A once in a lifetime encounter with 17 of China's most celebrated national treasures: singers and musicians performing on rare traditional instruments .seldom heard outside of China ...
Published : Thursday, March 2, 2017 | 4:11 PM
Thousands of years of Chinese music meets the 2017 era of stagecraft in the rhapsodic and romantic live stage production Memory 5D+ – An Immersive Musical Odyssey to a Distant Past, created and devised by Ulan Xuerong.
Memory 5D+ is an innovative, new, large-scale, live entertainment spectacular featuring seventeen of China’s most revered musical performers, thought about as national treasures, performing on rare traditional instruments seldom heard in North America and in traditional Chinese performance forms. They are part of a cast of 43 of musicians, singers and dancers.
The $4 million production is set against an immersive backdrop of real, virtual and projected images and action that evokes China’s unique Cultural Heritage, showcasing many facets of the country’s abundant art forms.
The title Memory 5D+ refers to the expansive collective “memory” of Chinese performing arts of the past, and the intangible contribution they have made to Chinese culture – brought fully alive and memorable in this performance. 5D+ evokes a cumulative experience beyond the five senses.
Memory 5D+ has its World Premiere at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium over two performances Friday, May 26 at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday, May 27 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets priced from $38 to $128 plus VIP premium seating for Memory 5D+ are available at Memory5d.com and all Ticketmaster outlets and charge-by-phone at (800) 982-2787. For groups of ten or more, call (626) 449-7360. For more information please visit memory5d.com. Pasadena Civic Auditorium is located at 300 East Green Street, Pasadena.
Following these first performances, Beijing’s China Film HuaTeng Movies & TV Culture Co., Ltd. (CFH), the producer and presenter of Memory 5D+ will plan to embark on an international tour of the production.
These artists performing classic works of Chinese music have been set against a backdrop of new imagery created by Memory 5D+’s world renowned Creative Designer Tom E. Marzullo, who has created, designed and directed international tours for superstars including Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, Prince, KISS, Luther Vandross, Bugs Bunny on Broadway and George Benson, and has provided the creative design for televised appearances for many of those artists and others including Ariana Grande, Austin Mahone and The Band Perry.
Marzullo and his team are designing a multi-dimensional immersive journey for Memories 5D utilizing state of the art concert production techniques that include high definition digital video and lighting, 7.1 surround sound, lasers and aromatic sensory technology.
Ulan Xuerong, the Founder and General Director of China Film HuaTeng, has assembled an impressive roster of honored musicians, who perform pieces from the entire repertoire of Chinese music.
Zuerong formed CFH with the intent of honoring and finding performance platforms for China’s most revered and well-known musical performers.
The styles represented in Memory 5D+ represent both recognizable Chinese musical forms to little-known — but amazing — virtuoso performances that Western audiences might liken to intense Western oriented jazz, classical or world music performers.
The instruments employed include guqin (Chinese zither), “cowboy” flute, gijak, guzheng, konghou (Chinese harp), morin khuur (Mongolian horsehead fiddle), pipa (Chinese lute), Tuva drum (Shamanic drum), and two chordophones – Topshur and Yekele.
Memory 5D+ also uses many Chinese performance arts including Chinese acrobatics, Dolan Muqam, Khoomei (Tuvan throat singing), Shadow Play, Suzhou Pingtan (storytelling and ballad singing from the Suzhou Dialect), Tibetan folk songs, and Urtin Duu (Mongolian Long Tune).
Xuerong has carefully chosen every element of Memory 5D+ consulting with experts in China, and her American creative team. Xuerong said, “The music of Memory 5D+ brings Chinese traditions and an international audiences together in an entirely new way. While our musicians are the highest level practitioners of Chinese traditional music, the sounds they make have a unique intensity and virtuosity that will at once make China’s musical heritage immediate and accessible.”
Xuerong continued, “Memory 5D+ is not just a concert of accomplished and moving musical performances from traditional Chinese musical arts, but an engrossing and enveloping entertainment that speaks about all of Chinese culture and philosophy from the past, and with great relevancy looks ahead to the future.”
The scenario for Memory 5D+ was written by filmmaker John Hughes. Hughes wrote the screenplay for the upcoming feature film, Vivisection. He is known for his visual effects seen in many prominent feature films such as Frozen, Big Hero 6, Moana, Kung Fu Panda 2, The Croods, Shrek Forever After, I Am Legend, Spider-Man 3, Watchmen and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
“In Memory 5D+,” he said, “the intangible nature of Chinese spirit becomes tangible and poignant. Philosophies, characterized in the music, are those that most Westerners know from Taoist thought including concepts of Yin and Yang, the Five Elements, Chinese Medicine, Astronomy and Tai Chi. These have long guided millions of people and through performance, music can bring about a communication of the soul in a joyful and harmonious way.”
