Those of us blessed with the gift of hearing are able to perceive sound. Sound is all around us, existing as the vibration of air particles in time and space. We perceive sound in nature. Historically, the relation of sounds to nature can also be found in Chinese philosophy. Chinese instruments are classified philosophically as “Eight Sounds” (八音), essentially also a classification of natural material including metal, stone, silk, bamboo, gourd, earth, skin and wood. “Pling, little thing*” is a programme that reminds me of the origins of music, occurring naturally as sounds from natural objects and material found in our natural environment.
In the natural world, and also in Chinese philosophy, nature is not viewed in silos. The 5 elements theory (五行), view metal (金), wood (木), water(水), fire(火) and earth(土) as interacting through constant negotiations (i.e. generating and overcoming) to achieve natural order and balance in the universe. Similarly, “Pling, little thing*”, while labelled as “theatre for young audience” in the context of the festival, could otherwise consider itself a multi-modal sensory perception experience for audiences, young or older. Aural, spatial and visual modes were used simultaneously in an ebb and flow, culminating into an aesthetic experience where the audience witnessed playful imagination on stage. As a young child, the activities on stage resonate with the multi-sensory manners in which children perceive the world; while for older audiences, we remember ourselves in our childhood, and recall our personal experiences with natural objects, such as stones, as children.
As articulated aptly by Kung Yu, we do not need musical instruments (i.e. piano, violin) to make music. Meaningful musical experiences that are filled with play and imagination are found in our environment, in nature. The performance cleverly used stones as its main sonic object, while remaining uncompromising to the technicalities of music by having them hand-tuned to pitch accuracy. While having highly structured and thoughtful planning, the performance allowed space for the artists’ own playful imagination, such as the improvised image of an elephant placed using the stones, in correspondence to the song about elephants, sung beautifully and in beautiful harmonies by the three performers.
While the beauty of the performance was its relevance to sonic objects in nature, the performance included the use of simple technology, such as an overhead projector to create the image and atmosphere of rain; and the sensitive use of lighting for shadow play, in addition to indicative use of lighting to symbolize images such as a face. The use of miking and acoustics of the performance venue was subtle, allowing for the natural resonances of the performer’s voices, as well as the stones to fill the stage, while not in an overpowering manner where the sounds were distorted.
At the end of the performance, audiences were allowed on stage to interact with the stones using mallets. I wondered if this process could have been facilitated earlier into the programme, such that children could become co-constructors of the music-making process on stones with the artists. The somewhat traditional, proscenium stage layout lowered the degree of engagement and interactivity with the audience. Perhaps the perceived distance between performer and artist resulted in the lack of an aesthetic experience where a cosy stage layout might have allowed for. On the other hand, as insightful shared by Linda, the post-performance segment created a safe space for children to engage in free play, which definitely has its merits as well. In terms of audience participation, perhaps the stones given out prior to the performance could have been tools for audience participation. It seemed a ‘loss’ to have given the stones out while the audience were queueing, and take them away while entering the performance space.