Culture, Events, Live Reviews — April 16, 2012 at 6:32 pm

The Sound of Love and Vengeance


The Sound of Love and Vengeance: A Glimpse into the Heart of Ho Tzu Nyen’s “The Song of the Brokenhearted Tiger”

“Once upon a time, a Tiger and a Forest lay entwined in a coil of love”

Midnight black dominates and forces itself into the field of vision. Ever so slowly, but at gathering speed, tendrils of smoke emerge from the foreground of what can be considered as the “stage.” A syncopated buzzing is heard. Starting off as background noise, the hissing and warbling sounds become as obtrusive and as unsettling as the darkness itself. A procession of some sort seems to be happening before and around the audience, for together with the gradually brightening houselights, rhythmic drumming is heard along with prophetic distortion from an electric guitar. When a deep voice telling of the chronicles of the brokenhearted tiger and four vague figures were perceived on stage through the overwhelmingly dense walls of smoke, we know that “The Song of the Brokenhearted Tiger” has commenced.

Music, Narrative, Theatre, Dance, Philosophy—what are these fields but man’s attempt to mine the truth from the experience of life? The search for truth, in love lost, in purity tainted and defiled is what “The Song of the Brokenhearted Tiger” aims to propel. The perennial quest for truth is the governing thematic force behind the The Studios series staged by The Esplanade to commemorate its tenth anniversary. Fusing the disparate elements of history, music, drama and Malay dance into a monumentally compelling work of art, “The Song of the Brokenhearted Tiger” situates the search for truth, clarity and an understanding of the present through a (re)examination of the past in a context that is distinctly South-East Asian. The Director, Ho Tzu Nyen, calls his project “an exercise in storytelling.” Distorted music layered with pounding thunderclap drums creates an atmosphere of ferment and chaos through which “the audience must generate the images upon the screens of their imagination.”

But what of the “Tiger” and the “coil of love”, then? How do these elements fit with the dominantly musical features of the project? Truly, it is in the marrying of the narrative of the tiger with the brutal noise rock that rages against the walls of the Studio Theatre, and the presentation of narrative with music in the form of traditional Malay dance that the sheer conceptual ingenuity of “The Song of the Brokenhearted Tiger” is evident. By appropriating the narrative of the Malayan tiger being displaced from its natural habitat by the overarching forces of industrialization and colonialism, Ho frames and situates the question of truth within the context of South-East Asian history. Where can truth be found, now that the pristine realm of the forest has been rent apart by the foreign feet of iron and steel? Where is the truth behind life lost and love lost? Where is the truth in change and chaos? How is the truth to be arrived at? Never proscriptive but always suggestive, “The Song of the Brokenhearted Tiger” hints that truth is created in the imagination of the audience as each member engages with the pummeling barrage of light and sound around them to author meanings that are historically grounded but also subjectively nuanced. Truth is the summit that heart and mind reach in unison.

At the end of an hour, “The Song of the Brokenhearted Tiger” ends with the Ghost of the Brokenhearted Tiger returning to Forest to sing a final song of grief, an elegy to his beloved “Green Cathedral.” Earsplitting sonic textures and deathmarch drums herald the close of project. Anguish and vengeance are implied in the last resounding salvo, underscoring the importance of looking within and through ourselves for the truth. Then the tiger stops signing. The houselights come on.

—Indran Paramasivam

Indran is a freelance writer especially interested in culture and the arts. In this age of speed and connectivity, the relationship between art and society and between art and culture is complex and dynamic. Situated in Singapore, Indran is actively involved in exploring how art, particularly, music, is produced and received amidst a backdrop of ever-evolving trends and influences.