It’s a show the audience itself can’t help being a part of: in a dark, silent room, performers in tights lie down on a sort of bed and flail their limbs in an improvised way. Gradually a series of fluctuating, billowing images appear on a screen behind them as a dream-like music begins to sound. Everyone is drawn into a surreal ceremony until the performers leave the stage, and viewers turn around and look at the corporeal landscape evolving before their eyes.
This is Soundscape of Body. Transforming bodies’ shapes into image and sound, it seeks to let us see the body’s music, to hear the body’s terrain.
The Chinese name of the performance, Da Yin Xi Sheng, comes from chapter 41 of the Dao De Jing. It literally means “great sound, soft voice” but might be interpreted to mean the louder a sound is, the harder it is to hear.
“Your body is like a mystery. You can see it, but you never hear it. Through this work, I want you to hear the sound of your own body,” says Keith Lam, whose creative team, Dimension Plus, is behind Soundscape of Body. Lam is a Hong Kong-based new media artist who Neocha has written about before. This time he collaborated with his group’s coder, Seth Hon, to create this piece, which won a special honor at the 2018 Golden Pin Awards for the Best Designs of the Year.
“It’s a completely new and innovative way to create original music from our body,” said the judges. “It uses science to communicate how our body can contribute to society even after our passing.” Among the over 5000 works in this year’s competition, 37 took home awards. Others include Mist Encounter, a water-themed art installation made out of recyclable materials, and The Affairs, a new print newspaper.
This year’s awards were full of works that showed humanitarian concerns and an awareness of environmental sustainability. Each year the selection shows that design means more than just creating beautiful things. We live in an age where the objects around us become obsolete too quickly. Good design should do more than show creative thought—equally important is whether it can curb the waste of resources and remain “future-proof” as time passes.
Can people’s bodies become obsolete?
That’s a question that Lam, as he was conceiving this piece, wanted audiences to think about. He took up the project on commission for the Body Donation Programme at the Hong Kong University Medical School, which every year works with artists to create art. It aims to increase the public’s awareness of body donation and get them to think about the nature of bodies and the meaning of life—and the possibility that even after death, a body’s value can be extended.
When taking on this project, Lam did a lot of homework. One sentence he heard from Chan Lap Ki, an anatomy professor at the medical school, stuck with him: “the organs of the human body are as beautiful as any landscape.” He kept thinking about what it meant. A landscape isn’t necessarily just something you see, it can also be something you hear. What if you could make everyone’s body become a tune?
这是当 Keith 受到香港大学医学院的遗体捐赠计划“大体老师”的委托，在构想作品的同时，希望带给观众思考的问题。每一年，大体老师计划都会委托艺术家去创作，希望能借此提升大众对于捐赠遗体的认知，以及激发观众思考何谓生命的本质与身体的意义——即使在死后，身体的价值是否有延续下去的可能。
Soundscape of Body uses a parallel motion scanner that detects the distance from the performer’s body and uses a special coding technology to turn these data into images and music. The closer one gets to the sensor, the lower the sound gets. “All the performers are improvising, and we can’t tell them ahead of time what to do,” Lam explains. “So each performance is unique.”
After the performance ends, the audience can also get up on stage and scan their own bodies, and the results are anonymously uploaded to a website. “The interactive part got more popular than I expected. Audiences would wait to get on stage and have their own body scanned, for that may be the first time they listen to music from their own body.”