Early Summer IUooUI was invited to sing for the opening of a new Art Museum in Yingge. A beautiful backdrop for our concert, so we gladly accepted and prepared a special program, since it would be an outdoor stage. Upon arrival on a sunny Saturday morning, it turned out that the museum did not show its beautiful surface, but was clad in scaffolding; it also turned out that the backdrop of our designated spot was not the museum at all, but the main stage for the bands that would be featured later; and if that was not enough, contractors were still busy doing construction work using noisy drills. For us, the performance was a disaster, though some listeners had milder opinions.
Upon arrival I had noticed a fascinating adobe-colored tower on the grasslands surrounding the museum. I had had a quick look and listen but was most eager to explore it more indepth and invited my singers to join me after the concert. It turned out to be a splendid work of art, of architecture, or something in between. A sonorous temple graced with the most intricate light patterns I have ever seen on adobe-like structures (earthy hues have been my favorite at least since the beginning of this millennium). These shifting light rays are the result of several horizontal slits placed in irregular intervals along the body of the tower. We stood in awe, listened in awe, walked around in awe. Notwithstanding the presence of a few other visitors, we began quite naturally to emit our first tones. The resulting resonance was as soft and layered as the plastered walls, which had uneven, undulating surfaces that still showed the signs of paintbrushes. Our voices bounced off the walls in a pleasant, smooth way, not as crystal-like and pure as glass-covered structures, but with a coarser grain of sound.
Walking around, you would hear your own sound, or someone else’s suddenly shifting from one direction to a totally different direction. Or even enveloping you from all sides. It is a familiar but surreal phenomenon in many round, resonant spaces with the wall or ceiling curving inward. In certain spots someone who is standing opposite you talking or singing, sounds as if she is behind you.
I knew already during the first glimpse: this is the kind of place I have been looking for in Taiwan for more than ten years. As time passed I knew I had to temper my expectations. There were occasional resonant places, like the one I had stept into earlier this year, but those were usually not very suitable for performing, or not very pleasant to be in, or too expensive or too inaccessible. This new tower was in fact many times better than what I had ever expected. It was not just a sonic treasure, which I somehow usually imagined to be a white or grey space, or otherwise colourless. This was the most intimate, warm, lush light I had seen in years, if I had ever been in such a building at all. It simply seemed to breath by itself already.
We did some more research and learnt to our astonishment that this treasure was not part of the newly opened museum, but it had been standing there for 14 years. Some months later, Sunny noticed an announcement of an event in the tower with the architect, the next day: the day when IUooUI rehearses! I quickly jotted down a simple idea we could sing and shared it. We rehearsed it in the morning and set out to the museum. Exactly at the designated time, the architect appeared from a hidden door, as if coming from nowhere. In the center of the spiraling form he began to talk casually about the history of his tower, its symbolism, problems he had overcome, adaptations to the original idea and more. The place came alive even stronger with these stories. Pei, as the tower is called, really was opened 14 years ago and virtually nothing happened with it, to the chagrin of the architect, Lin Shuen Long.
During the Q&A we introduced ourselves and asked if we could sing a piece to honour the architect and his creation. We spread out and sang Pi:Ecce (I thought the name of the tower was Pi, not Pei). I then started an improvised piece which IUooUI completed beautifully with several solo parts. The architect was enthusiastic about our musical performances and told me something that moved me to the core: “this tower has been waiting for you for fourteen years”.
This place is a treasure, a multi-faceted gem of a building. Not designed with a 3-D program, but by bare hands with mud or clay, just like all that amazing pottery that the small town of Yingge is famous for. Some pottery shops in Yingge have a history of 500 years behind them, and took their technology with them from the mainland. There is no more suitable architectural tribute to the town then a tower designed like most pottery is designed: from an ancient, artisanal practise. We can be greatful to the decisions-makers who planned to build something like this, for chosing this architect, and for both parties to overcome all the hurdles necessary to complete the project. And what is 14 years in the light of generations of pottery making? Now let’s hope steps are taken soon to celebrate the incredible potential of this tower, both visually and acoustically!
Our more or less failed outdoor performance on that early Summer day happened for a good reason. I feel blessed that we ran into something so special.