21 March-25 March 2017 (Castlemaine State Festival)
29 March-1 April 2017 (Melbourne Recital Centre)
Co-presented by Castlemaine State Festival and Melbourne Recital Centre for Asia TOPA.
‘八和九之閒／Between 8 & 9′ defies objectivity. Presented by Chamber Made Opera in collaboration with the Sichuan Conservatory of Music, the sound installation provokes and enlivens the senses. It probes beneath the skin, and demands the complete surrender of your body to the performance. Even before the performance begins, the audience is already cautious of its liminality—the ‘between’ unsettles: what is between the eight and the nine?
The constructs of theatre are immediately rendered obsolete. Instead of the usual procession of theatre-going, audience members exchange tickets for coloured cards that correspond to the location of their seats. However, these seats are not to be taken in the auditorium. Instead, you float in the chasm between a phantom audience and phantom stage, clutching onto a card with Adrien Tien’s linguistic analyses from traditional Chinese music:
- at some time someone was doing something somewhere for some time because this someone wanted people to hear something in that place
- people in this place heard something at this time because of this
- a very short time after, people in this place heard something else because of this
- when they heard this something else, they felt something very good because of this
- they thought like this about it: “this is very good”
This builds anticipation for the performance, creating the sense that you are more than a passive body. In the interstice there are intentionally grouped chairs of three, 三 (sān) being symbolic in Chinese numerology for 生 (shēng)/birth.
The space is bare and the red curtain beckons, enticing 人 (rén)/people to enter. The intention is clear: this performance has been orchestrated with the intent of implicating you, the audience, as a performer in this piece.
When the curtain is finally pulled back, eight circular tables are revealed. At the head of each table, armed with an instrument and a buffet of trinkets, is a performer and your guide for the next 70 minutes.
You take a seat matching the colour on the table with the one on your card. This is the sense: here is a table where we would feast, but how we feast is not with our mouths. The metaphoric resonance is arresting in its simplicity.
The thin line of colour on the white table cloth pulls your gaze into the centre. There is no traditional stage. Instead there is the Lazy Susan that transforms with each act: rods, wooden blocks, flat aluminium circles with one side bent upwards to the sky, textiles, all rearrange themselves along the demarcated lines of the ‘stage’. The skilled performers are required to time the rearrangement of the pieces with the movements of the composition. The device is executed with metaphysical precision. The Lazy Susan transforms into different settings using the same objects, and in doing so it gestures to the uncanny of the universe—everything is the same but different
Its uncanniness, the strangely familiar, is by no means a discredit to the piece. Everything is happening at once, and your place is to observe the cosmological chaos that is unfolding within the chamber of sound. Playing the 笙/shēng, Dr Wang Zhing-Ting calls the symphony to order through the ambient electronic static playing through the speakers, and the so-called “traditional” instrument finds harmony, 和 (hé) with the cyber palpitations of the composition. Then the Erhu/二胡 joins in and soon, with the assistance of well-directed lighting, each part of the orchestra is assembled into a whole.
Sound leaps from overhead, from the middle of the table, from behind you: it eludes and enthrals. Your seat at the table is the only anchor in this anti-gravity chamber of sound. The music gives momentum to the piece, driving narrative when there is seemingly none. The soundscape is there to confound as much as to evoke an ethereal sense of being. Soon, musical instruments and voice combine in a rich hum, aiming for transcendence. It is here when the artists’ statement is felt most intensely:
“Even where the people or the music may have many differences, a state of 和 is not only desirable but achievable.”
Where the music of ‘Between 8 & 9’ have difference are the genres it draws from-jazz, folk, and classical Chinese opera, the seemingly disparate styles, compromise, share space, find harmony. In the constant negotiation between musical forms, the concept of 和 is reified.
Despite allusions to “a broader cultural sense”, ‘Between 8 & 9’ was free of the cultural tokenism that is so often inflicted on an audience by myopic Eurocentric artistic direction. Instead of nostalgic Orientalism, ‘Between 8 & 9’ envisions possible futures for Chinese music and opera.
The interweaving of mathematical concepts, traditional Chinese musical theory, and linguistic elements achieved a futuristic, mechanical beauty. The performance subverts the notion of storytelling; it tugs at the assumption that all stories are articulated one language, or any language at all.
The exploration of dramaturgy, classical form, sound, and space produced a rich, multi-dimensional/inter-dimensional experience. I experienced such fullness in the post-haze of the performance—in awe of the individual artists and thinkers behind the piece. It excites me to think about the artistic possibilities generated by equally weighted collaboration.
‘Between 8 & 9’ achieves artistic and philosophical excellence by engaging in subversion as a tool to imagine new ways of being, and I thought like this about this: “this is very good.”
This work is created by all artists involved in a collaborative process led by Madeleine Flynn & Tim Humphrey
COLLABORATING PERFORMING ARTISTS
Carolyn Connors (vocalist/accordion/winds)
Madeleine Flynn (pedal organ/toy piano/vintage electronics)
Guo Si-Cen (郭思岑) (erhu)
Tim Humphrey (brass/electronics)
Kang Yan-Long (康彦龙) (vocalist)
Wang Shuai (王帅) (percussion)
Dr Wang Zheng-Ting (王正亭) (sheng/winds)
Zhu Hui-Qian (朱荟钱) (vocalist)
Jim Atkins (acoustic facilitation)
Felix Ching Ching Ho (何青菁) (dramaturgy)
Ben ‘Bosco’ Shaw (lighting)
Anna Tregloan (installation and costume)
Kellie Jayne Chambers (production & stage management)
Minglu Chen (陈明露) (production assistance)
Amanda Carr & Rebecca Dunn (costume-makers)
Hahnie Goldfinch, Lauren Spark, Yvette Turnbull, Oden Wilson & Steph Wright (installation-makers)
Jake Jobling (lighting crew/realisation)
Dr Adrian Tien (田映春博士) (academic consultation)
Emilie Collyer (text consultation)
Professor Gan Shao-Cheng (甘绍成) (Chengdu project liaison)
Dr Wang Zheng-Ting (王正亭) (Melbourne project liaison)
Tim Stitz (creative producer)
For more information about this project and the artists involved please visit: chambermadeopera.com/works/between-8-and-9/