max II   /  Janet Passow Gillock
Maximus  /  Dennis Báthory-Kitsz
Instrumental chorus:
  Francis Riesz
  Claire Manfredonia

The Composer as Maximus Directed by the composer


Scene One

The Clergyorigamic pentagrams bathe me in my delirium
shall I run the risk of waking up deceased?
I, Maximus, philosopher and prophetic phre-
netic of energumen, await execution swiftly
colluded by my own clergymen's machination.
mourn not my lot which the morning elicits;
I shall suffer less than they, unless their
accusations be truly false. am I then pure?

darkness at once suffocates and nourishes me
my brain tangrams with topologically enigma-
tic flourishes and cheats me of tranquillity
long ago a mantra shelved my thoughts and my
thoughts atrophied; now I retain only veiled
reminders of hylozoist platitudes and wizard
words. I, Maximus, permutated creature of an
inverted conundrum, need no execution to die

convoluted interstices make gleamy caricature
variables of death with taxes, their cosmetic
affirmations of faith so naively presupposed.
asleep my mind awash in light I fend them off
sweet nothings galore assail my thoughts like
the pallid drone of redundant cotton verse. a
queer pile of corn and ducks vanishes nearby.
would that such sophism might touch the dawn.

I, Maximus, muted or permuted anagram of truth
through hemlock, attend to Esperantus, until a
tabloid replica of a post-mortem interrogation
intrudes and sends other musings higgledy-pig-
gledy. has the brain concocted cerebral heresy
or am I fated to croon Happy Trails yet again.
dream dances are routed by a sudden dawn as my
thought-words mutate into logarithmic spirals.

Ringing the Execution Max, philosopher and prophet phrenetic, awaits execution colluded swiftly, for mourning not are mornings, if only less he shall suffer.


Suffer shall he less, only if mornings are not mourning, for swiftly colluded execution awaits phrenetic prophet and philosopher Max.

Execution... Death... Darkness at once suffocates and nourishes tangrams of brain, his topologically enigmatic flourishes, tranquillity, his shelved and atrophied thoughts; retains he reminders: veiled hylozoist platitudes, wizardry of words -- permutated and inverted creature, this Max!

Max (this creature inverted and permutated) words of wizardry, platitudes hylozoist, veiled reminders he retains: thoughts atrophied and shelved. His tranquillity flourishes enigmatic topologically -- his brain of tangrams nourishes and suffocates once at darkness! death! execution!

Had born-eroded light (no man is sent) seen I, Max? Enemy -- mere helixes atoning -- is won never. Even I flown am. As a whore we live no less, even if on fire. Reviled enemy, confined I am drawn. I revel! ...confined exotox elan! If not, I await on final exotox Eden! If no clever inward maiden, if no cymene deliverer, if no fine vessel (on evil ewer), oh was a man-wolf I never, even now? Sign I not as exile. Here my men examine estness in a month gilded or enrob'd (ah!).

Again Happy Trails crooning my fates, brain-concocted cerebral heresy. Esperantus, to attend hemlock through truth of anagram is permuted -- or muted.

Muted or permuted is anagram of truth through hemlock. Attend to Esperantus, heresy. Cerebral concocted brain fates my crooning Happy Trails again.

Affirmative Ringing Convoluted interstices make variables of death taxes, affirmatives in faith cosmetic -- my mind asleep, awash... Sweet nothing verse of cotton redundant. The corn and ducks vanish!

Execution... Death... Darkness at once suffocates and nourishes tangrams of brain. His topologically enigmatic flourishes! Tranquillity! His shelved and atrophied thoughts -- retains he reminders... veiled hylozoist platitudes, wizardry of words. Permutated and inverted creature, this Max!

Vanish ducks and corn! The redundant cotton of verse... Nothing sweet awash, asleep mind. My cosmetic faith in affirmatives taxes death. (Of variables, make interstices convoluted).


