VALIS the Opera, 1988
by Tod Machover

(transcribed by memetic alchemy)

Play this page as a M3U playlist
right click to download
Valis - Track 1
Valis - Track 2
Valis - Track 3
Valis - Track 4
Valis - Track 5
Valis - Track 6
Valis - Track 7
Valis - Track 8
Valis- Track 9.mp3 dupe of track 8
Valis - Track 10

Part I

The stage area is empty and dimly lit as the audience is seated.

On the stage is a complex web of video monitors and projection surfaces. They are arranged in fragmented fashion closer to the public, and more symmetrically towards the back of the scenic area. Some are arranged vertically in the form of walls or towers. Others form patterns on the stage itself. Most of the decor in VALIS and certain narrative elements are displayed on these projection surfaces.

Also on the stage are various items for Horselover Fat's Southern California apartment. Most prominent is a writing table, strewn with papers.

In place of the traditional orchestra pit is a long, narrow, recessed area that contains all of the sound and visual control equipment for the opera, and is visible to the audience. The conducter (who also plays Mini) is seated in the exact center of this space. Two separate recessed, yet not connected, holes contain a grand piano (stage right) and a percussion installation (stage left).

Lights Dim to total blackness. A few seconds of absolute silence...

 1. Explosion and Overture

Big crash of images and music. Intense pink strobe-like light. This is accompanied by flashing, fleeting images of colors and abstract designs on many small projection surfaces. Images pass too quickly to be legible. Crescendo to great intensity. Light and images shatter into fragments.

After-image of pink light; like phosphene activity.. almost blinding.

Horselover Fat is in center of stage with a pink laser beam piercing him through the head.

While Fat remains center stage, basically immobile, the Overture begins. Delicate variations of lighting, first in sombre tones, and then with increasing intensity until the final pedal tone of the Overture.

 2. First Narrative

During this text, Horselover Fat is seen performing several simple everyday activities (eating, smoking, etc.). Mostly, he is writing, first slowly and then with more intensity. At first the musical accompaniment comes from the loudspeakers.

Phil (recorded voice-off... no face visible): Horselover Fat's nervous breakdown began the day he got the phone call from Gloria asking if had any Nembutals. He asked her why she wanted them and she said that she intended to kill herself. She was calling everyone she knew. By now she had fifty of them, but she needed thirty or forty more, to be on the safe side.

At once Horselover Fat leaped to the conclusion that this was her way of asking for help. It had been Fat's delusion for years that he could help people. His psychiatrist once told him that to get well he would have to do two things- : Get off dope (which he hadn't done) and to stop trying to help people (he still tried to help people).

During this opening narrative, a silent image of Gloria on the telephone appears suddenly on a video monitor, and then disappears in a slow fade.

Phil (recorded voice-off): He had no sleeping pills of any sort. He never did any sleeping pills. He did uppers. So giving Gloria sleeping pills by which she could kill herself was beyond his power. He wouldn't have done it if he could. As a matter of fact he had no Nembutals.

At Fat's first live speech, the lights come on abruptly to illuminate the two musicians. Their live music accompanies Fat's interjection.

Horselover Fat (live on stage; lighting changes to emphasize that the "real" Fat is speaking for the first time): I have ten.

Phil (recorded voice-off): That's when Fat began to go nuts.

At the time he didn't know it, but he had been drawn into an unspeakable psychological game. What he did not know then is that it is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.

I'm by profession a science fiction writer. I deal in fantasies. My life is a fantasy. Nevertheless, Gloria Knudsen lies in a box in Modesto, California. Everything happens to my friend Horselover Fat. He's the one who got zapped, one night in 1974, with a pink laser light that communicated to him incredible things.

So Fat started keeping a journal, an "exegesis" he called it. His encounter with God was all there on the pages in his own handwriting... Fat's handwriting, not God's.

 3. Fat's Sacrament

Phil (live on stage, speaking to audience, accompanied by piano and percussion with a background of electronic sound; Fat is lit brilliantly, and performs this number with great vigor ):

We appear to be memory coils in a computer-like thinking system which, although we have correctly recorded and stored thousands of years of experiential information, and each of us possesses somewhat different deposits from all the other life forms, there is a malfunction- a failure — of memory retrieval. The ancients possessed techniques (sacraments and rituals) to induce firing and retrieval, mainly with a sense of it's restorative value to the individual.

The Universe is information!

 4. Beach Scene

The lighting slowly transforms. Fat gets up from his desk and prepares for the meeting with Gloria. She is illuminated, far off stage, and approaches Fat slowly. Images and sounds of the beach begin to appear.

(recorded voice-off):
Month after month Fat labored over his Exegesis, trying to make some sense of the inscrutable. And Gloria ... She was just part of the project.

Gloria's voice is heard humming a gentle song, a version of the "Slipper's Song" that will return near the end of the opera.

