Inside/Outside a Swedish, Vietnamese, British installation performance

A spectacular performance can be experienced today 11-11.45am and 2-2.45pm at Kim Ma Theatre, 71 Kim Ma Street. The admission is free.

The Swedish musician and performer Stefan Ostersjo acts as a woman while playing a ty ba (traditional four-stringed guitar). His two female Vietnamese colleagues, Nguyen Thanh Thuy and Ngo Tra My, are playing the dan tranh (16-stringed instrument) and dan bau (monochord). They are separated in each their glass box.

They are in an installation performance titled Inside/Outside, a brainchild of dan tranh artist Thuy.

Thuy and My work as lecturers at the Viet Nam National Academy of Music. They have teamed up with Ostersjo for various activities since 2006 in the framework of The Six Tones, a Swedish-Vietnamese project which works on a long-term basis on the amalgamation of art music from Viet Nam and Europe.

The performers play sporadically, sometimes sitting like statues and sometimes filling the hall with music that is amplified through loudspeakers.

Ostersjo is trying to take the audience back to a time when most traditional musicians were men, and sometimes had to get into character by pretending to be women.

When the audience move through the space, reflections from the glass create a perception of being both inside and outside the boxes, and there is a constant shifting of instrumental and electronic sounds.

“I want the audience to have a closer look at traditional Vietnamese music from a gender point of view,” Thuy told Viet Nam News.

Last century, few women played traditional instruments, but now you can see how far we have come by the number of female musicians, she added.

Next to the glass boxes there are headphones through which audience members can listen to the music being played in each individual box. Through these layers of sound, the audience can explore yet another facet of how inside and outside is created.

Having arrived in Viet Nam for the first time to take part in the show, English artist Matt Wright is excited. Before the project, Wright was not familiar with the sounds of Vietnamese instruments.

“I’m very interested in different tunings of notes… different sounds within sounds. Vietnamese instruments have a very beautiful combination of tones. I’m very interested in purely sound and melody. I’m trying very much to capture the sounds, represent them in a delicate way, and also sometimes make electronic versions of these instruments,” he said.

“You can’t always hear them but I get a signal from them through the electronics, then I distribute the sound through the speakers.

“The concept of inside and outside is translated in terms of where the sound is, is it inside the instruments or is it outside in the speakers,” Wright said.

The performers’ movements have been carefully worked on by Swedish choreographer Marie Fahlin.

“We picked up a few gestures of Vietnamese traditional players from some videos we have and mixed them with the western way of thinking about gestures and time. For each individual musician, we develop a certain language of movement depending on character, interest and ability,” said Fahlin. “Each of them have different kinds of material that they work with.”

Ostersjo admitted that acting like a woman is quite challenging for him, but he is still able to play his instrument to a high standard.

“Even though it’s done in an abstract way, it’s just a piece of art, it’s not a political or research statement about gender in Vietnamese performances, so we have been looking at gestures in performance that have a kind of gender meaning identity,” he said.

They play transcriptions of traditional Vietnamese music for Western stringed instruments and traditional Vietnamese instruments, also in combination with live-electronics.

Fahlin, who has worked and performed in the US, Moldova, Cambodia, Norway and Brazil, has choreographed approximately 40 routines and her work has been shown in all of Stockholm’s major stages.

Her work contains a wide range of forms, from solo pieces in silence on stage to pieces for 20 dancers outdoors in Stockholm city centre. She collaborates frequently with other choreographers and artists and she has also worked as a dancer with some of the most interesting Swedish choreographers.

It is part of the international research project on musical gestures supported by the Swedish Research Council, Radio the Voice of Viet Nam, the British Council Arts Fund, Sweden’s Malmo Academy of Music and Lund University.

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