Memory 5D+ frames a story, against the background of the creation of the universe, of how the forces of darkness and light learned to become one. Yin (darkness) and Yang (light) have travelled through time and space, flying across the mountains and rivers to arrive at an ancient and mysterious Orient. They abound in the forest, and later encounter a variety of magical and beautiful birds. Symbolic bamboo leaves and birds’ feathers dance in the wind and fall to the ground. Everything strikes the world as new and beautiful, and they are innocent of what is ahead of them.
For Memory 5D+, Hughes dramatized a danced scenario backed by celebrated traditional Chinese music. The story captures the essential essence of Taoist thought: that Tao is a oneness. The Tao contains two component forces known as Yin and Yang that have starkly contrasting qualities.
Taoism describes the perfect equilibrium of light and dark as so powerful it causes everything we know to come into existence; and at end they intertwine perfectly to form a harmonious balance.
Memory 5D+ depicts through music and dance how this equilibrium was formed. Hughes said, “A drama of contrasting responses leads to an imbalance, and the conflict carries the power for the universe to become unstable; eventually the differences are resolved, and they once again fuse with each other in harmony. They again reach a state of interdependence and counterbalance. At the end, everything is peaceful and glorious.”
Taoist philosophy is believed to have been developed as early as China’s founding Xia dynasty (c. 2070 – c. 1600 BCE). From the holistic point of view, the great ancient Chinese thinkers divided everything in the universe into the two contradictory forces of Yin and Yang, representing all that is equal and opposite. The forces are in opposition but together they are balanced — dark and light, fire and water, expansion and contraction. This idea forms the basis of much of traditional Chinese astronomy, science, medicine, and martial arts.
Hughes said, “Most importantly, Memory 5D+ reflects the importance of love, faith and spirit, as well as people’s eternal yearning for — and tireless pursuit of — love and all things of beauty. For when all matters cease to exist in the universe, the only things that are truly immortal are spirit and love. There is a kind of ultimate war in this world, which is won without battle but with weapons of spirit and love. I hope that, one day, mankind will really understand that love is the Universe’s biggest mystery and that finding energies in others that most perfectly complements oneself is the foundation of all harmonious development.”
Instruments featured in Memory 5D+
Many of China’s most important musical instruments are heard at peak performance in Memory 5D. Most of these will be new to Western and international audiences – but their influence on the culture of China has been intangible. Among them are:
Cowboy’s flute is a one-meter long bass flute, an edge-blown aerophone played by the Mongolian ethnic group with two flute diaphragms and eight sound holes. It is popular in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Altay, Yili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The cowboy’s flute produces sound by combining a guttural sound to lead the pipe sound. The sound of reed pipe is soft, thick, mellow and deep.
Gijak, originated in ancient Persia, is a bowed string instrument played by the Uygur, Uzbek and Tajik ethnic groups and is one of the unique musical instruments of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. it is used to play folk and classical music. There is beautiful folklore associated with the Gijak. A long time ago, there was a young man named Gijak in a caravan shuttling back and forth on the Silk Road. One day, Gijak met an exceptionally beautiful young girl as he looked for food in the bustling Chang’an, and the two fell in love at first sight. Gijak bought a Persian “Huqin” for the young girl when he went to Persia. Gijak died of illness on the return trip. Before his death, Gijak asked his companions to take the Huqin to Chang’an and give it to the girl. The sad girl shed floods of tears as she was given the Huqin. In order to commemorate her beloved, the girl named the Huqin for Gijak, the name of her lover.
Guqin (Chinese Zither) is also known as the ornamented zither, jade zither, sitong (string and phoenix tree), or heptachord. Guqin art is a classic of Chinese folk culture, with perhaps the noblest position among Chinese musical instruments. With its 5,000 year history, in ancient times it was named “qin” (?, a seven-stringed plucked instrument similar to the zither) and renamed Guqin in the 1820s to distinguish it from the piano. With a vocal range of four octaves, Guqin has seven open strings, ninety-one harmonics, and 147 stopped strings. According to the book Cunjian Guqin Zhifa Puzi Jilan, there are around 1,070 different finger techniques used for the Guqin, dozens of which are common today. Guqin has a unique sound, and most people listening to its can feel a quietness and remoteness. In 2003, UNESCO proclaimed Guqin art one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Guzheng (zither) — known as Han Zheng, Qin Zheng, Yao Zheng and Luan Zheng – a plucked musical instrument of Chinese Han traditions. As early as China’s Warring States Period (500 to 300 BC), the Guzheng had prevailed in the Qin area and now has 2,500 years of history. One of China’s unique and important national musical instruments, the guzheng inspired other Asian zithers, such as the Japanese koto, the Korean gayageum and the Vietnamese ?àn tranh. A modern Guzheng usually has 21 strings, and is 64 inches (1,600 mm) long with a sweet timbre, wide range, rich playing skills and strong expressive force.