Sound and image have changed completely to suggest the ocean. Fat and Gloria are seated at the beach.

Gloria :
Hey Fat, ... ya' seen my Nembutals?

Fat :
Um ... What d'ya mean?

Gloria :
Can't find 'em. D'ya know where they are?

Fat :
Look Gloria, I took 'em! Listen, move in with me, ok? It'll be all right. I mean, I live all alone.

Gloria :
I'm tired of doing what everybody else wants.

Fat :
C'mon, we can move your stuff up, some friends of mine and I. And we can do stuff, like we're goin' to the beach today.

Listen, Gloria, it would really make me feel bad for the rest of my life if you did away with yourself.

Gloria :
I guess I could stay at your place tonight ...

Fat :
Far out, ok! You can move in with me. But just don't kill yourself. I mean it would really make me feel bad for the rest of my life if you did.

Light begins to fade from Gloria. She gradually disappears.

(recorded voice-off): Asking Gloria not to kill herself as a favor to him was a lousy idea really. He couldn't have given her a worse reason for staying alive.

 5. Fat's Dream

Gloria's face appears suddenly on the monitors, as if in memory, and then fades slowly.

Light becomes more present on Fat center stage.

During the dream that follows, various images from Fat's narrative are illustrated simply and fleetingly on the video monitors.

Fat :
You know, I have these dreams of a strange place, a lake up north and the cottages and small rural houses around it's south shore. In my dream I arrive there from Southern California, where I live; this is a vacation spot, but it is very old-fashioned. All the houses are wooden, made of the brown shingles so popular in California before World War Two. The roads are dusty, the cars are olden, too. What is strange is that no such lake exists in the northern part of California. In real life I have driven all the way north to the Oregon border, and there's nothin' but seven hundred miles of dry country.

Where does this lake — and the houses and roads around it — actually exist?

Since in the dream I am aware that I am on vacation, that my real home is in Southern California, I sometimes drive back down here to Orange County in these inter-connected dreams. But when I arrive back down here I live in an apartment. In the dreams, I am married. In real life, I live alone. Stranger still, my wife is a woman I have never actually seen.

She wears blue jeans and is slender and pretty.

Who is this wife?

An hour after I have woken up from the dream I can still see in my mind's eye — whatever that may be; the third eye or "ajna" eye? — the garden hose which my wife in her blue jeans is dragging across the cement driveway. Little details, and no plot.

Who am I? How many am I? Where am I?

This little plastic apartment in Southern California is not my home, but now I am awake, I guess, and here I live, with my TV (hello, Dick Clark), and my stereo (hello, Olivia-Newton John) and my books (hello, nine million stuffy titles). In comparison with my life in the inter-connected dreams, this life is lonely and phony and worthless; unfit for an intelligent and educated person.

Where are the roses? Where is the lake? Who is the slim, smiling attractive woman coiling and tugging the green garden hose?

Then a strange thought came to me. I am not close to my father, who is still alive, in his eighties, living up in Northern California. Only twice did I ever see his house, and that was twenty years ago. His house was like that which I owned in the dream. His aspirations — and accomplishments — dovetail with those of the person in the dream.

Do I become my father during my sleep?

Fat freezes as if thinking about what he has just said. A dark figure has entered the stage, seen only in silhouette but dressed exactly like Fat, suggesting the presence of the narrator.

Phil :
(pre-recorded speech, but associated with silhouetted figure on stage ):
Phylogenic memory, memory of the species. The individual contains the history of his entire race, back to its origins. The situation has to do with time, and whether time is real.

It has also been said of dreams that they are a "controlled psychosis", or, put another way, a psychosis is a dream breaking through during waking hours.

What does this mean in terms of Fat's lake dream which includes a woman he never knew for whom he felt a real and comfortable love?

Are there two persons in my brain, as there are in Fat's? Are we all like Horselover Fat, but we don't know it?

Fat :
How many worlds do we exist in simultaneously?

Phil :
(with silhouette) How many worlds do we exist in?

Fat :
How many worlds?

Phil :
(with silhouette) How many?

Fat :
How many?

Fat and Phil together :
How many? How many? How many ... (repeated over and over).

During the repetitions of "How many?", the image of the silhouetted figure appears for the first time on the video monitors. This video image begins to multiply and accumulate along with the sound.

This is joined by close-up images of Fat's face, split up into fragments like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

Total blackout on the final "How many?".

 6. Loneliness Transition

The stage is flooded with bright light. Horselover fat stands in center stage wearing a white strait-jacket. He is in a mental hospital.

Transitional music emphasizes his loneliness and solitude. Very subtle play of light follows harmonic shifts in the music and changes of expression on Fat's face.

At the end of this music, Dr. Stone, a psychiatrist, appears on stage.

 7. Dr. Stone's Scene