Meditative audio journeys exploring essentialism.
In adapting for the restrictions placed on live performances due to the pandemic, the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) has turned to the digital space for presentation, with many of its commissioned work taking the form of audio experiences instead. The latest of these to premiere is COMPOUND’s The Silence of a Falling Tree, where listeners are taken on ‘immersive sonic journeys’ that provide a space for reflection and visualisation.
Written and directed by Irfan Kasban (who was also recently conferred the Young Artist Award), The Silence of a Falling Tree feels like s spiritual successor to this 2016 work Trees…A Crowd, not so much narratively, but in terms of its underlying purpose to examine the theme of essentialism, and the elements that make up our existence.
Across the three ‘tracks’ audiences available online, listeners are led by theatre actors Grace Kalaiselvi, Bright Ong and Umi Kalthum on said journeys, accompanied by field recordings and original compositions, and a recommended listening spot, all to aid in the reflective process. Grace’s track, for example, encourages listeners to lie down in their bedrooms, raising awareness of their bodies as they follow her instructions, while Bright’s track is intended to be listened to in a supermarket, where listeners imagine themselves as a different character picking groceries up.
COMPOUND takes the work one step further however, with their ‘live performance’ held at the Victoria Theatre. The fourth iteration of the series, Track 4 turns the spotlight to how the theatre scene has been affected by the pandemic, and tells the story of an empty theatre longing again for audiences in its seats. Much like the previous three tracks, Track 4 is all about feeling the space around you, but instead of the listener’s place in the universe, considers the theatre’s. With binaural headphones over our ears, while we never see any of the actors onstage, there is enough description in the script and effective use of lighting that makes even an empty stage feel dramatic. Oftentimes, it felt like we were looking into a void, as we felt the vast loneliness of the stage, with our focus constantly kept on the ghost light in stage centre.
Even though everyone in the audience listens to the same soundtrack, one imagines that every single experience was unique, based completely on one’s own perspective and interpretation of what we were sensing. The smoke, for example, began floating up into the air, and it almost seemed like there was a spiritual presence in the theatre with us that afternoon. Azrin Abdullah, Cheryl Ong, and Raghavendran Rajasekaran’s epic soundtrack is also a powerful feature, multicultural in its sound and taking us through lush forests, drumbeats building up to a climax, and show just how important music is in any performance. Even with nothing to see in front of us, every other element of the ‘performance’ came together to evoke our imagination and let it run wild.
Track 4 then, acts as a temporary reminder of the joy the theatre brought in the pre-pandemic days, and an expression of hope that it won’t be too long before we return to normal, a tribute and cry to remember the theatre even when it is unable to fulfil its primary purpose under these restrictions. In the meantime however, we’ll still have to continue settling for digital work and smaller audiences with Phase 3 of our circuit breaker coming up, and take the time for a breather, before the arts comes back stronger than ever, loud and clear.
The Silence of a Falling Tree is available on Soundcloud and Youtube, with Track 4 having played exclusively at the Victoria Theatre from 12th to 13th December 2020. More information available here
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