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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tweeting Einstein on the Beach

 Spaceship © Lucie Jansch 2012
Why tweet Einstein on the Beach?

On this day in 1919, there was a solar eclipse that allowed scientists to confirm Einstein’s theory of relativity, upending previous notions of time and space and fundamentally altering the course of history.

In 1976, Robert Wilson and Philip Glass met at a small restaurant on Sullivan Street to discuss collaborating on a portrait of a historical figure. After rejecting Charlie Chaplin, Adolf Hitler, and Mahatma Gandhi, they finally settled on Albert Einstein. And so Einstein on the Beach was born, a work that left an indelible mark on the history of performance that stands as one of the greatest artistic achievements of the 20th century.

The experience of Einstein on the Beach is like no other. Four and a half hours in length, the opera eschews traditional narrative in favor of presenting an uninterrupted continuum of sensory data that is loosely constructed around the idea of Einstein, with punctuated, dreamlike staging, dance, densely structured music, and spoken texts scattered throughout.

Untweetable, you say? Well, you might be right. Any Twitter performance of Einstein would fail to capture the “living pictures” of Robert Wilson, the intense choreography of Lucinda Childs, and some of the most beautiful, heart-shattering music that Philip Glass has ever written. Einstein is an alternate universe that requires an extended visit, and that universe simply can’t be reduced to 140 characters.

But we noticed that whenever we have tweeted about the performance, people are compelled to quote the production, or start counting, or both. We've marveled at the contemporary resonance of aphorisms like “prematurely air-conditioned supermarkets” and “it could be so fresh and clean.” Listening to the repeating phrases, we became conscious of patterns and sequences in the language—much like the structures embedded in Glass’ score. We delighted in the pop flotsam and cultural jetsam sprinkled throughout—from Carole King lyrics to references to the infamous Crazy Eddies electronics store.

Written by Christopher Knowles, Samuel M. Johnson, and Lucinda Childs, the fragmentary, non-linear libretto of Einstein is uniquely suited for Twitter. The spoken text is a work of poetry in its own right, full of rhythmic, alliterative, and allusive phrases that allow an audience to generate its own meanings. Using Twitter as our conduit, we hope people become intrigued by the endlessly rich and imaginative language, and recognize Einstein as an expression of the unconscious poetry of our age.

Starting at sunset tonight (8pm) we will tweet the entire libretto from the handle @EinsteinBeach. Tweets will be sent out every 15 minutes. We encourage you to follow along, retweet your favorite lines, and comment using the hashtag #Einstein2012. The goal? To dive into an ocean of language and paddle around, to hear the poetry already present in our daily lives, and to achieve an Einstein state of grace. Impossible you say? Yes, just as impossible as it is for us to express Einstein's impact.

All these are the days my friends and these are the days my friends...

Einstein on the Beach returns to the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House on September 14.


  1. If you tour will you be in San Francisco with EOTB any time soon?

    1. "Einstein on the Beach" is touring to UC Berkeley as part of Cal Performances, Oct 26-28. More info:


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