‘2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal’ is the title of the latest piece from Spanish-born British composer Toni Castells which will have its world premiere at St. James’s Piccadilly, London, on the 6th of July 2016 at 7.30pm.
The piece features the composer’s trademark blend of classical ensembles, operatic voices and electronica/sound art, described as Massive Attack meets Mendelsohn by Ben Roberts from industry magazine London Tourdates and Morricone meets Satie by Michael Haas, who produced prize-winning recordings with major classical artists including Zubin Mehta, Mstislav Rostropovich, Daniel Barenboim, Cecilia Bartoli and Luciano Pavarotti.
‘2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal’ takes its name from the eponymous Time Magazine article by Lev Grossman (Grossman 2011). The article explores Google’s chief engineer Ray Kurzweil’s view on technological singularity, a point in time set in 2045 by the scientific community in which humans and machines will finally merge, converting us in basically machines, allowing us to stop ageing and live indefinitely. Through this paradigm of the future I explore my own views on mortality, death and the possibility of afterlife.
In 2013 I started writing the piece. I decided to focus my new research and work on the topic of ‘death’ as, as I grew older and having experienced poor health during my 30s, I became more and more aware of my own mortality and, I have to admit, I grew increasingly more terrified of the idea of dying. Discovering Singularity and Kurzweil’s paradigm of the future seemed the answer to all my worries, I just had to make it until 2045 and let technology overcome the problem. The piece at first became a celebration of singularity, of technology overcoming man’s biggest fear and finally liberating us from death, but the more I researched the topic, going deeper and deeper into the subject and reflecting all that research into the new music I was creating, my perspective on ‘death’ changed dramatically.
I started analysing reports of near-death experiences that have been documented in various studies around the world. In 1982, a Gallup survey indicated that approximately 8 million adults in the United States alone had had a near-death experience, most of them actually shared the same experiences and characteristics. The findings from this research alone were transformative, together with the different ways in which humanity during history has dealt with death in different cultures and traditions. When you look at the hard data and take a wider perspective, it’s strange to see that, as a society, we’ve adopted such distorted perspective of death, one that creates in us unnecessary fear and suffering in individuals.
It became clear to me that there is beauty in the idea of dying, that we cannot separate life from death and that it is the imminence of death that gives beauty and purpose to our lives. When every moment can be our last, things become more beautiful and more intense. The song and closes the piece, Passing on the Torch, based on the words of philosopher Alan Watts, sums it up quite well:
“So therefore in the course of nature once we have ceased to see magic in the world anymore, we are no longer fulfilling nature’s game of being aware of itself. There’s no point in it anymore, and so we die, and so something else comes to birth which gets an entirely new view. It is therefore not natural for us to wish to prolong life indefinitely. But we live in a culture where it has been rubbed into us, in every conceivable way, that to die is a terrible thing. And that is a tremendous disease from which our culture in particular suffers.”
So ‘2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal’ reflects this personal journey of mine. I think that this transformation that happened inside of myself cannot be done alone at a rational level, at some point I had to feel it. Thus those feelings are into the music and I hope that the audience can feel through it my experience and have the chance to reflect on this issue themselves. I have lost all fear of dying, whenever my time is, I will be ready, “with clean hands and straight eyes”, quoting a Native American prayer from Chief Yellow Hawk that has also made into the piece.
Some interesting details of the piece: it is structured in 5 sections mirroring the five stages of a fruit tree, a metaphor of the cyclic nature of time and life. The first three sections (block 1) represent the process from life to death, the last two (block 2) open to door to immortality taking the cycle back to life again. All the individual segments that constitute the blocks follow the timings of the Fibonacci Sequence (1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 45 55), imitating the way nature creates its structures using Fibonacci based sequences. The piece is exactly 55min long, with the two main blocks separated at the Golden Ratio at 34min.
Sample of the new piece, the composition ‘Slaves of Time’ sang by Volksoper lead soprano Rebecca Nelsen:
The tickets of the show are sold via the St. Martin in the Fields box office at:
Cast for the premiere:
Meeta Raval Soprano
Oliver Gerrish Countertenor
Helios Voices Choir
Mark Sproson Choir Musical Director
Aquinas Piano Trio:
Martin Cousin Piano, Katherine Jenkinson Cello, Ruth Rogers Violin
Olivia Duque Cor Anglais
Martin Stephens Electric Bass
Mike de Groot Electronics
Toni Castells Keyboards and Percussion.
British soprano Meeta Raval made her Royal Opera debut in 2015. Raval studied at the Royal Academy of Music and the National Opera Studio. She was a finalist in the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition in 2011, and is the winner of the Dame Eva Turner Prize for ‘Soprano with Dramatic Potential’.
“Geniality and impeccable craftsmanship go hand in hand when it comes to Saint-Saëns’s piano trios. This is music to enjoy, as the Aquinas Piano Trio clearly do in playing it…the Aquinas Trio are spot-on in interpretative instinct.” Gramophone Review
Toni Castells (born 3 January 1976) is a Spanish-born British composer based currently in London. Composer, multi-instrumentalist, engineer, producer and academic, electro-acoustic polymath Toni Castells defies definition. His sonic worlds transpire an inherited precocious classical training with an inventive use of modern technologies to create unique and distinctive soundscapes that have been compared to Morricone and Satie. Over the years Castells has become best known for his genre defying solo albums which sit on the fringes of the the ever burgeoning ‘neo-classical’ movement. His spiritually-charged live performances have been hailed as ‘life-changing’.