Situated on the riverbank, facing an ancient Buddhist Temple, is designed by the renowned Japanese architects of Isozaki Studio and composer Tan Dun. The auditorium is two stories high with a uniquely domed roof, and the pillars and floor can be played as musical instruments. The water area can be used as a stage as well as seating, while the architectural appearance still incorporates the ancient style of the water town.
A stream of water flows into the hall, forming a pond surrounded by the audience, creating the stage of the Water Music Hall. In this ancient house, a drop of water falls from high above through the oculus bringing-out the music dialogue of Zen and Bach; Water Rock and Roll dances with string quartet, pipa joining with Buddhist chanting.
Interview between Yang Lan and Tan Dun
Yang Lan: What is your concept behind the “architectural music” of Water Heavens?
Tan Dun: The performance hall’s structure is similar to that of a ancient two story house. The wooden structure of the upper story reveals a Ming Dynasty style house; whereas the iron pillars and steel floor of the lower story are reminiscent of an industrial space with a distinct German Bauhaus style. During the performance, the river flows in and out through the house, linking the interior and exterior space, thus symbolizing the purification of our spirit and soul. The integration of this unique architectural structure with the performance, connects our inner selves to our surroundings, as well as brings the outer world in to meet our spirituality. The combination of the different Chinese Ming-house and German Bauhaus styles, as well as the contrasting sounds of water, iron and other natural instruments completes my “architectural music” wonderland where heaven and man become one. My ultimate goal for Water Heavens is to create a space where the architecture is an instrument that can be heard and played.
YL: “The architecture coagulates into music, music flows into the architecture”, how does your eastern “Ming House” and western “Bauhaus” philosophy extend to create the music collision of “Dialogue of Monks and Bach”?
TD: One day I was walking along the river bank in Zhujiajiao and I stopped to listen to the chanting of monks from the Yuan Jing Temple , so beautiful. In this tranquility I had an illusion (vision), it was if I was listing to the traces of Bach in their song. This illusion brought together the harmony between people and nature, east and west and helped me to combine the architecture and music concept into the Water Music Hall. The vision inspired me to seek out the Isozaki Studio in China, Chief Designer Hu Qian and Gao Qiao Bao Ming. I said I wanted to bring the river water into the music hall, and flow out, the audience and the performances will have an experience of having their heart and mind washed clean (turning over a new leaf, make a new start).
YL: You are not only are using the river as the strings, but also the architecture as the instrument, how do you do this?
TD: The performance begins with “Steel Rock and Roll”, a rhythmic beat using the steel beams and stairs, out of this emerges the monks chanting from the temple opposite the hall, then the string quartet plays Bach and is responded by rock and roll played on the surface of the water on the floor of the Water Music Hall. The oculus, designed by Hu Qian, becomes a water instrument, when the water drops from the heavens, the effect is like a gigantic symphony orchestra. Just like the ancient poem which states “if you have the sound of the music in your mind, you don’t need to have the physical instrument to make music”
YL: So this organic concert “Water Heavens” presents the architecture as its own instrument of music?
TD: Yes, we use the music as architecture and take the architecture as music, that is the Water Music Hall.
“The performance manages to be at the same time intricate as well as minimal; it is difficult to compare it to anything as it us utterly unique…”
–Sara Naumann, About.com, 2013