Drifting Emergence and Sudden Colours: Shy Like Blushing Flowers at The JOAN
The drifting, soft emergence of Kunqu vocalisation, amidst a shrouded soft edged square enclave in the China Cultural Centre in Sydney gently, changed the atmosphere. This audiovisual presentation of the Peony Pavilion at the Centre’s celebration of Tang Xianzu and Shakespeare in September 2016, recalled the subtle, intimate quality and presence of the Kunqu I witnessed live in Hong Kong on a research venture in 2010. It seemed to me as a composer, that time had stopped still and timelessness as a transcendent sensuality of the moment had presenced itself. These seeds of imagination drifted within my subconscious as a possibility for making a new type of musical language from my European training; it was to be one where colour lingered and drifted in configurations through the musical landscape and destined for experimental realisation in Penrith at the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre in October 2017.
It was in my later ArtsNSW developed music-theatre work, Shy Like Blushing Flowers, this intimately hidden moment of grace and timeless quality of being connected to the graceful rhythms of life evident in Kunqu, sparked my creativity. It is something that I felt present in Lindy Li Mark’s English translation of the young lovers’ edition of the Peony Pavilion. In Mark’s hands the Peony glows with subtle energy:
I love to be beautiful:
Like the early spring that no one sees,
Like graceful fish diving deep…
(Scene 3, p.12, Young Lovers’ Edition Peony Pavilion, Tang Xianzu auth., Lindy Li Mark trans., 2004)
It sparked, in a moment, delicate transient crotales metal lingering sounds amidst wrestling interval-colour spacious splashes of ensemble amidst wriggling
vocal lines in my musical score. This movement of the music-theatre work is titled “Garden of Fire”; I have not forgotten the veracity and visceral energy of Hong Kong-based pianist Linda Yim’s interpretation of the volcanic colour moments of stasis contained in the score. Nor have I put aside the quivering guzheng tones of Chiu Tanching’s realisation of lingering delicacy of sonic line in her interpretation of the work (see Figure 1). The situation was the trying out of some initial sketches in snatched moments of the music as a workshop rehearsal in December 2016 under the careful guidance of the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble artistic director, William Lane. This score has been stripped to its essence for an experimental re-working of it in trio form with the visuals of Sydney-based projectionist Simon Killalea as a counterpoint at the Joan Performing Arts Centre in October 2017. The trio version (see Figures 2 and 3) will involve soprano Anna Fraser (Song Company), percussionist Claire Edwardes (Ensemble Offspring) and pianist Linda Yim (HKNME) in a live performance with real-time digital visual mixing by Simona Killalea. In this stripped version, the wriggling vocal lines are laid bare, with delicate bowed vibraphone ebbing joining the dark gong-like stopped notes bedding the vocal beneath, with interpretations of the spaces through metaphorical nature and cityscape images of Hong Kong in time-lapse filmmaking.
Killalea’s strong rooted tree images of Hong Kong with Picasso-like Cubist space of modern cityscapes, where emptiness and skyscrapers suggest intimate presence, is a reinterpretation of ancient Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu’s ‘clouding’ intimacy and sensual massive sonic bursts of sound with lingering metal delicacy of my own “Fragrant Rain Clouds of Love,” which is in itself an interlude dream section of the larger music-theatre work. The ancient Kunqu tradition, following Daoist principles of the affinity of the artist with nature, suggests the erotic through the natural reverberance of spring energies and is reinterpreted by Killalea as the gently pulsing presence of Hong Kong as a contemporary ‘sensual clouding’. Here, following ancient Chinese poetry traditions, allusion is paramount visually in the film—which in itself is used to frame the live trio sounds; the gentle flow of time through water (see Figure 4) becomes intimate as do the skyscraper slow movements yet they are peppered with the slow cruising humour of the passing car motion and musing.
Finally, the quivering tones of the guzheng—my new favourite instrument in the hands of performer Chiu Tanching—lodged deep in my creative imagination after the initial December workshop in Hong Kong. It seemed to me that the
floating, living energies of its line were delicate moments that suggested Tang Xianzu’s ‘blossoming flowers’ of “Such sun rouged blush, damp with rain.” Inspired by the meeting of minds at the China Cultural Centre in Sydney, where theatre director Wang Xiaoying (Vice President of the National Theatre Company of China) and scholar Professor Colin Mackerras (Emeritus Professor, Griffith University) espoused the ideas of cultural blending and ancient riches of Tang Xianzu and William Shakespeare, I embarked on my own blending. In the second interlude dream sequence of the music-theatre work’s “Strange Invisible Perfume,” the music merges the sensuality of Shakespeare’s alluring Cleopatra with Tang’s “Dou de ri xia yan zhi yu shang xian,” amidst the Judeo-Biblical tradition’s transcendent sensuality of “I arose to open for my lover” from the Song of Songs. Killalea’s Sydney and Hong Kong shot Cubist interplays will interpret the music as a dream film sequence within Shy like Blushing Flowers. In my score for “Strange Invisible Perfume,” the Peking Opera gongs’ sudden demarcations and quivering mallets on crotales in Claire Edwardes hands, lingered like fragrant perfume over the wriggling guzheng tones and sharply articulated bell-clear harmonics of Chiu Tanching’s sensitive sounds in Poetic Energies Across Sonic Space at Western Sydney university in July 2017 (see Figure 5). Whispered articulations of the texts in Mandarin floated through the air in a motioning stillness that recalled my experiences of Kunqu in Hong Kong and Sydney.
Bruce Crossman, 8th September 2017
The ArtsNSW Development of Shy like Blushing Flowers is at The Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, Q Theatre in Penrith from 3-4pm on 11 October 2017. It features performers Anna Fraser (soprano), Claire Edwardes (percussion) and Linda Yim (piano) with live digital visuals and two films with Simon Killalea (filmmaker/projectionist); musical direction is by Bruce Crossman (composer) with sound design/diffusion by Ian Stevenson. The project is supported by NSW Government’s Arts and Cultural Development Program (ACDP), The Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre and the School of Humanities and Communication Arts, Western Sydney University.
Entry: By Invitation. Request invitation by emailing email@example.com
The Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre—Q Theatre, Penrith, 3-4pm, 11 October 2017
Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre is at 597 High Street, Penrith (next to the Penrith Plaza shopping centre and Penrith Library).
From the M4 motorway take the Mulgoa Road turn-off to Penrith. Fast train services leave regularly for Penrith from the country train platforms at Central Station.
Download brochure at: ArtsNSW Development – Press Pack Shy Like Blushing Flowers_short