Finally have a bit of lull time before the first media dinner meet with contemporary art collector Farouk Khan later, so I’ll bang out my thoughts on Joyce Koh’s On The String.
- It has the best programme booklet I’ve seen at this year’s edition. But it’s not just the embossed all-white format design. Aside from the programme notes, it’s also got essays by Joyce, sound designers composer/designer PerMagnus Lindborg and Dirk Stromberg, sketches and diagrams of the installation designs and other technical stuff I’ve no idea about (but still) and – get this – a condensed history of the relationship of science and music! Yes, NUS associate professor Lonce Wyse contextualizes Joyce Koh’s composition within the history of 20th/21st century experimental/avant-garde music by bringing in the 2:3 frequency ratio theory from the Zhou dynasty and Pythagoras’ music of the spheres all the way to the Futurists, John Cage and Edgar Varese. It doesn’t have to be as academic as this one, but I really do think every programme booklet should have this much value added information.
- The last festival programme booklet that I really liked was Toy Factory’s The Crab Flower Club. That was Arts Fest classy. I digress.
- MICA acting minister Lui Tuck Yew was there. I didn’t get a chance to ask him what he thought of the piece (he was sitting beside fest GM Low Kee Hong so he’d definitely know) but it was cool that he was actually there. If you ever get the chance to read this Mr Minister, mega props to you, sir. And we hope you drop by more often for more black box shows by local artists – it’s where most of the innovation and the action is! Hint: The Substation, 72-13, TNS’ Marine Parade HQ, for starters.
- A lot of young folks were there. Granted most of the performers are from educational institutions (and probably their teachers) but nevertheless, the idea of these young students being exposed to such artistic experiments (in the Singapore context) was rather heartwarming.
- Correct me if I’m wrong, but on the night I watched at least, I didn’t see any local sound artists or even local post rocker enthusiasts (you know, the ones who went to the previous Tortoise or Mogwai or Jaga Jazzist concerts). IMHO, you folks missed out on a lot. But then again, it was also the night of the Atsuhiro Ito/Zai Kuning/Analog Girl gig… (Sorry Zai, wanted to catch this but I had an early flight to catch this morning!)
Watching the show with a noticeably younger set, I think it wouldn’t be too far off the mark to describe watching On The String as some kind of Fantasia redux for the 21st Century (minus the cartoony bits and if it was conducted by Stanley Kubrick).
And I say that with no sarcasm whatsoever.
SOTA’s music faculty head and composer Joyce Koh dished out an experience that was in equal parts an art installation, a sound sculpture, a “classical” music concert, a light show and a theatre production.
I’d be lying if I said I perfectly understood the entire show – but I was riding the wave with more ease than I did the previous night’s ooh-look-at-me-I’m-inventive Eonnagata.
(Sorry, I can’t help comparing the two, because both had this hybrid-multidisciplinary thing going on, and like the Big Three taking on a gender-bending knight, this one also had the trio of Joyce, harpsichordist Shane Thio and pipa powerhouse shredder Samuel Wong onstage taking on, well, String Theory. Fine, I’m a closet Structuralist, sue me.)
So what exactly was the show about? In a nutshell, Joyce wanted perform the Universe.
That is, to try and perform what the Universe sounds like based on Edward Witten’s String Theory, which posits that the universe is made up of vibrating strings. I know, geeky stuff right? Exciting.
How does she do this? “Plot-wise” you begin in the realm of our reality (found street sounds, etc) before descending into the sub-atomic level before things get out-of-this-world-whack and the sub-atomic sounds mix in with street sounds, a bunch of young violinists just emerge from the dark playing droning sounds and scare the bejeesus out of you.
I’m thankful for the piece’s visual aspects and narrative arc via the programme notes. Admittedly, without them, I would’ve gotten lost. But I must say that combined, it made for a damn trippy show.
Joyce, Shane and Samuel (you rock dude!) were basically carpenters (in dark blue overalls?) that made a house sing.
At one point, they were all plucking the hell out of the (unimaginatively named) Corridor String Sculpture – literally a house-like installation with industrial-strength strings tied to its frame based on a similar sculpture by artist Khiew Huey Chian. At one point, a couple of them were “sawing” as well using, you guessed, a bow. (There was another sculpture called the Canopy — which was basically an oversized joystick.)
They were in a way dismantling the House of Sound.
Oh and before I forget, I’m placing my bets on lighting designer Lim Woan Wen to at least get a nomination at the “other” newspaper’s theatre awards – at one point, piercing beams of light crisscross the dark space, and with the smoke effects outlining each ray of light clearly, dude, I swear, it was like, you know, like seeing photons and stuff, you know?
One final thought. Despite their inventive doodling on the harpsichord and pipa (all notated, said Joyce) would things have changed if they’d used a classical instrument that isn’t constrained by the pentatonic scale? Sounds like a cop-out, but a sitar perhaps?
(The RAT flashes two hippie peace signs)
PS, what’s Margaret Leng Tan doing these days?