Updated: Aug 4, 2021
"There’s no need for music to make people think! It would be enough if music could make people listen." Thus said Claude Debussy once in a letter to his colleague, composer Paul Dukas.
Perhaps Debussy was right. Even though music is a powerful medium - some would even argue for its philosophising capacities - it is, at the most basic level, a sensorial, perhaps even sensual, experience. Depending on how attentive the listener is, experiencing music (that is, seeing and hearing music) can be both mundane and transcendental. It refers to the empirical reality of its author, but is concurrently confined entirely within its own reality of the imaginary. It reflects to the listener his truest self like a mirror, but simultaneously unveils who they may yet become like a revelation. In the spirit of being audacious, perhaps we can subvert Debussy's statement and claim that "It would be enough if people listened attentively; then they will find their own Utopia in every piece of music."
It would have been obvious to those who attended HKNME's ninth instalment of The Listening Room what "listening" entails in a post-lockdown context. After the deathly silence of 2020, when all cultural activities were grounded to a halt and forced to adapt to two-dimensional 'virtual' alternatives, there is a general renewal of appreciation in human contact, which we have so long taken for granted. Unlike in the ancient Orient, where music making either served the purpose of self-elevation (as a species of education) or of functional utility (court & ritual music), music from the 'western' Classical tradition relies on the interactive dynamic between the performer (the transmitter) and the listener (the receptor). This unique interaction between two parties, each dedicating to the other this singular moment in their beings, is irreplaceable by any technological innovation, which, despite their fanciful trickeries of illusion, more often than not unwittingly uncovers its insufficiency.
Two of HKNME's young musicians, trumpeter Edwin Wong & pianist Shelley Ng, recounts tales from their lives through music... tales of struggles against the unstoppable forces of fate, of treading the thin line between life and death, of lamentation, consolation & acceptance... tales that are theirs, but also not theirs. Tales of people who came before them, as well as surely those who will come after. Through music, we become timeless, we become unanimous.
Link to Programme notes: