For the operetta “RvB,” J. Ashley Miller is employing his own musical invention: the guitar chariot.
“It creates this beautiful, crazy mix, almost like a drone element, and you can play crazy fast,” Miller said. “It almost melts the line between guitar and synthesizer.”
Designed by Miller, each chariot is essentially a wagon wheel attached to a wooden frame. The wheel is studded on its outer rim with eight guitar picks, and as the wheel spins perpendicular to the guitar body, the picks strum the strings. The guitarist controls the speed of the wheel with his right hand and plays notes and chords with his left.
The chariots are the focal points of Miller’s band, Quadrigarum. The rest of the band includes Ian Teeple on another chariot, Josh Enyart on drums, Fritz Hutchison on auxiliary percussion and Zachary Van Benthusen and Sam Jones on synths and synth bass.
On Sunday night, the band and five actors rehearsed a scene from the 30-minute operetta “RvB.” The raucous, feverish and percussive music is the soundtrack to a scene where the main character, V (Drew Roth), is being arraigned, tried and convicted by opposing forces played by Jessica Borusky and Newton Wahome.
Miller composed “RvB” with assistance from Teeple. He called it a “brutal minimalist operetta” that confronts conflict.
“It’s about the illusion of choice, specifically in relation to binary culture — gender politics, all of that,” Miller said. “It’s about being caught in between. We’re not binary beings. But we’re suspended in between in a binary culture and feeling the agony of that. So you get to see a person suffer in that middle.”
Miller said there is room in the narrative for improvisation from Borusky and Wahome, who have singing and speaking parts in the show.
“They are both incredible improvisational performance artists,” Miller said. “They have tons of space for that within the boundaries. So we’ve kind of set up conditions for them to do their thing.”
Their “thing” is to arouse a dichotomy and create tension.
“Their characters are very polarizing,” Miller said. They represent two political extremes, which they really do in real life. So pitting them against each other linguistically was exciting.”
Sunday night’s show will be tracked for a recording, Miller said. Music videos are also being produced. Both performances are being presented by the Charlotte Street Foundation, which paid for the project with a grant.
Quadrigarum’s “RvB” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at La Esquina Gallery, 1000 W. 25th St. Tickets are $10. Seating is limited to 50 people per performance. Tickets are available at Quadrigarum.BrownPaperTickets.