"Schooltree's epic rock opera is defiantly, fantastically ambitious." —NPR
Schooltree's award-winning original rock opera is about a girl who loses her body and must journey as a ghost through a parallel world of the collective unconscious to get it back. Both urban folklore and metaphysical fairy tale, Heterotopia was developed over several years and recorded as a double album in the tradition of ambitious concept albums like Quadrophenia, Ziggy Stardust, and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.
Track 4 from Heterotopia: Cat Centipede
Four years in the making, Heterotopia is a multimedia art rock odyssey through a dystopian dreamworld, including a 100-minute double record with a sold out first printing, and the libretto released as a fully illustrated book featuring character portraits, plot synopsis, and lyrics. Schooltree was awarded a grant by The Boston Foundation for the show, which has had sold out performances audience members have described as both epic and transformative.
Underachiever Suzi loses her body and must make her way through a parallel world of the collective unconscious to get it back. But the road she travels has been overtaken by shadows and chaos. In order to become whole again, Suzi must uncover the origins of this darkness, in a journey that takes her from the neon lights of her plasterboard horizon home to the bottom of a cursed river, where the fate of this place and her own are inextricably linked.
Full libretto text available here.
Produced by Peter Moore (Think Tree, Count Zero) and Lainey Schooltree, Heterotopia favors warmth and dynamics but also clarity and punch, effecting a sound that’s both classic and contemporary. Dramatic choices like distinct singing styles for each character’s voice and accompanying instrumentation guide the listener through a shifting topography layered with stacked guitar harmonies, crystalline synth leads, odd time grooves and ominous ambient soundscapes.
Heterotopia’s successful Kickstarter campaign raised more than $20,000, with signal boosts from notable artists Aimee Mann, Neko Case, Margaret Cho, Amanda Palmer and Barry Crimmins.
Brimming with ambition, this record is the sound of a group of musicians playing at their peak.
The illustrated book
In a nod to classic opera, Heterotopia’s complete libretto was released on September 29, 2017, bringing the story and lyrics to life in a full color illustrated book. A collaboration between Lainey Schooltree and illustrator Amanda Watkins, the artwork combines influences from art nouveau and graphic novels in a dreamlike quality that complements the music.
The live experience
Heterotopia's world premiere played to a sold out house on March 31 at OBERON, the American Repertory Theater's stage in Cambridge, MA. Awarded a Live Arts Boston grant from The Boston Foundation, the multimedia performance took audiences inside a 3D interactive light sculpture video installation by Sam Okerstrom-Lang (Samo), a Boston-based new-media interdisciplinary digital artist and designer. Samo’s boundary-pushing work uses technology create an immersive sensory experience, blurring the line between nirvana and dystopia. The installation’s elements were activated in parallel with the performance. Key moments were accentuated with sound and light, triggering an out-of-body sensation of navigating the worlds expressed in the music.
What people are saying about Heterotopia
"Heterotopia is, indeed, an opera, and it operates on an oceanic scale. The music is fluid and prismatic, churning through knotty riffs and shimmery hooks before coming to rest, briefly, in sublime moments of repose... With its harmonic inventiveness and timbral expressiveness, Heterotopia nods as much to Schooltree’s classical loves — Debussy, Bartók, Satie — as her prog rock influences. But more than anything it reflects her exacting musical vision." | NPR
"Lainey Schooltree spent years putting together a 100-minute double album telling the tale of Suzi, a dreamer and underachiever who loses her body and has to take a trip through the collective unconscious to retrieve it. Yup, it’s wild — think less 'Hair,' more Genesis’ 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.' " | The Herald
"What could be a convoluted mess in less skillful hands glides into an even-toned adventure, both lyrically and musically." | Improper Bostonian, 10 Local Acts Making Waves
"The album’s protagonist is Suzi, a rock singer who falls into destitution and physical degradation. In a lot of ways, Suzi becomes sort of an avatar for rock itself, killing itself with drugs and sex, sliding into an abyss of irrelevancy. 'My degeneration is complete,' sings Schooltree, as Suzi in 'The Big Slide,' 'the end of history/when icons crumble to the sea.'" | Telegram & Gazette
"One of the best long-form prog storytelling masterpieces ever recorded." | Progarchy
"[Heterotopia] just never tires. It's still giving up its secrets, such is the range and depth of material on display." | Fireworks Magazine
"During a time when the fight for reproductive rights is again part of the national conversation, the poignancy of a writing a character who’s literally on a journey to reclaim her body isn’t lost on Schooltree. And the opera has shades of dystopian fare like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, both of which have seen sales spikes in the 'alternative facts' era." | Scout
"Here we have an artist who obviously doesn't know the meaning of the word compromise and as such has produced an album that is rich in both scope and vision." | Glorydaze
"Taken individually, all of the songs are interesting and enjoyable, and taken as a whole, Heterotopia is a considerable achievement, worthy of notice outside of the band’s hometown, and a notch or two above any number of overblown prog epics from recent years that I could name." | Exposé
"Paired with the heady psychological themes, Heterotopia is a lot to take in at once — but then again, Schooltree never really intended for it to be any other way." | Vanyaland
Our hero, 21st century everyloser and underachiever extraordinaire. Suzi is the poster girl for existential ennui, a sour-pussed would've-been rocknroller who spends her time in back rooms and back seats instead. She's made some bad choices, but she'll soon find a chance to reclaim herself - literally.
