To close their 1996 "Metropolis" concert season, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra asked me to create a musical event that incorporated elements of Fritz Lang's classic silent film. The film details a massive city of the future ruled by an elite master-class but fuelled by the down-trodden and mistreated Workers living deep beneath the surface. By eliminating all reference to the 'rulers' and with some ruthless editing, I was able to reduce the two hour original to an 11 minute film that is Metropolis seen solely "from the Workers' viewpoint".
Just as in the original, events in the Workers' lives occur without much logic or consistency, and when they revolt against their tyrannical oppression the result seems even more mindless and destructive for not seeing the brutality which has caused it.
Having devised the film edit "on paper", I then wrote music to accompany the theoretical scenario. A synthesized version of the music was then used to create the final edit, with the film being cut to match the music. A click-track was added to the film so a conductor could coordinate the orchestra to the film projected during a concert performance.
The finished work is called Descent not just because the Workers live deep beneath the city, but also because of the relentless darkness of their lives. Their one ray of light turns out to be a chimera, and the only time in their lives they rise to the surface of the city it is with the sole intention of destroying everything in their path. Although their journey is one of ascension, as they near their goal they are overtaken by the lowest human instincts of anger, hate and retribution. As their bodies rise, their spirits are in hopeless descent.
First performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Stanhope on November 28, 1996, at the Melbourne Town Hall, Australia.