This week Taipei Dance Circle (光環舞集) presents a new evening program with three new pieces, a little over a year after founder Liou Shaw-lu (劉紹爐) passed away. I got to know Shaw-lu over a decade ago when I was teaching at the Taipei National University of the Arts in Kuandu, not far from Taipei Dance Circle’s base in Bali, on the opposite side of the Tamshui river. These classes were organised by Prof. Chung Mingder, then dean of the Department of Theatre, and attracted also people from outside the university (artists outside the school like Shaw-lu, or nuns from the Huayen monastery). To anyone who knew Shaw-lu it is needless to say I immediately I liked him: he was such a likable, positive soul, constantly curious, constantly creative, or ‘creating’ to say it more actively. When I see him with my mind’s eye, I see him moving: moving his hands, his head, his torso, expressing whatever he wanted to say or responding to whatever he saw with his full body. And of course, he did not just move: he always moved beautifully, elegantly, from somewhere deep inside himself, and at the same time summoning forces much bigger than himself. He absorbed the environment and reflected it back with his body, with his mind and also with his voice. He was very passionate about learning to use the voice in new ways. He felt and saw from the perspective of dance, what I felt and saw from the perspective of music: the possibility of integrating sound and body.
He followed my classes, but of course I learned as much from him. His presence as a dancer helped me feel comfortable to do all kinds of unusual physical exercises in order to experiment with the sound of the voice. I remember we rehearsed and performed a piece when the semester of the ‘official’ theatre class (I think it was called Overtone singing and Meditation) was about to finish. All students presented their own work, and I did a piece with Shaw-lu. It was a delight to improvise with him, even though I felt quite clumsy doing the physical work next to someone so flexible, so much in a constant, physical flow. Shao-lu and I also presented something together at Huayen Monastery, who at that time were interested in the integration of overtones in body-mind practices.
It was a great honour for me to receive the invitation from Taipei Dance Circle’s co-founder Maura Yang earlier this year, to collaborate with the dancers now that co-founder and choreographer Shaw-lu passed away. A challenge, too, since we all started work on integrating movement and sound: the piece we created, involves all four dancers and myself on stage, doing both sound and movement. After throwing ourselves into each other territories (they singing/sounding, me dancing/moving), we found it necessary to take a step back and stay more within our own disciplines. It is a long and difficult, but rewarding process to move out of your comfort-zone: I think we all shifted into this new territory, and we are searching still for the right mode. Tonight is the première, but the last adjustments are still being made.
In Last year’s dance projects I did with Horse (驫舞劇場: Play Dead / 裝死) and then with Yeh Ming Hwa (葉名樺 : Nordic / 寂靜敲門), I was first purely a musician, onstage but separated from the dancers, then a musician/actor sharing the space with the dancers Will that turn out to be the better option? I hope both are possible, though there is no doubt that these three pieces are a world apart.
In order to commemorate Shaw-lu, we are singing a Hakka song. As Yao Kai-Lei (姚凱蕾) one of the dancers of TDC, explained today for Hakka TV, Shaw-lu loved old Hakka mountain songs, which used to be sung not as concert pieces, but in daily life by the tea planters in the old days. Hakka people just sang them while working, sometimes over long distances in the mountains, improvising phrases (and no doubt, also texts). I am not sure Shaw-lu actually heard that when he was young …. But taimu (Prof Chung) encouraged us to sing old songs in this project, and since many of the songs that we tried would not work for the group as a whole, it was natural to chose Lao Shan Ge (old mountain song).
About the other vocal parts, I wrote this for the program booklet:
In Western art music and dance, sound and movements are rigorously controlled by what they present and what is taught, from one generation to the next. Not only that; it is also controlled by what is not presented, by that which is controlled by expelling it. Musicians are basically taught to play their instrument from a still position, and not to make unwanted movements. The accepted movements that we see from a pianist or violinist are highly stylised and may be likened to a kind of choreography. Many musicians and dancers alike were taught not only to control their movements but also to suppress the sounds that might accompany those movements. The presence of unwanted sounds almost amounts to a taboo, both for dancers and for musicians. There may be valid practical and also esthetic reasons for it, but are we not robbing dancers or musicians of some of their most powerful means of expression when we subjugate the performing body to these unwritten rules? What do we find, for example, when we allow the performing body to freely make noise, make sound, make music, and when we allow the musicking body to move or to dance?
