MONA FOMA day 6: Hong Kong New Music Ensemble

The Hong Kong New Music Ensemble is a musical innovator for sure. For MONA FOMA they took over the TMAG Bond Store to perform Sound Cloud, a work by the acclaimed Hong Kong composer Samson Young. Imagine feeling your way into an almost totally black space, illuminated by apparently randomly placed, blinking, white LEDs. After a couple of minutes you can just make out the performers, very dimly illuminated in four widely separated locations. First you hear electronic tone generators of various frequencies: harmonious, but not familiar western harmony. Then you hear a single drum note, followed by a viola, then a clarinet, then a flute, then an erie reed instrument.

After the performance we interviewed the artist playing the reed instrument. Loo Sze Wang explained that the 36-reed instrument is a Chinese mouth organ — the “Sheng”. In the dark of the performance this instrument in silhouette looked like it was on loan from the Star Wars prop room.

Loo Sze confirmed that we interpreted the score correctly: it is composed of time blocks of either 5 or 10 seconds, where the players are cued by their individual electronic timer-LEDs. They play an improvisation based on the scored note (indicated by integers on the score) AND the pattern performed by the previous player. The pattern of blocks is synchronized by the single drum beat of the conductor, as the simple electronic timers drift slightly during the performance. Each player’s time block is not the same length — some are 5, some are an overlapping 10 seconds, forming chords.

The HKNME website is “under construction”. For more background, see the HKNME blog.

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