Suzi contracts the uncomfortable affliction of incorporeality. We follow our hero as she journeys through otherspace as a down-and-out-of-body ghost trying to find a way back home.
Without a soul, Suzi's body (Zombuzi, as we call her) is still walking around doing stuff, as Suzi Specter learns in horror when she looks in reflective surfaces. Zombuzi has her own plans for the future, and those don't include Suzi. She's a material girl in the material world, and she'd prefer that it stays that way.
Cat Centipede is Heterotopia's counterpart to the "call to adventure," the first stage of the monomyth. Running on a hundred legs of speed, it skitters on the periphery; presumably once an abandoned stray, transformed by excess and pollution into a bizarre, serpentine feline. This cat is a mascot of otherness; a thing both created and rejected by human society. Without a place in day to day life, it absconded to the margins of existence itself, moving furtively between worlds, unseen by the inhabitants of either. It tends to linger near manholes and sewer drains, and its appearance is characterized by rainbows of oil puddle residue on its fur.
The parallel world is populated by archetypes - personified representations of pure forms and symbols chillin' and doing stuff - including a mystical species of ethereal helper-spirits called leitmaidens (literally "routing maid" or "guiding maid"). Each leitmaiden is endowed with a specific power that she uses to influence outcomes in the physical world (the effects of which, when they notice them, humans may associate with luck or fate). This practice of affecting the physical world from the unconscious is referred to as "mirrorwalking." But mirrorwalking has become a lost art; leitmaidens have all but disappeared from this world since its descent into darkness and shadow.
One leitmaiden still roams the land: Metanoia, who represents both catastrophic crisis and the rebirth that follows, in search of an an opportunity to change the course of things in the unconscious realm. Stalwart keeper of the fundamental change, she's filled with the sadness of walking alone in a world gone to shit but also with the unthwarted determination of her birthright; she is one who does not have the option to give up in spite of dark times. She appears to Suzi as her guide, seeing in her anomalous presence this opportunity for change, and sends her into the heart of the darkness, where the source of the world's darkness sleeps, and where there's a chance Suzi may find a way to become whole again in waking it.
according to legend, balance she did defend
taking all the opposites into their synthesis
A leitmaiden of ancient lore and the object of Suzi's quest. Long ago she served this world by bringing together opposites until she was cursed by a shadow and plummeted to the bottom of a river where she sleeps forevermore. When awakened she is no longer a leitmaiden but Enantiodromia the Reaper, with a dark new approach to balancing the land.
Otherspace is full of shady weirdos, and these gory babes are chief among them: a three-headed shadow creature that throws shade at Suzi on her way to the river. They appear at the beginning of Act II with some rude comments and a prophesy about Suzi. These are the voices in your head that tell you you suck.
What the heck is a heterotopia, anyway?
You googled it, you looked on wikipedia, you still don't really know! You're not alone. “Heterotopia” is a term colorfully outlined but never fully developed by Michel Foucault, used as a relational understanding of the spaces we as humans occupy. As simply put as possible, heterotopia refers to social or cultural spaces of otherness; worlds within worlds that connect with the rest of space in ways that simultaneously reflect, distort, and change it. Heterotopia the rock opera imagines our collective unconscious (referred to as “otherspace”) literally as such a space – a place both real and unreal, physical and mental, a liminal ancestral repository of symbols and archetypes where an initiation of self can take place.