The Gentleness-Suddenness Project consists of three works: the one which appears here, is Gentleness-Suddenness (thirty-minutes) using a Western opera singer with ensemble; Double Resonances and Not Broken Bruised-Reed for instrumental ensemble were the other two portions. Gentleness-Suddenness was premiered at the New Music Series, Campbeltown Arts Centre on Saturday 29 June 2013.
Gentleness-Suddenness (2012) draws on traditional Chinese Opera and Australian contemporary music and photographic live-projection exploring Asian-Pacific intercultural communication. It is essentially a meditation on love and creativity inspired by and a fusion of texts drawn from the Chinese Opera tradition of Kunqu, specifically Tang Xianzu's Peony Pavilion, and Judaic-Christian biblical texts. The Chinese text draws on translations by Lindy Li Mark and romanizations by Milky Shan Man, and the music was inspired by Cheung Pai Hsien-Yung's production. This interdisciplinary project drew together leading Australian performers Claire Edwardes (percussion), Michael Kieran Harvey (piano), James Cuddeford (violin) and Lotte Latukefu (mezzo-soprano) with photographer David Cubby, projectionist Simon Killalea, documentary filmmakers Iqbal Barkat and Vincent Tray, and artistic director/composer Bruce Crossman. Sound engineer Ian Stevenson provided the sound diffusion utilising electronics to swirl the intercultural sounds around the space in synergy with the photographic live-projection visuals. Moving in the moment digitally abstracted photos of Beijing Opera performers merged with live performers in a modern multicultural music-theatre reinterpretation of the ancient genre.
Bruce Crossman: Gentleness-Suddenness (2012) (mezzo-soprano, violin, percussion, piano)
Gentleness-Suddenness: is a meditation on love and creativity inspired by and a fusion of texts drawn from the Chinese Opera tradition of Kunqu, specifically the Peony Pavilion, and Judaic-Christian biblical texts from Genesis, Psalms, Song of Songs and Revelation. The work is structured in two parts concerned with elemental themes.
The first part, ‘Water and Fire’, is structured in one arc beginning and ending in silence with cathartic outpouring at the centre: the central static underpinning of Filipino gong music structure is at its heart. This movement explores a fusion of a contemporary avant-garde harmonic language with Southeast and East Asian modal sounds, Jingju and Cantonese Opera rhythmic movement, Jingju melodic shape and Cantonese vocal line inflections with musical gestures inspired by calligraphical painting. It develops an interval-colour moment approach, references the elegant melodic structures of Kunqu; these melodic touches merge with Australian birdsong interpreted as highly placed pure-harmonic gradually increasing in dynamic to end in rough snap rhythms. It also explores finely developed shades of timbre through piano preparation, vocal colour inflections (especially with regard to Chinese opera vocalisation), and various gong resonances from China, Korea and the Philippines.
The second part, ‘Spirit’, is also structured in one arc. Beginning in stillness, the music builds to frenetic and raucous movement at the center, before subsiding back to stillness. The opening and closing living colours of changing vocal vibrato and phonemes are mirrored with other extended techniques: piano string-stops and pizzicato, violinistic bowing pressure distortions and behind-the-bridge resonances, as well as percussive scraping and glissandi. It is as if the spirit of creativity of the texts are stirring as living colour frames for the music. Its middle section is inspired by the raucous and frenetic colouristic sounds of the paired back metal percussion of Cantonese opera’s luogu dianzi techniques and florid vocal melisma of Jingju to express the text’s erotic consummation of lovers. Quieter understated moments permeated by fragments of Kunqu melody with Shang-tia mode-based interval-colour sonorities flank the center section; their resonances of interval-colour with vibraphone and Japanese Temple bowl resonances providing suggestions of the spiritual, creative and erotic stillness of “zheyi sha tian” (this brief moment).
The visual and sound design components of the work drew on projected moving photographic stills of Beijing Opera (Jingju) performers, the ancient artistic inspiration of the music, intermingled with live modern performers interpreted as calligraphic motion synergized with swirling sound design. The chief idea was a reinterpretation of ancient and modern genres as a contemporary confluence of Pacific Rim traditions towards an Asian-Pacific identity.
This production was supported by: Australia Council for the Arts, Campbelltown Arts Centre, University of Western Sydney, University of Wollongong, Macquarie University and Filigree Films.