This moment offers a bath of patient calm and humanity after 80 minutes of quick drama. “Upload” contains elements of the darkly speculative “Black Mirror” series and the relatively promising “Years and Years,” but its preoccupations are as timeless as they are the best genre fiction.
Not that the “download” is entirely fictional. This is our future and our present: an already declared ambition to upload consciousness onto a decentralized blockchain, prefigured by the traces of ourselves that we already deposit on the Internet; our inner images and thoughts slowly build what the clinic of “Download” (shot at the modernist Zonnestraal sanatorium in the Netherlands) would call a mental file for our digital afterlife.
The creation of this file is detailed in film footage featuring Ashley Zukerman (“Succession”) as the stereotypical Silicon Valley guy, enthusiastic and indifferent to the wait for government regulation, and Katja Herbers (“Evil “), as an empathetic psychiatrist who also has a tendency to overconfidence. The technology is only available to a select few, the kind of people who would fly into space for recreational purposes. Or, here, to buy eternal life at the cost of death – to avoid the complications, both ethical and ecological, of multiple downloads.
For these scenes, van der A wrote less an operatic score than a soundtrack, uneasy but excited, with nervous strings, chaotic percussion and electronics that turn into crackling white noise – all played , with propelling momentum, by the Ensemble Musikfabrik, under Le Baton engaged and commander of Otto Tausk. Van der Aa’s music, however, adopts a different style for the scenes featuring the two sung roles of the work: the father and the unnamed daughter.
We meet them — the dainty, ever-likable baritone Roderick Williams and the silver-toned soprano Julia Bullock, equally at home in pop frankness and lush lyricism — after he was uploaded, without him knowing. Their interactions have the naturally rhythmic vocal writing of Janacek or Debussy. Left alone, it tends to be accompanied by more traditional sounds, such as piano or strings, while the father’s musical vocabulary is resolutely, irreversibly electronic.