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When Damon Albarn was tapped by France's Théâtre du Châtelet to compose the music for Monkey: Journey to the West, the Gorillaz frontman jumped on the opportunity like a simian on Samsonite. ("My next band will be called the Baboons," he jokes.) Based on a 16th-century Chinese fable and a '70s Japanese TV show, the high-concept opera chronicles a globe-trotting primate's evolution from street chimp to enlightened hero. Monkey's international cast of singers, circus acrobats, and martial artists is accompanied by a full orchestra featuring an Albarn-designed instrument called a klaxophone. The custom keyboard sports Space Invaders-style arcade buttons that blare a 24-note scale of recorded car horns. Albarn dreamed up the klaxophone while doing research in the ancient — and totally traffic-choked — Chinese city of Feng huang. "It was the highest concentration of horns I'd ever heard in my life," he says. "So I got every type of car horn that was manufactured in China and made an instrument out of it." We've yet to hear any of the original tunes — all performed in Mandarin — but we're hoping for the missing link between Cirque du Soleil and Troy McClure's Stop the Planet of the Apes. I Want to Get Off! (Come on and rock us, Dr. Zaius!) After a 10-show opening run at the UK's Manchester International Festival this summer, the opera will swing around the world for a year. Tour details are still being finalized, but audiences in Berlin, Paris, and several other cities may soon be going ape over Monkey.
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