Truly a score for fans of electronic music.
When it was first staged in December 1968, Gian Carlo Menotti’s English libretto for Help, Help, the Globolinks! ran as Hilfe, Hilfe, die Globolinks!, a piece commissioned by the Hamburg State Opera and broadcast on German television the following year. It’s an appropriately bizarre period piece that’s good for a laugh and dying for the MST3K treatment, but still weirdly engrossing with its not-so-subtle underlying message of the importance of music in schools. In 1969, it made its American stage debut in Santa Fe and New York in productions directed by Menotti. Described as, “An opera for children and those who like children,” the plot centers around the arrival of presumably dangerous aliens known as the Globolinks and their subsequent invasion of Earth. An appropriately far-out production, it was originally scored to what critics at the time described as something seemingly copped from a bad science fiction film, complete with early electronic bleeps and bloops meant to convey the underlying menace of the invading Globolinks.
Given the fact that these sound effects served as the Globolinks’ primary means of communication, such jarring, primitive electronics did the story no favors. When it was revived in 1980 for New York high school theaters, Menotti enlisted the help of electronic composer Suzanne Ciani to update and modernize the sound of the aliens. Taking the original concept of nefarious space invaders and accessing the underlying humor lacking in the original’s soundtrack, she smoothed out their electronic voices while also lending them a truly futuristic sound that, it was hoped, would better resonate with younger audiences. Applying her singular approach to avant garde electronic composition, Ciani essentially rewrote the original with her truly unique approach, so much so that it was said that Menotti was upset by the size of her credit on the original show poster.
Released for the first time by Finders Keepers, the current torchbearers of all things Ciani, Help, Help, the Globolinks! offers up a pair of side-long electronic explorations that, lacking the corresponding visuals, play in the abstract. The pieces demonstrate an appropriately futuristic undercurrent that sounds futuristic even today. It’s a testament to Ciani’s forward-thinking approach to electronic music that, some 40 years later, the swoops and swirls, guttural bleeps and organic-sounding swooshes still sound like the work of a 21st century modernist.
Running a short 20 minutes, the music is designed more to give an idea of what was provided for the revised production rather than a definitive record of the opera. Because of this, despite their historical and aesthetic significance, it’s hard to recommend the album to any but the most ardent Ciani disciples. She would go on to expand such sounds on a number of groundbreaking scores and albums, but these early instances of her under-recognized brilliance function more as a piece of the story rather than a standalone work that supports the artistic and critical acclaim her work has been afforded.
As a document, Help, Help, the Globolinks! is truly a score for fans of electronic music. But as a standalone work, it plays as fragments of a larger piece that, taken out of context, lose much of their intended impact. That they have been made available at all is wonderful, but it would have been nice to hear them within the whole of Menotti’s bizarro sci-fi vision. As they say, beggars can’t be choosers and finders keepers, losers weepers. It was meant for kids, after all.