In Heiner Müller’s play Die Hamletmaschine, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the character Ophelia’s entrance is signaled by the words: “OPHELIA. Her heart is a clock.” It is unclear if this line is to be delivered by an actor, whether it is meant for the audience to hear, or whether it is a stage direction to be internalized by those in the production. As an image, it is an arresting one, evoking associations between a quintessential literary archetype and traditions of femininity with mechanization, dehumanization, and capitalism. It is a robust metaphor for chamber music — the human playing the musical “machine” that is her instrument, the relationship of the individual within and against the group, and the reification of art (and artists) into a product, which is produced and distributed.
Springing from my interest in poetry and theater, words themselves play an integral part of OPHELIA. Her heart is a clock. The rhythm of speech forms the basis of the piece’s musical language, and through the vehicle of text, the players reveal themselves from behind their “music machines,” machines through which they breathe, touch, scrape, pluck, scream, and strike. Their voices emerge only to be subsumed anew into the din of music-noise. Each instrument(alist) is a character, their voices and their music distinct, in discourse about “life” and “love” in all their ecstasies and depravities.
OPHELIA. Her heart is a clock was premiered by Ensemble Linea, directed by Jean-Philippe Wurtz at the Festival Musica in Strasbourg, France on 3 October 2015. It was performed again in May 2016 by UC Berkeley's Eco Ensemble, directed by David Milnes.