The 45-minute-long work “Atomic Butterfly” for ensemble, live electronics and multiple screens is based on Lithuanian town Visaginas. The town was built in 1975 as part of a newly-constructed atomic power plant complex and was intended to host its engineers, scientists and military personnel. Together with a few other atomic towns in the USSR, Visaginas was planned in the shape of a butterfly – four reactors of the power plant would be represented by four sectors or “wings” of the town. Each of these sectors were supposed to house atomic power plant workers, most of whom were brought from other parts of the USSR. Because of this, Visaginas has a very mixed ethnic constitution, as well as a high concentration of engineers, scientists and other professionals. Due to its nuclear character, the town was a highly militarised zone up until the 1990’s.
Though the town was to become a model urban settlement, the planned construction of the town was never finished; only two sectors of the town were built and the butterfly structure remains half-complete. After the Lithuanian independence, the atomic plant was shut down due to ecological security concerns. In the last decade, the city population has begun to shrink dramatically. This unresolvedness embedded in the town’s consciousness forms the main narrative arch in Atomic Butterfly.
The piece uses archival audio-visual footage from 1970’s showing the construction of the power plant and the town, and the daily life of Visaginas and its inhabitants. This footage is mainly taken from propaganda films about Visaginas which had a strong political agenda to present the effects of urbanization and industrialization in a positive light. The images are reconstructed and recomposed, exposing their visual qualities and focusing on the camera movement as well as peripheral details and shots. This decentring of the images underlines and deconstructs the messages visually encoded into them.
The recomposed footage is coupled with text material constructed from various found texts, such as retold memories from Visaginas’ inhabitants about their life in the town, as well as excerpts from texts on utopian cities and architecture. These are all seamlessly mixed in a continuous narrative which forms a dialogue with the archival images and audio-visual footage.
This material is then sampled and triggered live, forming a counterpoint with the instrumental parts. Each instrumentalist has her/his own autonomous harmonic and rhythmic enclaves which often come together – harmonies dissolve into one another with the musicians tracing the speed and directions of the visual projection. The intention was to create a space in which ideas of belonging, identity and reimagining futures can all coexist within one musical language but in many musical speeches.
This work is supported by the Performing Arts Fund NL and the Lithuanian Council for Culture. The short version of the piece was premiered at the Melos-Ethos festival in Bratislava (SK), the new extended version of the piece is due to be premiered in Vilnius (LT) in the fall 2018.