Earlier this year, I was invited to perform as a poet alongside other artists in an extraordinary Soundpainting recital at LASALLE. My writing teacher assured me that no prior experience was necessary, and it would be the perfect opportunity to indulge my curiosity in multidisciplinary art. Well, the experience was certainly unique. Our final show can only be described as bizarre. But even so, I would love to do it again!
I’ve posted a video of our performance at the bottom of this blog. But, first, let me tell you a little bit more about the art of Soundpainting and my experience working with Angélique Cormier.
What is Soundpainting?
Soundpainting is a sign language that enables actors, dancers, poets, musicians and visual artists to perform together live. A Soundpainter is similar to a conductor of an orchestra. However, Soundpainting contains over 1500 different gestures and there are no notes or fixed script. The final performance is an act of beautiful spontaneity. Whatsmore, it provides a creative arena for artists of different disciplines to interact with one another.
You can read more about the history of Soundpainting here.
Soundpainting comes to Singapore
French Soundpainter Angélique Cormier came to LASALLE for a two-week artistic residency at the start of this year. Her vision was to stage a first-of-its-kind performance in Singapore. Just before her arrival, she called-out for any creative students willing to be part of the production.
This was a huge deal! Angélique is a famous master. Her cult following is mostly owing to the immersive performances she has directed on the streets of New York. However, she has also staged countless multidisciplinary shows across Europe. Naturally, I jumped at the chance (with a little egging from my teacher) to work with her.
There were around thirty volunteer students in total. This included two poets (plus myself), ten dancers, four sound engineers, and an ensemble of musicians that played the guitar, violin, keyboard, drums, and woodwind. Additional poets also recorded sound samples for the engineers to loop, while visual artists gave painted crepe paper to enhance the stage aesthetics.
Soundpainting rehearsals begin
We had only four days of rehearsal with Angélique in the lead up to the show. I remember when we gathered for the first time. We were all a little confused as to how on earth we would work together. Us serious poets, with our scrappy notebooks and depressed airs, eyed the young dancers who wore funky clothing and modern hairstyles. Meanwhile, the sound engineers and musicians figuratively beat their chests; who were the true masters of noise? But when Angélique entered the room, she quickly dispelled our doubts and fostered a mood of artistic collaboration. Her whimsical charm and sassy French accent were inspiring!
The theme of the performance was “walking”. While the final performance would be spontaneous, we were all asked to ensure the sounds and movements we made bore some relationship to the theme.
Rehearsals primarily focused on learning the Soundpainting gestures. Like I said earlier, there are over 1500 signs in total. Fortunately, we only needed to memorise about forty of them. Some signs were functional, instructing the enactment of certain movements i.e. walking, hopping, or sitting. Other signs focused on sound directions, such as volume, pitch, and repetition.
A show stopper
Sadly for us, it was around this time that the coronavirus hit Singapore hard. On the second day of rehearsals, we were given the grave news that the show was going to be cancelled. But Angélique would have none of it and a solution was found. Instead of performing on stage to a live audience, the show would go on for just a few LASALLE teachers and recorded for YouTube.
I actually think this worked in our favour. When it was finally showtime on 21 February, EVERYONE had last-minute jitters. Could we remember all the Soundpainting gestures? Would our teachers judge us too harshly?
I won’t lie, the recital wasn’t easy. I’m not a great poet at the best of times. Coming up with perfect prose and sensical lyrics on the spur of the moment, while following Angélique’s directions, was near-impossible. If I had the chance to do it again, I would put less pressure on myself to speak in verse and just have fun with it. Or, even better, I would perform as an actor rather than a poet. I guess that makes me a pretty pathetic poet!
Nonetheless, it was a weird and wonderful experience. I loved interacting with different artists and soaking up the infectious passion of Angélique. When we took our final bows we all felt relieved that it was over, as well as energised by what we had achieved.
The show is over, say good-bye
The result was a bizarre showstopper that pulsated with raw creativity from start to finish. The show produced harrowing sounds, creepy jibberish, and a lot of nervous laughter. How utterly brilliant! My hope for the future is that Soundpainting becomes more mainstream in Singapore. Enjoy the show!