Scene Two

from preludes past, a monophobic chorus recommences:
silence, no world,
mind alone in words hallowed,
peace, transmundane wail...
no rest, no will,
no silence

Clergy Unmasked whether to admit to corporality or asylum,
I, Maximus,
should no longer presume
upon my carefully squandered hypocrisy.
provocations of years past
become mere syllables now,
diffracting into grotesque asymmetry
the great impassionate dialectics of my fantasies:
a true mathematical puzzle
without logic.
ah, but transition approaches with inexorable sweetness:
an ocean of crystalline abstractions
washes over my delirium
and I am gently seized
by a tantalizingly slow reflux of pacific ambiguity.


no silence,
no rest, no will,
transmundane wail...
in words hallowed peace,
no world, mind alone,

Attention I exist in a sort of corpulent void,
while contemplative ripples
of past poiitics
surge by unnoticed.
somewhere between the ether and nether
I grope for my rare destination,
a lethargic tract of abandoned vertigo.
I, Maximus,
my head enveloped in sand and clouds,
may yet conjure platonic colors
or mystic immolations
from my throne and altar.
ah, but the bewitching sweetness of permutation beckons:
and the origamic pentagram tangrams with
the plasm.


Scene Three

Diffuse the plasm, sunder the origam!
Tangram to his deleria his abandoned pentagram!

this Maximus,
  this unhallowed interpolator
    of our carnal mantra,
      accepts only his own illusive phantasmagory
        of contemplating truth through hemlock.
          his plasm over ocean
              talismanically sweet delusions
                of earthly cabala,
                    the ether and nether
                      with cryptic flourishes
                        of cerebrally topologic anagrams.
                        diffuse the plasm!
                     sunder the origamic pentagram!
                  abandon this philosophic and phrenetic abstraction
               to Esperantus!
            condemn his permutation to Vertigo:
         his mantra
      shall I
with his deleria!

It Ceases It ceases.
Mi estas unu kun Esperantus!
The mantra, that gentle annihilator
of thought-words, finally ceases!


Ha! My brain, for so long the pawn, for so long the gloomy detritus of your plasmic damnation, may once again attend to my all-consuming idolatry! Ha! Begone, aberrational abstractions, cerebral anagrams! I, Maximus, am one with Esperantus! Welcome, preconsciousness, which for so long slept fitfully in emaciated asphyxia! O plasm, diaphanous complexus of both sage and fool, of quietus and quietude, where now are your qualmy delusions? Do you dare to raze my consciousness before the permutation of my dementia into deleria is complete? Mi estas unu kun Esperantus! I, Maximus, topologic madman or sacrificial demigod, await only the tangramming of the origamic pentagram with the plasm!

Drum Tangrams

Esperantus... my brain... 
Ahh, my mind is tangramming with... 
my mind
is tangramming with... 
The ocean! 
Darkness, death, give me life! 
Esperantus, O verbose spirit guide, 
why won't you speak to me? 
Ahh, I see
  you, too, are confused. 
Well, pay it no heed... 
I'll have my clergy speak to you. 
Esperantus, do you dare doubt me? 
Can you even see me? 
Night, dawn, morning... 
  where is there a difference? 
I can see myself... 
ahh, what is that which oozes 
  so benignly from your face, 
O trembling spiritual... what? 
It seems that I shall 
  have to take this up with my clergy,
and they shall decide 
  what to do with you. 
Your origam confuses me!
Begone, dull Esperantus! 
Requiescat in grece! 
am compelled to show you your weak plasm. 
Sadness, Esperantus? 
I can understand...
mi estas unu kun Maximus! 
Mi plasm estas unu kun... 
my deleria! 
Relax, Esperantus, 
  we've got all the time in the world...

All the Time



Maximus By his own account, Maximus is a philosopher and the leader of a mystic religious sect. He used to be a profound thinker until he focused on a mantra to such an extent that his thoughts atrophied, leaving him with only scattered memories and half-realizations. One of these is that he is awaiting execution, having been betrayed and falsely branded a heretic by the other clergymen in the sect. If only he could focus his thoughts, surely he could prove himself pure and forestall his fate.

But perhaps he is already dead -- or perhaps it is all a hallucination. Max is not sure.

Now he is conscious of the clergy condemning him, as the relentless drumbeat of the mantra pounds through his brain. His scattered thoughts beckon with seductive glimpses of an eternal fantasy, causing him to lose track of his predicament over and over again.

