Combining dialogue and music

I’m a composer and visual artist working with mixed media in Oslo, Norway. In my work I investigate the subject of power, or – more precisely – the psychology of power. For each composition, I use a real life event in which dialogue is recorded, such as a police interrogation, a TV interview, and the like. I edit the text, combining it with video and music, to create a special atmosphere. During the performance musicians play in synchronization with the text which is displayed on the screen.

The contemporary music ensemble POING asked me to write a piece for them which would be premiered at Oslo contemporary music festival ULTIMA. During my research for material, I came across the Jonestown tragedy and that horrible Death Tape.

My first question was how it is possible that one man could convince 909 people to commit an act of self destruction. What mechanisms are in play? Of course, not everyone agreed with that decision, and I was most interested by Christine Miller’s confrontation of Jim Jones as well as his response –­ backed by the crowd behind him – about peace and hopelessness.

The Jonestown tragedy happened so long ago, in the faraway country of Guyana, which makes it seem very distant and somehow absurd and unreal. But the essence of it, the actual way how it was enforced, is very familiar. By presenting the dialogue between Jones and Miller, I present it no longer as an event, but as a metaphor. It stands for other manipulations which happens every day, not only in religious environments, but also in governments, families, and friendships. It shows how somebody can hide behind matters so dear to us and at the same time exploit us. In that way, the message of Jonestown is timeless.

(Ignas Krunglevicius can be reached at