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Soul Capture 金沙·找魂

June 12, 2011

Event: Soul Capture 金沙·找魂
Series: The Singapore Arts Festival 2011
Performed by: T’ang Quartet (Singapore)
Composed by:
Hu Xiao-Ou
Dates: 31 May & 1 June 2011
Venue: SOTA Concert Hall

In line with the “I Want to Remember” theme of the Arts Festival, “Soul Capture“, or the more aptly put Chinese title 《金沙·找魂》, attempts to bring us back to the lost civilisation of the Shu kingdom more than 3,000 years ago, and to capture the soul of the lost age, found in the ruins of Jinsha.

I’m not sure if you remember the “Mystery Men: Finds from China’s Lost Age” exhibition held in Singapore at the Asian Civilisation Museum in 2007. The piece was inspired by this same civilisation that was discovered in 1986 by some brickyard workers in Sichuan. The site called Sanxingdui, was located about 40km from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. I shan’t go into archaeological details since you can probably google more about it.

Soul Capture comprises six movements: 1) “Sun Birds 《太阳鸟》”; 2) “The Voice Faraway 《遥远的声音》”; 3) “Birds, Masks and Qing 《飞鸟、面具和磬》”; 4) “Rotating Totem 《旋转的图腾》”; 5) “A Drinking Song of Sacrifice 《祭祀酒歌》”; and 6) “Secret Voice 《弦外之音》”.

The T’ang Quartet, one of the most recognised Singapore string quartet, put up an excellent performance with their virtuosity, even doubling up as percussionists when the score called for it. As pointed out during the post-show dialogue, some parts were actually open for improvisation (I would say similar to a cadenza?), like the solo portion played by Leslie on his cello, not to mention the feeds that were mixed and reproduced into new sounds that fed back into the performance. As one of the viewers said, she couldn’t tell which were the parts improvised and which were not. In any case, I felt the quartet infused part of their own interpretation of the piece, but still kept to what the composer intended.

Now, about the music. I’m still learning to “appreciate” fusion music and may not be a good judge of it, and so this performance was to me, a form of new Asian music. An interesting blend of of western and Chinese instruments, including instruments from minority groups. Example, there were points that the cello was played almost like a pipa. From what I gathered during the dialogue, the composer Hu Xiao-Ou did not seek a particular “resemblance”, except the use of sound samples for reference. For a fact, the actual music played in the lost age was unknown, and could only be expressed in his own interpretation. The first few movements provided me with a sense of mystique. You could almost imagine the spirits of the past being conjured up and as unknown as the people of this lost age were, so the music depicted the sense of mystery surrounding this race. I did encounter some familiarity in the Drinking Song, where a somewhat familiar folk song was played…at least a distinct rhythm and melody was heard. Only in the last movement did I somehow fail to be engaged as I lost my concentration and drifted off to another land.

(side note: I was very grateful for the upgrade of seats (quite centralised), mainly because the circle seats entrance were not opened for the night. And , no offense, but the facilitator for the post-show dialogue was a little disruptive at points)

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