Then suddenly, his mantra ceases, much to Max's relief and surprise. He reasons that at last he has attained the same spiritual plateau as Esperantus, his mystical spirit guide, and thus has proved himself pure and vindicated himself in the eyes of his enemies. But triumph quickly turns to bewilderment, for Max seems to have left his physical body somewhere along the way.

Does this mean that he is physically dead? Or is this, too, a hallucination? Esperantus, the source of universal truth, appears to be as confused as Maximus.

But... is there really an Esperantus? Maximus is far from certain.

Notes by Linda Kay


A Note on the Form

Plasm over ocean represents a departure from the traditional operatic form. Most noticeable is the appearance of unique instruments created for the work and the use of masks in a manner reminiscent of Greek tragedy. Probably most unusual, the characters themselves play the instruments, not a detached orchestra. The main role is not sung at all, but nonetheless a contrapuntal musical structure is achieved in vocal and instrumental combinations.

Maxes The characters in "Plasm" are all permutations of the central personage, Maximus: Dimmax, the frenetic diminutive of Maximus; Augmax, the languorous, highly melodic augmentations; Retromax, the speaking inversion; and Max II, the alter ego and non-reversing mirror.

The first scene, a circularly cohesive collection of Maximus' thoughts, uses the device of the palindrome to emphasize its invertible qualities. Each of the permutations of Maximus has a part that can be spoken backward -- yet each one must remain locked into responding to Maximus' speeches.

The second and third scenes represent other departures -- they are reductions rather than developments of the thematic material. Unlike traditional practice, where musical ideas are presented first in their simplest forms, these fully developed materials are gradually reduced to primitive, elementary evocative musicality.

Finally, "Plasm over ocean" is one of those many contemporary compositions which are in many ways exclusive, not universal. Costumes, masks, choreography, text, music, instruments and lighting have all been developed for the work as a whole - not merely this performance. Melodic lines were constructed in consultation with the performers, and instruments and instrumental practice developed in line with the potential skills of each member. In other words, this composition must be re-written for each group of musicians that attempts its performance.

"His plasm over ocean yields talismanically sweet delusions of earhly cabala, tangramming the ether and nether with cryptic flourishes of cerebrally topologic anagrams."


The Instruments

The set of Glass Chimes was the first major instrument conceived for the Dashuki Music Theatre. Originally intended for the performance of The Owl Departing, composed in 1975, the Chimes were revised and saw use in other pieces. The Chimes are drawn laboratory glass, pitched equally in a macrotonal scale, and are mounted with nylon hooks on an unfinished pine frame.

The Brass Chimes follow in number and framing the original glass set. These are different from standard orchestral chimes not only in their tuning (sixteen equal pitches 1 1/4 steps apart), but also in the way their thick walls emphasize the strong color and harmonic content of the brass. They are mounted on the frame with metal hooks.

The Hharp The Hharp is of particularly unusual design, hardly related at all to the traditional instrument of the same name. Most unusual is the tone quality itself. Strongly reminiscent of the koto, the Hharp spans a wider range, comprised of sixty strings. These strings are tuned geometrically, increasing in pitch distance as they move into the treble range. The frame is maple, the pins are brass, and the sounding board is plexiglas. The strings are attached to brass hitch pins and run over a maple bridge which is mounted, harpsichord-style, to the sounding board.

The Uncello The Uncello is tuned in the traditional manner and played with a standard bow, but beyond that, bears little relationship to the familiar orchestral instrument. Large curves of maple and glass make up the frame and sounding surface of the Uncello, both softening the sound of the strings and emphasizing their harmonic content -- a goal, in fact, of all the instruments designed for this composition. For this performance, the Uncello has been amplified with a capacitive transducer, thus allowing accurate reproduction of the instrument's sound.

The Gong was the last of the instruments completed for this work. It is three feet across, and made from 1/16th-inch sheet brass. The material has been hammered and worked until the familiar "rushing" sound of the gong was achieved. The center design by artist Trevor Bryant was applied by silkscreen. Texturing of the gong surface was done by David Gunn and Richard Fredette.

List and descriptions of all the composer's instruments.

Attention, Please


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