Konghou (Chinese Harp) has a history of more than 2,000 years. In ancient China, there were three types of konghou, the wo-konghou (horizontal konghou), shu-konghou (vertical konghou) and phoenix-head konghou. The Konghou fell out of favor in the 1930s, but in 1959, a replica of a Ming Dynasty Konghou was made by the Beijing Musical Instrument Research Institute. Its range is broad, its sound is soft and clear, and it has a strong expressive force. It is employed for both ceremonial court music, and among ordinary people. The ancient Chinese konghou was passed into Japan, Korea and other neighboring countries during the glorious age of Tang Dynasty (618-907). The tuning of Konghou adopts the twelve-tone equal temperament seven-tone C flat major scale. The main technical difference between konghou and the harp is that konghou uses the trembling technique (from Guzheng) that brings more changes in tone; konghou has two rows of strings, and the paired strings on opposite sides of the instrument are tuned to the same note, which gives it an ease to play fast melodies and overtones, and allows the synchronous use of left and right hands when playing melodies. Konghou is now often used for solo, ensemble and accompaniment for songs and dances, and it is also applied in large national orchestras.
Morin Khuur (Horsehead Fiddle; Mongolian:????? ????), a traditional Mongolian bowed stringed instrument, is one of the most important musical instruments of the Mongol people, and is considered a symbol of the Mongolian nation. The morin khuur, one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity identified by UNESCO, evolved from Xiqin, a stringed instrument in Tang and Song Dynasties, and circulated among the masses in the age of Genghis Khan (1155—1227). Morin Khuur is about one meter long, with a wooden body and two strings attached to its trapezoidal sound box. Its sound is mellow, low and mild, and the volume is relatively low. The name of Morin Khuur is from a legend: once upon a time in order to commemorate a dead horse, a shepherd made a two-string instrument, using the leg bone of the horse as the pillar, the head bone of the horse as the cylinder and the tail hair of the horse as the string, carving a horse head according to the appearance of the horse and mounting it on the top of the handle.
Pipa (Chinese Lute) — a stringed musical instrument known as the “chief of plucked string instruments,” Pipa originated in the Qin dynasty of China and has a history of 2,000 years. Pipa (Chinese Lute) is held in a vertical position during performance, with the left hand pressing the strings and the five fingers of the right hand playing. It is an important folk musical instrument for solo, accompaniment, and ensemble. The name of Pipa came from the two main plucking skills required to play the instrument: “Pi” means finger pushing, and “Pa” means finger pulling.” Later, in order to unify it with instruments such as qin (?, a seven-stringed plucked instrument in some ways similar to the zither) and se (?, a twenty-five-stringed plucked instrument, somewhat similar to the zither) in writing, it was renamed as Pipa (??). Chinese Pipa was spread to other regions in East Asia, which was subsequently developed into Biwa (Japanese Pipa), Bipa (Korean Pipa), ?àn t? bà (Vietnamese Pipa) and Okinawan Pipa. In the history of Chinese literature, there are a large number of poems on Chinese lute and its performance, many of which have won universal praise.
Shamanic Drum (Tuva Drum) is a mallet membranophone played by Mongol, Manchu, Daur, Evenki, Oroqen, Hezhen and other ethnic groups. It is prevalent in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, Hebei and other provinces. It is a single-sided drum commonly known among the people as “the gripping drum”, “the hand drum” or “the sacred drum.” When playing it, the performer holds it by gripping its side. The Shamanic drum is representative of the drums among Manchu Shamanic musical instruments. Whether in a royal court or among the people, the Shamanic drum is an essential instrument in Shamantic rituals. The leather surface of the drum is hugely affected by climate. Therefore, it has to be warmed by fire before each performance to tighten its surface so as to ensure the sound quality and volume of the sacred drum.
Topshur is a plucked chordophone played by the Mongols and the Manchus. In the Oilrad dialect of the Mongolian language, “Topshur” means “something to knock on.” Used in solos, folk songs and folk dance accompaniments, the instrument is very popular among the people. It is prevalent in some areas of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, such as Wenquan County, Bole County and Jinghe County of Bortala Mongol Autonomous Prefecture, as well as Nilka County of Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, Hoboksar Mongol Autonomous County of Tacheng Prefecture and Northeast China.
Yekele is a bowed string chordophone, which is unique to Oilrad Mongols of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. This type of instrument is on the brink of extinction. Its history can be traced back to the “horsetail huqin” of the Song Dynasty. It is known as the oldest bowed string instrument currently existing in China, with a history of 1,500 years.