These questions are not new, and have been explored from various angles in the past decades, not in the least in many of the late works of Liu Shao Lu, who was deeply committed to integrating sound with movement. Yet unwritten performance rules run deep in the veins of artists, be they musicians or dancers. It is hard for the dancer to work the muscles of the vocal cords and mouth just like she is used to work the muscles of torso, arms and legs. And it is hard for the musician to really see himself moving, and to move freely beyond the need of musical gestures. Trained in one art form, we are partly blinded by the aesthetic language we are most familiar with. How can we re-integrate these two seemingly different languages of dance and music with each other? Can we find some more or less natural meeting points? Is it even possible, perhaps, to really ‘forget’ our own disciplines and create something from a common bodily language, becoming sound and movement at the same time?
Program: “Lending Ear To Dance, Eye To Sound” 聽舞觀聲
姚凱蕾 Yao Kai-Lei
蕭靈鳳 SIEW LIN-FONG
王憲彬 WANG HSIEN-PIN
陳英豪 Chen Ying-Hao
Five performances tonight until Sunday (Sept 10-13) in Experimental Theatre 實驗劇場 / National Theatre 國家戲劇院
After that: tour to HsinChu (October 16), New Taipei City (November 8), Taoyuan City (November 14) Pingtung City (November 21), Hsinchu county (November 28).
Read a Taipei Times about the new program article here.
This Saturday evening (September 5, 19:30, at Yuppy Cafe/Bookstore) I’ll be doing a concert of songs I have learned from oral traditions of various places around the globe. Tea (Tina Ma) is going to help create some links between them in her own magical way. After that, I will sing together with the audience and give an idea what we do in the R e s o n a n c e course.
For me this is a real first, to sing ‘plain’ traditional songs: I have never quite thought of myself as a ‘traditional singer’ of any kind and only reluctantly began to sing Tuvan khöömei (throat singing or overtone singing) when I was asked to. I developed an interest in singing Dutch songs at the time my son and daughter were born. Since then (and maybe because of that) I have changed my attitude towards traditional music. I slowly started to learn more songs in traditional ways, instead of ‘appropriating’ other music for my own musical language. I am now learning and singing songs from Tuva, Corsica, The Netherlands and other places for some years, and feel ready to present them onstage.
I began travelling to collect and learn music in 1990, when I visited Bulgaria. Then to Corsica in 1991. Then Russia in 1992, which was the upbeat for Siberia in 1993, where I went back several times. In the 2000s I visited New Zealand, Dharamsala, Jerusalem and Sardinia, amongst other places, and began moving to Taiwan. All the while I also met many travelling and migrant musicians, learning from or with them from time to time.
This Summer I visited Turkey and had an opportunity to learn a song from a well-known Turkish folk singer, Aysegül Aral. I was curious to learn more about singing with the quartertones you can find in Turkish and Arabic music, and I was happy to find I was doing alright, according to my instructor Aysegül. The song we sang (and which I will perform Saturday) is called Havada bulut yok, a well-known folk song.
Another special meeting several years ago was with Firaz Ghazzaz, a muslim reciter for the Palestine community of Eastern Jeruzalem. We collaborated in a project by two Dutch composers, Merlijn Twaalfhoven and Paul Oomen, helping to give voice to the suppressed communities of Palestines in Jerusalem. Firaz is the descendent of a long line of reciters for the Al Aqsa Mosque (going back for as much as 422 years when I visited). Al Aqsa is one of the most important mosques in the Arab world, situated on holy, historic territory in Jerusalem. I was struck by the humanity and the willingness to improvise, leaving his religious tradition behind to look for common ground in my improvised, coloristic, harmonic language and his own modal chanting. There is tremendous power and refinement in his singing, as you can hear in Firaz’ collaboration with another musician from Europe here.
