The Nubian Word for Flowers
A Phantom Opera

Ione & Pauline Oliveros

Pauline Oliveros Music and Sound Design, Story & Libretto by Ione

NWF is being developed in collaboration with an international cast comprising American, Egyptian and European artists.

For information please contact

“Colonial Mind meets Nubian Soul on an island of flowers in the Nile.”

The Nubian Word for Flowers is a deep dream exploration of the Colonial Mind.  Here the long and complex history of exploitation of Egyptian and Sudanese cultures by British and European colonialists is symbolized by super star of war and brilliant botanist Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener of Khartoum, often referred to in his time as “K of K”.  It was the young surveyor Kitchener who drew the lines delineating the Southern Levant, creating the grid system that continues to be used for mapping Israel and Palestine today.

NWF credits from Capone Productions on Vimeo.


The Nubian Word for Flowers utilizes special audio/visual techniques and vivid comic panels to create shifting phantom realities. The stage is a place of terrible beauty as the opera moves from prehistory to the Victorian era -to WW I -to modern times. Throughout, Oliveros’ powerful music supports the emotional tone of the piece and its characters, sustaining the drama of the story.

Los Angeles Times Review by Mark Swed, June 3, 2013


Excerpt from Concert Version- Scene One

The Nubian Word for Flowers - Oliveros - Ione at Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. June 1, 2013

In the wake of a WW1 mine explosion that sinks the warship on which he is traveling off the coast of the Orkney Islands; Lord Herbert Horatio Kitchener, Secretary of State for War for the UK finds himself on a surreal and not entirely benevolent version of a Nubian Island of flowers that he himself cultivated as a younger commander for Queen Victoria. Here he must come to terms with an enigmatic Nubian Boatman and the timeless phantoms that reside on the island. These include the tumultuous flowers themselves- as well as human representatives of a displaced Nubian people and culture- along with notorious historical figures from his own life. Ultimately, Kitchener, or K of K (Kitchener of Khartoum, as he was called by an adoring Victorian public) is set free from the island by the power of Memory; but not before he has undergone a harrowing rite of passage that fundamentally transforms him and all who surround him.


The The Nubian Word for Flowers is inspired by real life super star of war; brilliant botanist Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener of Khartoum, often referred to in his time as “K of K”.

As a commander for Queen Victoria’s wars against encroaching Islamic fundamentalists, K of K was a key figure in the complex history of exploitation of Egyptian and Sudanese cultures by British and European colonialists. Ironically, it was Kitchener who, as a young surveyor, drew the lines delineating the Southern Levant, creating the grid system that continues to be used for mapping Israel and Palestine today.


In 1914, Kitchener is at the height of fame, and dreaming of retirement to his island when a official telegram reaches him at the train station. It is an offer he cannot refuse. His destiny is to become Secretary of War for his country. “Your Country Wants You!” exclaim the iconic war posters with Kitchener’s likeness.

The island is filled with lingering phantoms. “Phantom” here is understood as a form of existence that intrudes upon a dimension that wants to consider itself “real.”  Kin to the properties of a virus, the contact of phantom realities transforms the “host” reality irrevocably.

Among those making appearances in the midst of a disturbing floral growth and thick foliage - created through innovative projection mapping- are the Nubian Boatman who is also a prescient astronomer, a delicate fiancée who believes in destiny, a trusted aide de camp and an ominous spy assassin of many disguises. Distraught Orcadians who witnessed the sinking of K of K’s destroyer from the cliffs of Marwick Head wonder what has happened to K of K and suspect a government plot.

The Queen herself shows off her golden piano and her favorite music is heard in contrast to the haunting voices of Nubian musicians. Churchill's cigar smoke and bathtub are conjured up, along with trance dances and songs of Sudanese slaves conscripted by the British/ Egyptian army.  

For K of K, surrounded by a multitude of flowers and plants that he himself has cultivated at various times in his life, memories of peak moments in the Saharan desert are juxtaposed with horrendous bloody African battles in the service of the Crown.  Be they memories of ghosts or ghosts of memories, they come alive to all on the island.
The Nubian Word For Flowers lays bare K of K’s relationship to beauty and violence along with our own.

IONE is an author/playwright/director and an improvising word/sound artist. Her works include the critically acclaimed memoir, Pride of Family; Four Generations of American Women of Color, Nile Night, Remembered Texts from The Deep, Listening in Dreams & This is a Dream!  She is playwright and director of Njinga the Queen King, (BAM's Next Wave Festival) the dance opera Io and Her and the Trouble with Him (Union Theater, Wisconsin), The Lunar Opera; Deep Listening For_Tunes, (Lincoln Center Out of Doors) and the experimental narrative film Dreams of the Jungfrau, shot high in the Swiss Alps. All feature music and sound design by Pauline Oliveros. She and Oliveros are currently collaborating with Egyptian artists on The Nubian Word for Flowers, A Phantom Opera.  Inspired by the Nubian Diaspora and the life of Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener of Khartoum, the opera is "a deep dream exploration of the Colonial Mind".  A specialist in dreams and the creative process, Ione conducts retreats throughout the world. She is Artistic Director of Deep Listening Institute, Ltd. and Director of the Ministry of Maåt, Inc. Both organizations act to foster harmonious world community.

PAULINE OLIVEROS is a senior figure in contemporary American music.  Her career spans fifty years of boundary dissolving music making.  In the '50s she was part of a circle of iconoclastic composers, artists, poets gathered together in San Francisco. Recently awarded the John Cage award for 2012 from the Foundation of Contemporary Arts, Oliveros is Distinguished Research Professor of Music at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY, and Darius Milhaud Artist-in-Residence at Mills College.  Oliveros has been as interested in finding new sounds as in finding new uses for old ones --her primary instrument is the accordion, an unexpected visitor perhaps to musical cutting edge, but one which she approaches in much the same way that a Zen musician might approach the Japanese shakuhachi.  Pauline Oliveros' life as a composer, performer and humanitarian is about opening her own and others' sensibilities to the universe and facets of sounds.  Since the 1960's she has influenced American music profoundly through her work with improvisation, meditation, electronic music, myth and ritual.  Pauline Oliveros is the founder of "Deep Listening," which comes from her childhood fascination with sounds and from her works in concert music with composition, improvisation and electro-acoustics.  Pauline Oliveros describes Deep Listening as a way of listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what you are doing.  Such intense listening includes the sounds of daily life, of nature, of one's own thoughts as well as musical sounds. Deep Listening is my life practice," she explains, simply.  Oliveros is founder of Deep Listening Institute, formerly Pauline Oliveros Foundation.





Center for Deep Listening at Rensselaer
Tomie Hahn Director
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