New Concept Album Boils Down Mueller Report to Eight-Song Opera
Jammed with legalese, the Mueller report might seem unlikely inspiration for art, but for musician Henry Bloomfield ’13, buried in the tome was the stuff of a great album. About a year ago, he began mining songs from the report, finding rhythm between the redactions and lyrics within the citations.
The result is his 29-minute operatic concept album Ongoing Matter, in which he sets the report to music over the course of eight songs that tell a story of loyalty and deception. Nearly all the lyrics are drawn from the Mueller report, but the original text is taken apart and reassembled to form a reconstituted version of the story, as though Bloomfield were working with a Mueller report edition of Magnetic Poetry.
“So many of the lines, you don’t have to dress them up. Your jaw can drop just reading them.”
-Henry Bloomfield '13
“I wanted to create not a new narrative, but a new narrative storyline emerged from the mixing and matching,” Bloomfield said in a recent online interview from his home in New York City. “It’s not about the Mueller report, it is the Mueller report.”
And though the songs contain lines such as “The standard set forth in the Justice Manual,” and “The office transferred responsibility for remaining issues,” they’re not dull. “So many of the lines, you don’t have to dress them up. Your jaw can drop just reading them,” he says. “I was going for the juicy, juicy from the beginning.”
Setting the document to music, Bloomfield says, makes it a bit more palatable since it’s otherwise “quite disheartening.” He punches up the lyrics with angular music full of twists and turns, a blend of what he calls “upbeat-offbeat pop and industrial funk.” Throughout the opera, the listener can never get too comfortable. “There might just be a diversion. Any sorts of buzzes and slams and hard-right turns in some ways might reflect just the onslaught of the news cycle or just all these insane details,” he says. At times, however, the music takes the edge off the otherwise dreary nature of the subject material.
Watch the music video for the song "Somebody Sitting in a Bed Some Place," which shows how Bloomfield drafted the song from the Mueller report:
Behind the political maneuverings, and at the core of Ongoing Matter, Bloomfield sees a human story of devotion and betrayal. The characters in the opera correspond to their real-life counterparts but also live in the uncanny valley of a dramatization. The protagonist is Michael (Cohen), who starts the apologue as a loyalist to the character called Prez, and ends it as Prez’s fall guy.
“[Michael] was kind of an interesting vessel through which to view the tornadoes and hurricanes that were just enveloping around him,” Bloomfield says, adding that he wanted the morality tale to go a bit beyond the outlines of Cohen himself. “I didn’t want to use any of their proper full names, because who in some ways can’t relate to just wanting to please someone, and at times even doing things or saying things that you think later, ‘Was I really just trying to get on their good side? How far am I going to go with this?’”
Bloomfield had been working on the music that landed on Ongoing Matter for a couple of years but didn’t really have a home for it until he started writing the project last fall, beginning with reading the Mueller report twice. By the winter, he was recording the album, vocalizing all of it and performing most of the instrumentalization. He released it on all major streaming platforms on September 16.
He says he’d like to see Ongoing Matter end up on the stage, but can’t really imagine when that could next happen. “So if there was more of a kind of video/film manifestation of it, that would be incredible. I’m quite open to another sort of direction that someone would be inspired to take it. I would be all ears about that sort of thing,” he says.
Listen to Ongoing Matter on Spotify:
From Orientation to a Career Path
Bloomfield’s background makes him well-prepared to adapt the opera to film, if that’s the direction it goes. After leaving Berklee, where he majored in contemporary writing and production, he moved to Seoul, South Korea, to be in a band with musicians he met during his first day of orientation. Everything that came after that day, including Ongoing Matter, he says, wouldn’t have happened without that encounter.
During his two years in Seoul, in addition to experimenting with music videos and playing with his band, Bloomfield met people with whom he would later collaborate to create the musical film They Say It’s Wonderful. It was a showing of this film that led Bloomfield to a meeting with Baz Luhrmann, who was adapting his movie Moulin Rouge to Broadway and needed new music for a promotional piece for the show. Bloomfield created this piece, which wasn’t released because of the cost of acquiring recording rights to all the tracks used. Still, Bloomfield says, it was an amazing experience to work on the project.
One thing Bloomfield says he’s learned from the various projects he’s worked on is to not judge his initial ideas harshly or be too quick to dismiss them. For example, he started making the music for Ongoing Matter well before he had the idea to create an unconventional opera based on the Mueller report. “These seedlings, they should never be thrown out because you just never know where it's going to be even six months or, for me, on one of these tracks, a year and a half later,” he says.