In Corsica, the French isle, you can hear echoes of this kind of intonation, though very distant ones. In this case they stem from the need for voices to harmonise according to pure, Pythagorean intonation, and not because of a modal tuning system as developed by the Arabs. In recent years, when I re-visited Corsica, I had many opportunities to immerse myself in polyphonic singing, and take part in it. Now I feel ready to sing some Corsican songs, but of course there will be no polyphony this Saturday (though I am considering to teach the audience a simple line so we get two parts). This year I joined the concert of musicians from Pigna: Nando Aquaviva and his daughter Battista, and Cecce Pesce, the guitarist. When we first met, Battista was beginning to be famous in Corsica. This Summer, she suddenly was famous all over France due to her appearance in the popular TV show The Voice.
In 2013 I sang some ‘alle-male’ polyphony with Claude Bellagamba, a middle-aged singer with an exceptional, powerful and natural voice, and Nando, who is past his prime years (he is 70+) but still getting along well and very active musically.
Of course there will be music from Tuva, Siberia. Choduraa Tumat and Otkun Dostay, who came over from Tuva to perform in Taiwan this spring, helped me with the lyrics of a well-known song by the folk singer/composer Maksim Dakpai. In their concerts we did not sing this song, but contemporary and shamanic improvisations with voice and Jew’s harp. I did not quite feel up to singing traditional songs with them onstage: to be honest, I think for singing traditional music you need to know the lyrics by heart, and I am still struggling with that. In that sense my concert this Saturday is not so traditional: I will need the help of written lyrics on a sheet for sight-reading for most of the songs. The ‘shamanic’ improvisation is one possible way out of that problem, but not just second choice. Besides singing Dakpai’s song Saturday, I will also do a shaman-styled improvisation.
I have spent much time learning a Hakka song, Hakka being one of the Chinese minorities in Taiwan (and China) with a distinct culture and music. I have always liked Hakka music when I heard it on the radio here, but it is not easy to sing it. My kids learnt some Hakka songs at school and I had great difficulty to get the melody right when I asked them to teach me (and how lucky I am with children who have such critical ears at such an early age!). This year I am working on a dance piece with Taipei Dance Circle, founded by Hakka choreographer Liou Shaw-lu. In order to pay tribute to Shaw-lu, who passed away a year ago, we decided to sing a Hakka song for him. The dance performance will première next week in Taipei’s National Theatre (Experimental Theatre), so I take the chance to do a try-out of Lao shan ge at Yuppy Bookstore.
Then there will be an indigenous Taiwanese song and things from Mongolia, India and of course the Netherlands.
Talking about oral traditions, there is Tina ‘Tea’ Ma, or … is she? It is still a little bit of a mystery what she will do, or even that she makes it, immersed as she is in Taiwan’s East Coast indigenous Amis communities. She seems to be forgetting the time in Hualien (we all do when we go there!). I am not even sure she will manage to get out of the spell of the songs and rituals she is learning there. If she makes it, she may turn out to be the most ‘traditional’ or ‘authentic’ of the voices you will hear this Saturday. Let’s hear!
Info and reservations at Yuppy Cafe and Bookstore .
Photos from the workshop at Canjune’s Training Center by Mark:
Photos from the concerts at Wistaria Teahouse by Ewan Kuo/郭育安 (edited by Mark):
Photos from National Chengchi University’s Arts Center (by NCCU):
In a few days composer/improviser Luc Houtkamp is arriving from the Netherlands. He is a much respected music personality in The Netherlands with a string of accomplishments. Right now, besides playing/composing, he is best known for his work with the POW Ensemble, which he founded over a decade ago. He is the recipient of the most important Jazz Prize, the Boy Edgar Prize. Very honoured to have him as a guest in our house for a few days! Then he moves on for his Taiwan tour. I will join him two times.
