Vietnamese Musicians on Experimental Music Practice in Vietnam

Vietnamese Musicians on Experimental Music Practice in Vietnam

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Written by Ut Quyen for Hanoi Grapevine
Photos provided by the artists and event organizers
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Experimental music night “Blurred Boundary” gathering prominent figures from the Vietnamese contemporary music scene will take place in Hanoi on 06 Jul 2019 at L’Espace. Hanoi Grapevine had the chance to attend one of the artists’ meeting and listen to their stories on practicing experimental music in the current context in Vietnam.

From right to left: Tuan Ni, Ha Thuy Hang, Duy Rua, Luong Hue Trinh, Nguyen Thanh Huyen, Huong DonNa. Photo: Tung Nguyen

Luong Hue Trinh, who initiated and curates the program, said: “As the second generation of experimental musicians in Vietnam, I am a bit more fortunate than others for the because of the opportunities I have in collaborating, performing and funding to further practice experimental music. That’s why I want to create a playground for artists of my generation and young people, who have fewer opportunities, to work together, perform and bring experimental music closer to the public.” The concert sees the participation of many second- and third-generation Vietnamese contemporary music artists hailing from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Each artist participating in the program comes from very different professional backgrounds as well as musical styles. Each genre of music, each instrument they play, has a different performing language. They will have to compose, create their own works, find ways to discuss and collaborate with each other to find a common ground.

Nguyen Thanh Huyen has been trained professionally to play the 16-string zither since the age of 9 and started practicing experimental music when attending the course Performing contemporary music in Vietnam organized by Dom Dom Experimental Music Center in 2013. While not performing in public on a regular basis for quite some time, she has always practiced experimental music, to herself and for herself – ‘the most critical audience’ – as Huyen said. Her decision to participate in this performance is the decision to step out of her solitary yet confort zone to bring her music to more audiences. “This will be the first time I come back to perform contemporary music in public. I am always worried about the reception of Vietnamese audiences for this kind of music that is too new, too liberating, and whether I can contribute anything to Vietnamese contemporary music.”

For an artist who studies traditional music from the age of 12 as Duy Rua, experimental music is still too new yet gives him unprecedented freedom in practicing music. “Playing experimental music means accepting the loneliness because this kind of music is so rich in individual identity, it is difficult to find sympathy even from colleagues and the audience.” – Duy said. He has just finished the latest experimental music course of Dom Dom with the graduation concert Thap mot tia Dom Dom (Light a Firefly).

Huong DonNa, since graduating from the very first course of Dom Dom in 2013, has never stopped practicing experimental music. Huong said: “The first few years were very difficult: there were no audience, not many platforms to play, if you were lucky there might be two or three chances to perform per year. This led to a lot of self-discoveries without performing in public, or to effectively experiment to continue to grow. In recent years, the audience for experimental music has increased, there are more opportunities for artists to perform. Many audiences come to experimental music just out of curiosity, then they begin to love it. However, how to bring experimental music to the wide public more deeply is still a difficult question.”

In addition to the difficulties in reaching out to the audience, Ha Thuy Hang added: “Even for musicians, not to mention the pursuit of experimental music practice, understanding this kind of music has always been a challenge.” As a professionally trained artist playing various musical instruments, at first when exposed to experimental music, Hang found this music ‘very difficult to listen to’ because it was so different and unconventional. However, because “I myself am the one who wants to discover new things that I have never done before, experimental music is a great environment for me to satisfy that desire.” Through experimenting, she realized that music is not just about beautiful melodies. Just like life, there will always be ups and downs, happiness and suffering, beauty and ugliness. Experimental music has the ab to convey all the genuine feelings in life to the audience. “The process of practicing experimental music is also the process of discovering yourself, finding ways to express yourself, because in music, there is no other genre that could makes the artist confront and expose themselves as much.”- Hang said.

Duy Rua and Hoai Anh in the graduation concert Thap mot tia Dom Dom (Light a Firefly)
Photo: Le Thu Minh

Its liberating, unconstrained characteristic proves to be both the difficulty and the motivation for musicians to pursue experimental music. “Because there is no rules, experimental music artists need to be experienced to be able to play well.” – said Tuan Ni, a young member of the group who is still studying Composition at Vietnam National Academy of Music. Because experimental music has no rules, no theories to follow, the artist is the one who creates the framework – it is also creating a new trend. Practicing experimental music helps artists improve themselves to become more confident, more understanding, to know what they are doing and what they want. For Tuan, experimental music gives him more emotions than any other genres: “In the past, when practicing music in school, there were too many rules to follow, there were things I thought of doing but never dared to for fear of making mistakes. But with experimental music, I can do anything. It makes me feel more free, more courageous, dare to think and dare to do.”

Tuan Ni in a performance

For an artist playing classic instruments, experimental music helps Duy Rua remember many things he learned but over time took lightly or forgot, being too familiar with the process: for example, listening. “When playing in an orchestra, everything is specified in the score, you can just follow and perform your part, thus forgetting to listen to others, forgetting to listen to the sound that you made myself. With experimental music, especially with improvisation, musicians are required to listen to themselves and listen to each other to develop the piece.” Plus, because there will be no conductor, no score to follow, so how you play, what sound you create, when to stop or continue all depend on the musician. Thanks to that, the artist’s creative ability is enhanced.

Experimental music is a new promise land that each artist can freely explore, try their best, to enjoy the moments where sounds meet each other without a rule. The upcoming “Blurred Boundary” concert will be an opportunity for them to erase the ‘boundary’ between different genres of music, musical instruments and styles to find a common sound, as well as the opportunity for the audience to free themselves from prejudices, habits, rules and expectations, to enjoy the beauty of sounds with all of our hearts.


Experimental music night “Blurred Boundary” is produced by Institut français de Hanoi – L’Espace with the participation of 10 artists from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City: Nguyen Thuy Dung – 16-string zither, Ha Thuy Hang – 16-string zither, Nguyen Thanh Huyen – 16-string zither, Nguyen Thuy Chi – Monocorde, Huong DonNa – Moon lute/Objects, Duy Rua – Jaw harp & Flute, Tuan Ni – Violon, Hai Duy – Electronic, Nguyen Hong Giang – Electronic/Visual, Luong Hue Trinh – Electronic/Visual, with the participation of guest Jean-David Caillouët – Electronic/Visual from Princess Galyani Vadhana Institute of Music, Bangkok.
Detailed program:
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Translated by Hanoi Grapevine


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