Open Source Guerrilla Opera

A question was raised at a recent SF Guerrilla Opera planning meeting: What is “guerrilla opera”? While we have used the term for over eight months, we had yet to define its parameters. This post attempts just that, positioning guerrilla opera as a genre:

Poet Ryan Funk coined the term soon after our first performance. Though our first sCore gave no vocal direction apart from “only act as feels right in the moment”, at about 30 minutes into the 40-minute reading, people began to sing from the books before them–cook books, comic books, Shakespeare, etc. Once we decided to stage the same sCore–“40+ people read aloud for 40 minutes from books found in the bookstore”–without the permission of Borders Bookstore, it was clear that the form was going “guerrilla”.  This transition along with the musicality of our first performance and a cue from its title–A Night At The Opera With Hosni Mubarak Hosted By Dave Eggers–led to the equation guerrilla + opera.

Now after four guerrilla operas and two more in the make, we feel prepared for and in need of defining what we’re doing. Is it performance art? Is it protest? Perhaps it is both. But if we say it is both, then it is fundamentally neither. As SF Guerrilla Opera is comprised mostly of poets and prose writers, more appropriate go-to’s might be “contextual writing” or “contextual sound poetry”. Still, both terms lack substantial, explicit elements of dissent, theater, and the body. Perhaps guerrilla opera is no more than “guerrilla opera”.

What follows are definitions followed by links to further reading. We present this information not only to define, but to disclose in a manner similar to that of open source sharing. We invite you to build upon these ideas. We invite you to do better.

guerrilla opera (n): a sCore in motion

You can read “sCore” in a variety of ways: text-body hybrid, bad pun, post-Fluxus forget-me-not, bad pun, etc. We think of it as a bodily phenomenon: individual and collective bodies’ Cores joined to a textual sCore. Once the sCore is activated–set in motion–the guerrilla opera begins.

sCore (n): a set of textual guidelines that enable a simultaneity of poetic “saying” and social discovery while realigning personal, interpersonal, sPace-ial, and textual relationships

Here “poetic” is synonymous with “political” as well as any other intended or discovered saying. As for the “realignment”, it might help to think about this in terms of syntax–the realignment of the syntax of the body and its functions, the conceptual or literal syntax of the sung text, and the syntax of sPace. It is important to note that any good sCore, while tight, simple, and clear, must offer sPace for personal and group exploration and improvisation.

sPace (n): the location and duration of a guerrilla opera

Space and time are joined to highlight the four-dimensionality of guerrilla opera. If a singer writes during an opera, the writing occurs in sPace. If a singer openly dissents during an opera, the dissent occurs in sPace. The dissent also affects the text being sung.

LIBREtto (n): the text sung during a guerrilla opera

To date, text has been sung from the page or from memory. “Text” is free to be anything you can or cannot read and sing aloud. We must note the great difficulty of pinning down just what is the LIBREtto as it lives somewhere between that which is read by the eye, that which is sung by the voice, and that which is heard by the ear. Often these three do not equate. A singer may chose to read a prose text in traditional order–from beginning to end. The same text might be read out of order. It might be erased, remixed, misread, translated, mistranslated, etc.

The above bolded words are all variables that affect the dynamics of a guerrilla opera. Their relation is best expressed in the equation found above this post and in this guerrilla opera equation. It is important to note the relations they share with each other–that each of them are variables with elements dependent and independent of each other.

Here are some links to readings relevant to the development and practice of guerilla opera:

1. guerrilla by Wikipedia. A redirect to “guerrilla warfare”. If we find a better–and free–definition on the web, we’ll post it.

2. opera by Wikipedia.

3. guerrilla opera equation by Tom Comitta. For Christian Frock/Invisible Venue‘s Open Source project. Frock’s solicitation was an inspiration for this post.

4. soUNDreport: Canyouhearmenow? by Tom Comitta. A blog post disclosing the concerns of guerrilla opera and the dynamics of our fourth opera Canyouhearmenow?

5. SF Guerrilla Opera by SF Guerrilla Opera. Video documentation and sCore information of every guerrilla opera to date.

6. soUNDtangent: MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (Prozac for your AntiSec) by Tom Comitta. An invitation to perform in our third guerrilla opera. A good example of how we spread the word. We also use Twitter and Facebook.

7. A Night At The Opera With Hosni Mubarak Hosted By Dave Eggers by members of SF Guerrilla Opera. A book of transcriptions and other writings related to our first guerrilla opera. Free to download or for purchase in-print. Sold at cost value.

8. This is Jörg Heiser on Tino Sehgal by Jörg Heiser. Co-founder Tom Comitta was dancing in Sehgal’s dancing bruce and dan and other things (2000) while planning the first and second guerrilla operas.

9. Secondary Protest Strategies (for Ai Weiwei) by Christian Frock. An important text concerning protest and documentation in the digital age.

10. The Emancipated Spectator by Jacques Ranciere. If you “say” it without performing (enacting) it, do you really say it? SF Guerrilla Opera attempts to enact the ideas we promote.

11. Words to Be Looked At: Language in 1960’s Art by Liz Kotz. A thorough introduction to the origins and practice of the Fluxus score, among other things.

12. Landscapes of Dissent: Guerrilla Poetry and Public Space by Jules Boykoff and Kaia Sand. A great introduction to poetry written for extra-literary contexts.

13. Provo: Amsterdam’s Anarchist Revolt by Richard Kempton. Suggested by Brian Ang.

14. The Poetry of Sound essay by Craig Dworkin. The most recent text on sound+poetry that we’ve read. Also check out The Sound of Poetry/The Poetry of Sound edited by Marjorie Perloff and Dworkin. Especially Steve McCaffery’s essay on the origin of the Lautgedicht (sound poem).

15. introduction to Conceptual Writing by Craig Dworkin. Though SF Guerrilla Opera grows bored bored of Conceptual Writing’s exclusionary rhetoric and fixations with (anti-)aesthetic progress, we value many of its texts and methodologies.

16. Guerrilla Opera in Boston. Almost nothing “guerrilla” about this opera company. The only thing that distinguishes this from other opera is that their productions are unconducted.

We will update the list as more information surfaces. Feel free to post any suggestions in the comment box below this post or send them to

2 Comments on “Open Source Guerrilla Opera”

  1. adam says:

    crowd sounds

    (if you must get bored or in a hurry or many other viable conditions, then FYI: the latter 15 minutes of the whole 21:03 are more heterogeneous, more complex, more clips crammed in)
    thank db for recommending you to this
    hope to respond more soon
    thank you for your work

  2. […] more information on guerrilla operas see Open Source Guerrilla Opera and our […]

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