6 March 2015, 12:30 Taishin Bank, Taipei, Luc Houtkamp (sax), Chao-Ming Tung (guzheng), Mark Van Tongeren (voice)
14 March 2015, 19:00 Hsing Tian Kong Library, Taipei, Luc Houtkamp (sax) Chao-Ming Tung, (guzheng) Mark Van Tongeren (voice), Shih-Yang Lee (piano)
Other performances by Luc and Taiwanese musicians:
9 March 2015 Lecture at Shih Chien University, Taipei
11 March 2015 Lecture and Workshop at Chiao Tung University, Hsinchu
11 March 2015 concert in Hsinchu, place and line up tba
12 March 2015, 19:30 Tainan University of the Arts, Tainan, Taiwan with Shih-Yang Lee (piano) Fang-Yi Liu (musical saw & voice)
13 March 2015 Lacking Sound Festival Solo concert.
Here is a preview of Luc’s new piece, based on a 1914 novel of Gertrude Stein. Looks very promising!
Tuvan folksong / extended vocal techniques / throat singing-diva Sainkho performs once again in Taiwan. Sainkho was born in Soviet-era Tuva, in a Siberian outpost within eyesight of Mongolia. She developed more than average singing skills and during the late 1980s she took advantage of the political/cultural reformations (perestroika) to set out on an innovative career that soon put her in the international ranks of outstanding, progressive singers.
She moved to Austria in 1994, and was begged to come back to Tuva by president Sholban Kara-ool this month, while she visited Tuva.
She established her name with sweat and original interpretations of Tuvan songs in the early 1990s and experimental work. Nowadays much of Sainkho’s output is ecclectic, avant-garde, with an electrifying, ear-catching aura to it. She is an amazingly busy and energetic performer, who constantly travels the world to collaborate with ever new musicians, pouring out CD after CD, and re-inventing herself every year.
Exactly ten years ago, she gave a memorable concert in Zhongshan Hall, and a throat singing workshop in TNUA (reported in Chung Mingder’s book OM. Overtone singing as meditation). At that time she brought with her German Popov, an old friend of mine from Amsterdam (born in the Ukraine), and singer/guitarist Caspar David Sacker from Austria. I am happy to see that this time she works with a local musician (and again a friend of mine), the Taipei-based pianist Lee Shih-Yang. Also taking part will be Dickson Dee, a Hong Kong sound artist.
This concert is highly recommended for all people interested in Tuvan/Mongolian music, throat singing and new vocal techniques. When I spread this message through my Fusica newsletter there were still tickets left. Now there aren’t… But I had reserved a bunch of tickets for the students of my R E S O N A N C E course through Lee Shih-Yang. If you are interested respond quick (reply below) and I can see if he still has a ticket for the October 5 show for you . Tickets are 500 NT$ minus a little discount. Hope to see you there!
2014新點子樂展Innovation Series – 人聲風景「即興篇」
SoundScape-Improvisation Across the Horizon
October 4 19:00
October 5, 14:30
Tonight I am going to do a short ‘breath performance’ at a special edition of Red Room, the monthly event in the Aveda kitchen hosted by Chu Ping and Roma and Manav Mehta. The breath is a central focus of my performances, sometimes in the foreground, always in the background. And I thought the news of the passing away, on August 20 2014, of Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja (or simply ‘B.K.S.’) Iyengar would be a fitting occasion to start and end the performance using special breathing techniques.
Iyengar was instrumental in bringing yoga to the west in the 1950s and began to adapt it to the different lifestyles of American practitioners. Though he received criticism for changing the one-to-one transmission to a group practice and using physical tools such as woodblocks and straps, there can be no doubt that his methods have been a great success and have benefited hundreds of thousands of people in the West. And one can certainly not say that he himself was not fully part of the tradition, as an early video of him with is his own guru Tirumalai Krishnamacharya demonstrated. This is the full version of the 1938 film, but you can find several shorter sequences on Youtube.
