ASED (countercurrents) – Ensemble Extrakte

Sandeep Bhagwati / Siaman Vongayan / Musicians of Ensemble Extrakte

Concert installation sept 25, 26, Humboldt Forum, Berlin
For an indigenous singer recorded on video
and twelve live musicians from perse traditions

Deniza Popova, Bulgarian vocals / Eva Glasmacher, soprano / Naoko Kikuchi, koto / Lucy Zhao, pipa/ Elshan Ghasimi, tar, voice / Wu Wei, sheng, erhu / Ravi Srinivasan, khayal, tabla, percussion etc. / Sören Birke, harmonica, khaen, mouth harp, duduk etc. / Gregor Schulenburg, flutes, kyotaku, duduk / Klaus Janek, bass. / Gebrüder Teichmann, live electronics

For the opening of the Humboldt Forum’s West Wing, composer, poet and music researcher Sandeep Bhagwati has conceived a two-day concert installation in the listening room of the ethnomusicological collection. Musicians from 12 different musical traditions take turns in 5 different positions, interconnected by watching and listening to a common “score”. This five-part, 90-minute “score” is composed of five video clips by Taiwanese documentary filmmaker Ye-Hai Chang. In July 2021, he was commissioned by Bhagwati to film his friend Siaman Vongayan (Chinese name: Kuo Chien-Ping ), an activist and guardian of the music of the indigenous Tao people on the Pacific island of Lan Yu, singing the same traditional song over several days at important locations on his island: a song about the shipwreck of a modern large ship on the rocks of Lan Yu. The different versions of this song, which vary slightly from place to place and day to day, as well as the soundscapes of the respective locations, become the basis for the musical interpretations of the live musicians – who react to the video, to each other, as well as to the presence of the audience with comprovisations: improvisations after concise instructions that orient their listening – and their playing with each other. No one brings ready-made music with them – all musicking arises from what can be seen, heard and felt at the time of performance.

Additional context for Sandeep Bhagwati’s concert installation ASED (…countercurrents…)
Located north of the Philippines and southeast of Taiwan’s main island in the Pacific
Ocean, the island of Lan Yu has an unusual history of contact with the outside world.
For centuries, it was mostly avoided by Chinese and European seafarers due to
difficult nautical conditions. Moreover, the ancestors of today’s Tao were known for
not always welcoming strangers and refusing to help shipwrecked people. They were
therefore largely left alone.
In 1896, the Japanese, who had taken over Taiwan as a colony a year earlier, undertook
an expedition to Lan Yu. Japanese scientists were thrilled to find an almost ” pristine
Stone Age culture”. As a result, the Japanese colonial government set up a police
station on the island and restricted access: from then on, only scientific personnel,
especially ethnologists, were allowed to enter Lan Yu for research purposes. The Tao
remained largely autonomous in their traditional way of life.
After the collapse of the Japanese empire, Lan Yu fell to Taiwan. Subsequently, a
sinicising forced modernisation began, which led to a gradual, forced loss of culture.
From the 1980s onwards, Lan Yu’s isolated location prompted the Taiwanese
government to store its residual nuclear waste on the island. This sparked a decades-
long Tao activist resistance that saw a resurgence of indigenous cultural practices, as
well as networking with other indigenous activists worldwide.
The singer featured in the videos, Siaman Vongayan (Chinese name: Kuo Chien-Ping
郭健平), is a leading activist in the local anti-nuclear movement. He is involved in
various cultural projects and is currently trying to keep the traditional Tao chants
alive in cooperation with an international team.
Traditional Tao chants on Lan Yu use only a few melodies, which are then adapted to
ever new texts. These texts are mainly meant to contain practical information on
farming, fishing, house-building, rituals, etc. and were often understood as a mixture
of manual and knowledge archive – a kind of sung encyclopaedia. One learns the
melodies by listening to them in childhood and youth, the lyrics can refer to new
incidents – like the song sung in this installation about the shipwreck of a foreign,
modern ship. Much emphasis is placed on the poetic quality of the texts.
The continuation of the poetic and especially the ritual singing traditions is
threatened by the inevitable migration of younger Tao to Taiwan, who can neither
attend secondary school nor find work opportunities on their home island – and also
by the access to internet streaming services.