Geoffrey Kidde, Composer

The Machine Stops (2011) - an opera in two acts for seven voices and chamber ensemble, based on the short story by E. M. Forster:

SYNOPSIS: The setting is the distant future. Humankind lives underground in hexagon shaped units, each person to his own hexagon. Humans are cared for by “the Machine,” a vast intricate artificial intelligence entity which connects to all the hexagons and is able to meet all human needs, including communication between humans, and their entertainment, food, and medical needs. First we meet Vashti, a “lecturer” who prepares lectures for others to enjoy via the Machine. She is interrupted in her preparations by her son Kuno, who appears on her screen. Kuno lives on the other side of the world, and he asks her to come visit him because he has something important to say to her. Vashti is surprised by this because the Machine allows them to communicate perfectly well, and people have no need to meet in person. But Kuno counters by saying that she values the Machine too much. Kuno explains that he wants to explore the surface of the earth, even though it is forbidden by the committee of the Machine. Kuno also relates his wish to see the stars in person--they suggest human figures to his mind. Vashti continues to brush aside his ideas, and Kuno abruptly discontinues the conversation. Vashti then communicates with the Committee of the Machine, who values her role as lecturer. She requests that Kuno be matched with a new friend to take his mind off these incorrect thoughts (in their parlance, he is being “unmechanical”). Vashti also learns that Kuno has unsuccessfully applied for fatherhood, a role that is regulated by the Machine. Vashti's conversation is interrupted by one of her fan's, named Xansah, who wants to be friends with Vashti, and also wants to let her know about a lecture she has written.

When Kuno meets this new friend, Em,---they are matched by the Machine-- she extols the values of the Machine, while he questions how people have lost the sense of space, being confined to their hexagons. Em is attracted to Kuno despite his "unmechanical" comments. Their conversation is interrupted by two of Em’s friends Blim and Plun, who see that she is communicating with a young man. Em’s friends immediately want to know what is going on. Act One ends with an ensemble in which we hear a lecture about the dangers of first hand information, and the ensuing enthusiastic responses. This lecture is given by one of Vashti’s acolytes, a newly minted lecturer named Xansah.

In Act Two, Kuno relates to Em that he is going to visit the surface of the earth. He has found gaps in the surface of the tunnels which connect pods of hexagons. Behind these gaps he can see air-shafts that were made when humans were actually still building their underground world. Em is more and more taken by his boldness, and the fact that he is developing his muscles in order to make the arduous journey to the surface. She will join him in this adventure. When they get to the surface of the earth, we learn that their activities are being monitored by the Machine. When Vashti hears about this, she becomes maternally concerned—which is itself an unmechanical response. Meanwhile, Kuno and Em realize that there are outsiders living apart from their underground world on the surface of the earth. But the Machine (through its “Mending Apparatus” which has giant tentacles reaching to the surface of the earth), grabs hold of Em and Kuno. Em is destroyed by the Machine’s Mending Apparatus, but Kuno makes it back to his hexagon. Finally Kuno visits his Mother and explains that the Machine Stops—it is disintegrating and breaking down. Vashti comprehends, and tells Kuno to go back to the surface because these wild surface dwellers are the only chance for humankind to survive.