Kunqu Intersections: Undulating Resonances of Living Colours
Winding my way through the bush on my morning sojourn at the foot of the Blue Mountains in Sydney, whilst puzzled kangaroos look quizzically at my bright orange ASICS running shoes, I am caught in the rhythm of gently undulating East coast Australian bush sounds—spacious cacophony of bellbirds with interweaving warbles and snaps of others. This reverberance of environment also mixes with memories of the undulating bustle of Kowloon in downtown Hong Kong and stillness of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s reflective moment gardens and stasis sounds of floating Kunqu vocals—a short train journey form the city. This vibrancy of cultural movement and stillness married in my mind with the flow behind the Australian bush in its gentle interweaving warbling and wriggling of bird sounds and stillness.
These memories of culture and spiritual presence intermingled in my mind whilst writing my Chinese opera influenced music-theatre work, Gentleness-Suddenness. In its language a cultural mixing of the translucence of Kunqu’s classic opera, Peony Pavillion, especially in Lindy’s Li Mark’s lucid English translations, where moments of word sensuousness float with the extended statically floating vocal lines of the form seem to mix with the ringing undampened resonances and French colour-focussed sonorities of my own musical language. I am reminded of musicologist Jane Davidson’s ideas on performance where conceptualizations and physical space provide a subconscious palette for creative musicians. The physical act of my own composition embodies the mixture of Kunqu memories with French interval-colour sonority sense and presence nature of East coast Australian bush as a palette of ideas merge as musical utterance in my creative thought. The way these flow in performance is not as a fixed point of exactness, which have only one interpretation, but rather as wide open spaces of flow between performers and their negotiated cultural memories and presence in performative space. In short, the resonance of memory conditions active creativity.
The birth of Gentleness-Suddenness was amidst interpolations of a negotiated improvisatory flow from an aural tradition with scholarly art music orientations, which worked with the music’s flow and form aesthetics. Mezzo-soprano Lotte Latukefu took an improvisatory breath sense to shape the music in dialogue with the edgy exactness of violinist James Cuddeford, explosive electrifying moments of pianist Michael Kieran Harvey, and sense of dramatic through line from percussionist Claire Edwardes.
In a sense, Chinese composer Chou Wen-chung’s Daoist flow idea, or my own viewpoint Judeo-Christian spirit sense behind all things, becomes a negotiated and culturally expressed space of the Asian-Pacific located references in my music; this music in the hands of creative performers grappling with blended sonic visions with their own energies becomes an open-ended journey or flow between cultural memories. In discussing Chinese opera with distinguished Beijing theatre maker Wang Xiaoying at the China Cultural Centre in Sydney, I discovered resonances of perspectives; the Confucian order of things and Daoist flow of presence from nature in Chinese culture became a unifying factor in the cultural blending of Asian-Pacific creativity. In Wang’s case, Shakespeare is interpreted through Kunqu’s resonance for blended theatrical drama; in my music-drama resonances of Kunqu blend with English compositional experiences and adapted knowledge as a personal artistic expression of drifting flow impulses and formal structure as an Asia-Pacific located creativity.
Navona Records will release Bruce Crossman’s album Living Colour: Pacific Sounds and Spirit on 12 May 2017.