When HKNME approached me to curate events related to the Music and Moving Image series, I immediately thought of some of my favourite artists who bridge the boundaries between music and moving image(s): Ikue Mori (laptop artist and video artist) and Arnont Nongyao (video artist and sound artist). The series unfolded over three years, in three instalments.
Ikue Mori is one of the world’s leading laptop artists - a rare “virtuoso” of the laptop, even - who has been performing with the laptop for decades. Her mind and physical gestures are so tightly mapped and natural to performing, that it is palpable that the laptop is, indeed, an instrument, in her hands. She can stop on a dime, anticipate and textural change... She listens and truly facilitates an empathic exchange with her co-performers. Her practice in the last decade has also grown into incorporating live videos. She makes puppets by hand and records videos with them, which she then manipulates using Max/MSP/Jitter, fluidly incorporating video performance with her musical performance, using the same digital platform environment.
For the first instalment of the series, which took place at the Multimedia Theatre at the School of Creative Media in the City University of Hong Kong in 2019, Ikue became the backbone of a performance that melded a cadre of local improvisers (Shane Aspegren, Fiona Lee, with myself) with a few core members of the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble (Angus Lee, Matthew Lau, and Simon Hui). By bringing together different segments of the local scene, my hope was that curation can also help bridge traditionally segment musical practices.
The second instalment of the series was Salvatore Sciarrino’s Infinito Nero, a tightly-wound mini-opera monologue, which, ecstatic, though austere, sets the mystical visions of the Carmelite nun, Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi. It is an essay on subtle shades within an “infinite darkness,” both physical and spiritual. I had originally intended for Arnont to perform live with the ensemble, but due to the ongoing travel restrictions due to the pandemic, when the HKNME were finally able to perform the piece this past May (after an eight-month delay), Arnont was not able to join them. Instead, he contributed a video to go with Sciarrino. The performance did, however, benefit from a light installation by local light artist, Amy Chan.
Looking forward to August 2021, for the final instalment, we will finally be able to feature Arnont Nongyao, live, in Hong Kong. Arnont is a video artist and a sound artist. He performs images with an arsenal of projectors and cameras, which are hacked to allow for a more physical intervention in performance. For example, a camera is hung from a cable and a motor is fixed to that cable. Arnont controls the speed of the motor, which affects the rate of jitter of the camera, which is projected. Digital effects are physicalised. Arnont “plays” a reel of film, like a DJ spins records. The mapping of physical gesture, his gestures, to projected image is visceral and powerful.
The final instalment of the series will be a new evening-long piece composed by myself. My musical practice bridges the boundary between sound installation and embodied practice – paralleling Arnont’s practice, bridging moving image and embodied practice. The concept is this: we will create an environment, a sound and a video environment, inhabited by the HKNME, which will coalesce into a duo cadenza featuring myself and Arnont.
As an American of Asian descent, I am sensitive to the fact that the normative business practice of classical music is neocolonial transportability, often redacting bodies like mine. My mission is to transpose person-specificity intrinsic to other genres into classical music, wherein the context is, “if you want to hear THIS music, you can’t replace people who look like me,” as a vehicle to decolonize classical music. I am drawn to collaborators who are unique artists, who have developed personal practices that cannot be replaced. Arnont is one such artist I admire and with whom I feel a kinship. As we live in an age where digitisation increasingly renders all of us anonymous, the context of non-transportability is especially important to all of us now. As we recover from the pandemic, and rebuild our musical communities around the world, this, too, has heightened the urgency of person-specificity. I am proud to partner with the HKNME, my longtime friends, who are also a constellation of irreplaceables.