Musical and Theatrical Vocabulary of Memory 5D+
The musical and theatrical vocabulary of Chinese culture is also a rich tradition of stage techniques – and musical styles that these artists employ. Among those featured in Memory 5D+ are:
Chinese acrobatics is one of the oldest traditional performing arts that emerged during the Warring States Period (221 BC) when Qin defeated the other six vassal states and unified China, and ancient wrestling became an acrobatic art known as Jiao-Di opera. Developed over several dynasties of evolution, acrobatic skills have become more and more diversified and today, this art has developed to a comprehensive and very popular performance practice. Chinese acrobatics has a strict tradition of succession, as each skill is passed down from generation to generation, and continues to absorb influences from dance and martial arts.
Dolan Muqam as a comprehensive classical performance art integrating singing, dancing and music, an important form of artistic expression of the Chinese Uygur ethnic group. Originating from folk culture and developed in the palaces and official mansions of oasis city-states, it has a diverse and sometimes improvisational style. Its distinctive feature lies in its free and unrestrained nature, as well as the simple yet powerful dance rhythms. With approval from the State Council of China, Dolan Muqam was included into the list of the first group of national intangible cultural heritage in 2006.
Khoomei (Tuvan throat singing) is a magical singing art created by the Mongolian people and can be tracked back to China’s Hun period, more than two thousand years ago. Ancestors on the Mongolian plateau devoutly imitated the sounds of nature in their hunting and nomadic activities, and they believed that this was an important way to communicate and live in harmony with nature and the universe. Thus potentialities of human vocal sound were developed, and while imitating the sounds of waterfalls, mountains, forests, and animals, a person could emit a “harmony,” i.e. the embryonic form of Khoomei. The vocal principles of Khoomei are special in that a singer simply uses his vocal organs to resonate with the air in the cavity, with or without vocal cord vibration, so that a person can simultaneously produce two voice parts, forming a rare form of multiple parts. Given that the vocal method and sound characteristics of Khoomei are quite rare, vocalists describe this singing “as high as the zenith of the sky, as deep as the bottom of the sea, and as wide as the edge of the earth.” It is China’s unique singing art. It is inscribed in 2009 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO.
Urtin Duu (Mongolian Long Tune), which means “Long Song,” not only because the songs are long, but also because each syllable of text is extended. Dating back thousands of years, it represents the highest achievement of Mongolian singing art, reputed as the “living fossil of prairie music.” Its characteristics include improvisation, an extensive use of ornaments and falsettos, rich variations in rhythm contained in its long, continuous flow of melodies, and an extremely wide vocal range. Enjoying a pastoral song in Mongolian long tune is like standing on a vast grassland talking to nature with a unity of the sounds of nature and of the heart — a highly free, perfect unity of man and nature. In 2005, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) listed a group of masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity at its Paris headquarters, and Mongolian Long Tune Folk Songs were listed on the World List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Shadow Play, one of the most traditional of Chinese performing arts, integrates shadow, art, paper cutting, sculpture, dance, music, talking and singing. The form includes fine carving, colorful dyeing and painting with Chinese wood oil. Chinese shadow play began during the Han Dynasty (200 BC) over two thousand years ago. By the Tang Dynasty (618 AD), shadow play became the basis of Bianwen (a popular form of narrative literature). This included temple preaching and the folk talking and singing art, alternated prose and rhymed parts for recitation and singing often on Buddhist themes. By the 13th century, the shadow show became a regular recreation in the barracks of the Mongolian troops, eventually spread by the conquering Mongols to distant countries like Persia, Arabia, and Turkey. In 2011, Chinese shadow play was listed as representative works of the intangible cultural heritage of mankind.
Suzhou Pingtan (Storytelling and Ballad Singing in Suzhou Dialect) refers to the combination of two forms originated in Suzhou, China: storytelling (Suzhou Pinghua) and ballad singing (Suzhou Tanci). This performance art is prevalent in Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai from about four hundred years ago. Suzhou Pingtan is an ancient beautiful talking and singing art of the Han ethnic group. It adopts the storytelling form of a Han folk art, Quyi, the sole oral storytelling presentation in the Wu dialects, among which the Suzhou dialect is most widely known and the stories contain talking, joking, instrumental performing, singing and acting.
Tibetan folk songs are a form of oral literature. The social history, customs, and cultural and artistic evolution of the Tibetans are embodied in songs that are marked by liveliness, enthusiasm, simplicity, lyricism and melody. The voice is natural, fluent, high-pitched and sonorous, embodying the vast blue sky on the highlands with its melodious tunes. Occasionally the larynx is used to control the voice in songs with a strong style. This singing method is called “Zhengu” in folk art, which refers to the turn of the throat. In the past the lyrics and music of these a cappella Tibetan folk songs were passed on by oral tradition.