Tan Dun's organic music

Updated: 2008-04-25 10:13

Composer Tan Dun is widely known as the Grammy and Oscar-winning composer behind the scores for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero, but in the world of new music, he's known for his “organic music,” compositions and performances built around the use of organic sounds and materials like water, wind and paper. Over the past few years, Tan has also garnered accolades in the art world, adapting his passion for the visual elements and tangibility of his peculiar instruments to the art gallery. “It’s visual music and musical vision,” Tan says, smiling.

At the center of the darkened room in Chambers Fine Art, two perpendicular rows of large glass bowls filled with water are illuminated from below, while shining lights form a cross on the ceiling above. Behind the cross is a Chinese scroll onto with the projection of a video performance of Tan using the water as percussion instruments, splashing his hands into the bowls with rhythms and counter rhythms.

What is all this about? “The scroll is traditionally used for painting, but I use it for video, blending action, sound and vision into the frame. You could watch CNN on a Chinese scroll,” he says.

Educated at both the China Conservatory of Music and as a doctoral student at Columbia University, Tan creates music which cleverly integrates various dualities. “This cross isn’t just a cross,” he says, pointing at the light projected on the ceiling. “The water, the bowl, also makes a circle. Buddhism is about the circle. The cross represents the West. The circle is Buddhism, Zen, the East.”

But Tan’s most accomplished act of integration is not in the installation, but in how fluently he works both the art and music worlds. Tan is now busy not only preparing Chambers Fine Art for his exhibition, but also working at the National Centre for the Performing Arts to prepare an orchestral performance of various pieces from his organic music oeuvre.

“By day, I am working at the National Centre preparing for the performance. By night, I am right here, recording the video, preparing the installations, getting everything ready for the opening.”

For a composer-artist like Tan Dun, it’s the perfect way to bring together the poles of day and night.

Tan Dun’s Organic Music
Where: Chambers Fine Art
When: Through May 11