Jazz composer Darcy James Argue and writer/director Issac Butler explore conspiracy theories through music
“Belief in conspiracies is one of the defining aspects of modern culture,” says Canadian-born bandleader and composer Darcy James Argue. On October 2, Stanford Live presents his stellar 18-piece big band Secret Society in an evening-length, jazz-fueled exploration of American paranoia titled Real Enemies, a work co-created with writer/director Isaac Butler and produced by Beth Morrison Projects.
With titles like “Trust No One” and “The Enemy Within,” the 12 musical vignettes of Real Enemies evoke a shadow history of postwar America — from LSD to aliens to Edward Snowden — that may or may not be true.
Real Enemies is the product of extensive research into a broad range of conspiracies, from the familiar and well-documented to the speculative to the outlandish. It traces their historical roots, their iconography and the language they use to persuade and examine conspiratorial thinking as a distinct political ideology.
An innovative marriage of music and hybrid nonfiction, Real Enemies also marks the first collaboration between Butler and the composer who Newsweek says offers “a wholly original take on big band’s past, present and future.”
“The score draws heavily on 12-tone techniques even as it departs at times from conventional notions about how those techniques should be employed,” says Argue. “This isn’t the first time I’ve written music that contains 12-tone elements but in the case of Real Enemies, the 12-tone row becomes a deep structural device, not just for the music but the formal development of the entire work. It’s going to be an intense musical and sensory experience and I’m very much looking forward to unveiling it this fall.”
Following the performance, Argue and Butler will join professor Kathryn Olmsted (chair of history at the University of California, Davis, and author of Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11) for a conversation about the curious prevalence of “conspiracism” in American culture — from wild speculations about the John F. Kennedy assassination to the “9/11 truth movement,” that inspired the performance.
The concert premieres on October 2. ($30-$65) For tickets and information, visit live.stanford.edu.