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Barely Dry Ink (3): Esther Wu

During the many concerts at the Gaudeamus Festival, multiple new works whose ink has only just dried will be played. We talk to a number of composers who tell us about the compositions that they have written for us. Esther Wu will be premiering her installation, The Other as part of the Terrapolis programme on Saturday 10th September at De Nijverheid.

by Niamh Leneghan

Esther Wu is a Hong Kong composer whose style aims to explore sonic aspects and compositional crafts through the versatility of different media and its boundaries. For this year’s Gaudeamus Festival, Wu has been commissioned alongside ULYSSES Network and Creative Europe to create an installation exploring the concept of The Other. In an email conversation, Wu and I discussed how she has found the commissioning journey, the inspiration behind the concept of The Other and what we can expect from this experience on Day1 of Terrapolis XL at De Nijverheid.

‘The Other’ installation is a fluid form, single person, participatory experience that aims to create a space in which the participant can reflect, whilst also literally being reflected in a space full of mirrors. Not only does the participant have the authority to influence the outcome of the work, they can also be the subject or even perform with the installation. When I asked Wu how she has worked with the concept of The Other, she told me that the installation will be a unique space where multiple angles are provided for meaning through sounds. Wu explains that the work is ‘open for interpretation of an inevitable phenomenon within our body and mind, and within the society as an individual. To put it simply, it is fundamentally about our perception towards ourselves and people around us.’

A substantial element of the sounds within the installation are recorded by human voice. This technique has frequented Wu’s research direction, as she believes that the intimate effects of voice is a ‘relatively relatable, familiar and private sound that can stimulate certain imaginations of scenarios and relationships, compared to any other kinds of sounds’. This is why Wu has decided for the installation to be a single person experience, to help provide such an intimate setting.

Wu has gained many experiences and developments as a composer through her involvement with the ULYSSES Network. She expresses how her latest participation with the IRCAM Manifeste programme – one of the world’s largest public research centres dedicated to both musical expression and scientific research – was the ‘best experience of creating music by collaborating with people from all around the world and experiencing composition/improvisation as a community’. During the festival, Wu explored different approaches to voice and found a platform to realise her artistic ideas. This in turn coincided with Wu finding inspiration for using voice in the production and artistic perspective of The Other. Since this collaboration, and through the support and reassurance from Gaudeamus Festival, Wu has felt ‘very encouraged and comfortable to explore more interesting approaches for sound experiments that interact with audiences’.

When discussing with Wu how she anticipates the Gaudeamus audience to receive the installation, she tells me that she has ‘no idea what to expect; it is also an experiment for myself to be situated in’. Participation is key for a worthwhile experience of the work, although spectators are warned that the intimate space might cause discomfort, due to effects such as the intense amount of reflections. Whilst this may seem intimidating, Wu is curious to see how the audience will feel about this and react to the installation. Overall, the premiere of The Other will be an inspiring and intimate experience and a chance for people to take a minute in the busy festival day to reflect – figuratively and literally.