CONNECT - The Audience as artist

10 Questions for Huang Ruo

›CONNECT – the audience as artist‹, such is the project’s title. The boundaries between artist and listener are blurred. What does that mean for your role as a composer? What element of the project interested you?

In our world today, almost everything we do is to better connect and communicate with people, and this also includes making and creating music. One of our main duties and functions of being a composer is to move society forward by connecting more people with what we do. To break the boundaries between artist and listener, we have to break the regular format: stage on one side and audience sitting on the other side. The most compelling and attractive element of the project for me is the key word »connect«. Music itself is a connection between sound and silence in space and time. Music is the connection between composer and performers, between artists and audience, between people and the space they live and breathe in.

Are you working with the four ensembles during the composition process? And if so, how?

I’ve worked with each ensemble closely from conception to realization via Skype and email. My piece, ›The Sonic Great Wall‹, is comprised of various separate mini-stages with 2-3 musicians, connected by »paths« in between. After one stage is finished performing, one musician from this stage will play while walking slowly towards the next stage, and then join the musicians on that stage to perform the next segment. This process continues throughout all paths and stages.

In addition to exchange with the ensembles, the main focus is on communication and I interaction with the audience. How is the audience involved in the stage action in your work?

In an open-space setting, some of the audience will be placed on two sides along all the »paths« (»the wall«), connecting the mini-stages (»watchtowers«). During the sound-walk of the musicians, the audience will be invited to create humming, breathing and whispering sounds, representing the spirits guarding the great wall. They also can softly read out the poems, chosen in advance by the ensemble and printed in the programme book. The poems should deal with death, life, love, earth, fire, water, light, connection, silence. The rest of the audience can sit, stand or walk around during the performance, for example following the solo musicians from one mini-stage to the next one.

How do you »prepare« the audience?

Adults, teenagers, and kids all are welcome to participate in the preceding workshop. During the workshop, participants will draw out their imaginary map of mini-stages and paths design with shapes, lines, and colours. Participants can also submit their favoured poems. After the mini-stages have been created, participants will be invited to try out the ›Sonic Great Wall‹, the spatialisation, the stationary and moving sounds that they help to create. They can play the role of audience or performer in experimenting with some percussion instruments. For the concert itself, written instructions along with poems in the program notes will be provided to every audience member before the concert. One ensemble member will also explain the instructions to the audience before the performance.

How much can the audience influence the work [before and during the performance]? What is the ratio between predetermined elements and those the audience may influence?

Besides designing the map of the mini-stages and paths, and helping to choose poems before the concert, during the performance performers and the audience will further interact with each other through volume, i.e. musical dynamics. When the mini-stage attracts less people, the music should be performed in a louder dynamic; when there are more and more audience members approaching, the music should become softer. This interaction will also be achieved through the lighting design (light colour and intensity) for each mini-stage. Furthermore, the audience can send out comments and pictures in real time via Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram and Tumblr, etc. ›The Sonic Great Wal‹ can reach out and connect with more people through social media.

How do you deal with the factor of the unknown – the unpredictability of the audience – in your composition?

Every factor of the unknown is part of the process and the work. As ›The Sonic Great Wall‹ provides a very flexible platform for the audience to participate, every performance will be different; that is the beauty of the piece. The piece is written for audiences from any nation and culture, with or without any musical background. People will react to the piece in many different ways ...

What would happen if the audience refused to interact?

The beauty of the work is that the audience can choose to be active or interactive. They can still observe and experience the piece in any case, and get a different perspective out of it. They are already part of the larger landscape.

Your piece will be performed in four European cities in quick succession. Do you suspect that because of different cultural backgrounds and listening experiences, the audiences will also act and react differently?

Yes, for sure! Audiences from different countries and cultures will most likely choose different poems, for example, and whisper them in their own language. This will give us a very different ›Sonic Great Wall‹ experience every time.

What do you expect of the performances?

Do your expectations differ from those you would have of a traditional concert?
The expectations and experiences of ›The Sonic Great Wall‹ will be quite different from attending and listening to a traditional concert: no one will tell the audience that it is wrong to whisper, hum, move or walk around, or use your mobile phone to take pictures or send messages, etc. The audience will be part of the performance, it even completes the piece. On the other hand, the performers will also become an audience themselves, as they watch and interact with the audience members.

How important are new media for this project?

New Media will be used by the audience during the performances to reach out and connect to more people. The ultimate version of ›The Sonic Great Wall‹ would involve all four ensembles simultaneously. In this scenario, we will have all ensembles performing simultaneously in their own location and venues. Live-streaming of each of them will be set up on large screens, so that the ensemble and audience in each space can view and hear all the other three venues’ performances in real time. Each ensemble will play one portion at a time, passing the ›Sonic Great Wall‹ around internationally through live-streaming social media – like a »sonic relay race«.