Interview with Jason Wee and Li-Chuan Chong for Quora Fora: A Rehearsal
Quora Fora: A Rehearsal by Jason Wee
16 March 2020, 7pm & 9pm (a pair of 2 distinct yet complementary performances)
WILD RICE @Funan
Commissioned for the Singapore Biennale 2019, Quora Fora: A Rehearsal features an original poetic libretto by Singaporean artist Jason Wee set to contemporary choral music by composers Li-Chuan Chong and Aran O’Grady. Combining choreography, costumes and an immersive theatrical set designed by architect Quck Zhong Yi of asolidplan, the multidisciplinary performance installation examines and explores the ideals of democratic activation in this climate of political instability.
The Flying Inkpot talks to Jason Wee and Li-Chuan Chong to find out more about this riveting work and the part that music plays in engaging the audience in this intense and thought-provoking experience.
TFI: Quora Fora: A Rehearsal was commissioned for the Singapore Biennale 2019. Jason, what was your personal impetus for creating the work?
Jason Wee: The libretto for this began as I was working on ‘In Short Future Now’, a manuscript of science-fictiony haikus that imagined an Asia in the wake of authoritarianism and climate disasters. I was thinking of the number of strongmen that seize power through the ballot box or more disruptive means in this part of the world, and if we will ever escape our cycle of attraction to them. When the Biennale approached me about a possible commission, I spun out a libretto beginning from a line in the manuscript.
TFI: What does “A Rehearsal” in the title of the work represent?
Wee: The “rehearsal” is two-fold: to ask if the theatre might be a rehearsal for a public assembly and all the fraught potentials that entails, and also for my approach to the development of the piece. What the public sees is very much evolving. My aim is to accumulate more and more pieces of music for the libretto over the next few years, until I have compiled an anthology of 6-8 compositions in all. So in a real sense, the next performance of the libretto is always a kind of rehearsal for a new piece of music.
TFI: As a performance-installation work, is there particular significance to the interplay of art forms apart from its very diversity?
Wee: Quora Fora hybridizes forms the way it does because it’s the first time I’ve tried to put this combination of things together. I usually keep these things apart, at least in my head; I write poetry, I makes installations, I love textiles and fabrics both as art material and as everyday surfaces and dress, and the questions around public space and the space for a public is one that I’ve curated exhibitions and written essays on. What is interesting for me also is the concurrence of poetry, textile and chorus in early Greek and East Asian traditions of theatre. It’s also why I instructed the composers to work with the choral form, I’m keen on the simultaneity in Greek theatre to how they think of the theatre going public and the demos, and how the chorus respond to this assembly of people.
TFI: Li-Chuan, tell us more about why the choral genre was chosen.
Li-Chuan Chong: What might seem obvious to some, could offer a new perspective for others, and so, in the case of setting Jason’s text to music, for it to be sung by a chorus, we might hark back to the function of chorus in Greek drama. We might ask, what does it mean to speak in a collective voice? Does it signify homogeneity, i.e. non-individualised? Is the chorus itself an authoritative voice commenting on the situation we’re faced with?
TFI: Does the music borrow inspiration from other genres?
Chong: The technique that I have employed is borrowed from Minimalism, and in particular, from one of my musical heroes, Steve Reich. I would first create melodies based on syllabic word setting of Jason’s haikus written in English. And then apply what is called phasing or phase shifting to those melodies. I then work out the harmonic underpinnings of the resultant musical texture and add instrumental accompaniment to it.
TFI: How does the form of the music lend itself to the overall meaning of the work?
Chong: There are eight sections to the musical score, into which the ten haikus are arranged: 1, 2, 3 & 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8, 9, and 10. Structurally, the sections mirror each other (i.e. 10 mirrors 1, 9 mirrors 2, 7 & 8 mirrors 3 & 4), with the exception of 5 and 6 which are two separate vignettes forming the axis of symmetry for the entire piece. Perhaps through this manner of encountering Jason’s text, the audience might ponder on the circularity of history, and be curious to find out what the sentences/phrases are.
TFI: Besides the music, costumes and choreography, how does Quck Zhong Yi’s set design contribute to the message of the text and the audience’s experience?
Wee: The objects on stage are crucial. I don’t want to give too much away, but the choral sounds will make it hard to make out the complete libretto, and the only way the public can ‘get’ all the words is to read them off the installation.
Tickets are free with registration at https://jasonweesg.peatix.com/#