Infectious tunes: Rock opera explores the social life of bacteria

The Brooklyn Paper
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Human behavior is under the microscope.

A rock opera about the connection between human group behavior and the surprising social life of our gut bacteria will swarm into a Williamsburg gallery on Aug. 27, and its creators hope the musical meditation on social life, bacterial life, and Internet alienation will leave the overcrowded city-dwelling audience with a renewed appreciation for the crowd within.

“Within each of us is a crowd of bacteria,” said Svetlana Chirkova, drummer of psychedelic electro-rock band Color, which teamed up with a host of guest artists to craft the multi-layered production. “The group behavior in humans most likely stems from the group capacity of bacteria.”

“Swarm: A Microscope­ra,” is an urban boy-meets-girl tale wrapped in layers of metaphor about human interaction and alienation in the age of Twitter. The girl is a microbiologist who conducts research on the group behavior of bacteria while the boy, an indie rocker, seeks validation from the city crowd — and it turns out the swarms under the microscope and the swarms in the city street are not so far apart.

Band members interviewed microbiologist Bonnie Bassler, known as the “bacteria whisperer,” and her research about bacteria communication gave the show its core concept. It also lent an element of documentary theater — excerpts of the interview are literally recited by the actors. The band also interviewed a handful of Brooklyn musicians about dealing with crowds, and interwove the human stories with the scientific subject matter.

“It’s the story of crowds — the bacteria that inhabit us and the people who inhabit the city,” said Chirkova. “It’s about the wonderful and the scary, of both crowds.”

The romantic drama that gives the rock opera its narrative backbone is set to Color’s songs and to soundscapes that conjure the sensation of a madding crowd.

Color hopes the combined effect of rock opera and scientific documentary will give anxious or alienated urbanites a chance to check their guts and feel some relief from the scarier aspects of the city swarms.

“There’s something that can be soothing about realizing that we are crowds as individuals,” said bassist Kristin Dombrek.

“Swarm: A Microscopera” at the Sideshow Gallery (319 Bedford Avenue between S. Second and S. Third streets in Williamsburg, (718) 486–8180, Aug. 27–Aug. 29 at 8 pm. $13.

Reach reporter Allegra Hobbs at or by calling (718) 260–8312.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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