It was Tirumalai Krishnamacharya who traveled India to promote hatha yoga and its associated practices and philosophies and thus began the revival which then crossed over to other parts of the world.
One may certainly include me in the league of teachers who misinterpret yoga or use its name for purposes other than its original intentions. But I do not agree with those criticasters who deplore what Iyengar has done. I think yoga is a fantastic practice and profound philosophy that can benefit people in many different ways. Indians should be proud to see so many people around the world doing some form of yoga or yoga-derived practices today.
I am very often in favor of traditional practices above modern forms myself, for example when it comes to indigenous music. But the modernisation and adaption process is irreversible and in the case of yoga, even those not-so-dedicated practitioners like myself learn things and solve problems that you can not learn otherwise (I struggled with lower-backache for many years; physiotherapies did not solve it but hatha yoga did).
So to thank and honour Mr. Iyengar I will begin tonight’s performance with a very extended, silent inhale and finish with a very extended, resounding exhale.
Weekly Voice Yoga Returns to Canjune Training Centre
March 15: Underground Trip (performance)
March 29: Lacking Sound Festival (performance)
Voice workshop for spring 2014: coming up soon
This week Voice Yoga returns to Canjune’s Training Centre. Everyone is welcome to try out Voice Yoga on Thursdays between 10 and twelve. No registration necessary, but please be on time. Next week (March 20) the class will shift to the afternoon, between 14 and 16. Read the details about Voice Yoga in this blogpost.
Saturday March 15 you are invited to the performance Underground Trip with Serge Onnen, Erika Sprey (visuals), Tung Chao-Ming and myself (sounds) at Taipei Artist Village. There are two shows, at 19:30 and 21:30, please find the details in my previous blogpost.
Saturday March 29 I am invited to perform at the Lacking Sound Festival, which is one of the more interesting on-going sound events in Taipei. Serge Onnen will join me to provide visuals, and we will explore the theme of mirrors. More details in this post.
Soon I will announce some workshops for this spring season. Come check back here or subscribe to this blog. If you prefer to receive emails write to < info at fusica dot nl> and you will receive updates every once in a while.
I am excited about this invitation for the Lacking Sound Festival, a mostly-monthly event currently held in the Digital Arts Centre in Taipei, to be precise in the Noise Kitchen. This meeting point for sound-art-buffs is a wonderful space with various ingenious instruments that can be played – reminding me more of a Museum of Musical Machines in the Netherlands than a 21st century Digital Arts site. Anyway, I have invited Serge Onnen to join me in creating something analog that sounds and feels digital (and quite different from the Cloacinae sound-shadow-video performance we do/did the 15th of March). Both of us favor the kind of old-fashioned manual-vocal-labour forms of artistic expression, but then, we do use computers, digital recorders and the occasional effects apparatus to manipulate our creations. So here is the press-blurb:
Mark van Tongeren (sound) and Serge Onnen (image) dissect our everyday perception, enlarging our ordinary vision and audition to include the unseen and unheard. Mirrors, opposites and negatives of our everyday sense world.
Mark van Tongeren is currently fascinated by the voice as an instrument producing numbers, namely, the strict numerical ratios of overtones. When this is made audible through the technique of overtone singing, the voice almost loses its human identity: its sounds seem like pure sine waves. Digits, that is, whole numbers or whole-number ratios could be considered the DNA of our voice. In this installment of his theme The Digital & The Vocal, Mark offers an electro-acoustic performance where the distinctions between the digital and the vocal are blurred. Environmental recordings, extended vocal techniques, Jew’s harps and a Kaosspad further link the physical, everyday world with the digital, and the archaic with the hypermodern.
Artist Serge Onnen, currently holding a solo exhibition at MOCA Taipei, simultaneously provides a live visual performance. He will mainly use mirrors: echo’s of images, stretching the reflection, face reality, double the sight and confront the audience with their image.