Percussionist and multi-disciplinary artist Angela Wai Nok Hui, tells the narrative of her youth spent between Hong Kong and London through her collaborative project Let Me Tell You Something. Still relevant today, the show examines identity, relationships and memory through the performance medium.
Image Courtesy of Angela Wai Nok Hui (via Instagram)
Paradigm Haus: How did you feel after Let Me Tell You Something?
Angela Hui: I can tell you how I felt right after the show. Wing is my producer and we are good friends as well. She told me that she had a strange feeling but she didn't know how to describe it. However, I didn't feel that way because I have experience performing and I don't get this kind of “post-show depression”.
I'm using the show as a medium to express my feelings to the world and to Hong Kong, to London and to my family and friends. The show is me and I am a person that doesn't know how to use words as you can tell maybe.
Let Me Tell You Something, Image Courtesy of Angela Wai Nok Hui (by Dimitri Djuric)
PH: I saw one of the photos where you picked a branch off the street, how did you choose different mediums and how are they all tied together?
AH: I collaborated with different composers. The composer Gregory Emfietzis has a piece called “Hestia”, which means “goddess of fire”, “goddess of home” and “goddess of a home setting”. That piece is interesting because Greg made this card game with a set of instructions. I composed the whole piece with his instructions, so the composition is the input of that piece.
For the main component, Greg tried to make me tell a story in front of the audience and he also told me it would be great to find any objects that are related to the story. I chose a full flowerpot and a baby’s glockenspiel, which is a toy instrument used throughout the whole program. This baby glockenspiel appears in Lucy's piece and Jasmin's pieces. Then there were normal bricking sticks, which I didn't choose.
PH: What does collaboration mean to your creative process?
AH: Collaboration is very important for me. Collaborating with people is like talking to people. Because I am a classically trained percussionist. I went to the Royal College of Music. I spent six years playing a lot of notes, marimba, timpani, Beethoven, symphony, counting bars, triangles and all that. I love them. I enjoyed the experience. But then I always find it's a little bit lonely when I'm practicing in my own practice room. I enjoy collaborating and making stuff in a whole different way that I wouldn't even think of before asking people to join me, to have a jam.
This whole project started more than two years ago. Two pieces for Angus Lee, a Hong Kong composer, are actually finished. The final version finished in 2019 with Timothy Cape, where I made a very weird dance next to a bass drum. He is based in Italy, he would have come to London to work with me if not for the pandemic. We were doing videos back and forth. We were looking for weird and different sounds and we were jamming. He was making projections for me to have a feel and then I told him my feeling. But then he would say “maybe that's not how I want you to feel, so maybe let's do something else.” I work with composers, so I need to trust that person and open my heart to them.
With Jasmin's piece, This Land is Yxxr Land, people could interpret the title of the piece differently. This piece is very personal. It was basically during an interview with me. She tried to record the interview and then put it into a new looping tape. It sounds not true at all, very emotional, but whenever I play that piece, I recall all of the memories that I told her. It makes me smile. Especially the first performance in Hong Kong, lots of friends and family came. I don’t know why the first performance is mostly for friends and family. Then the second is that of more colleagues.
The first performance is the first piece of the show as well. I did not play the pre-show cassette, so I used this piece to bring people into my world and I try to use the cassette as a gateway for them to come in.
So when I played that piece on the first night, it really was special because a lot of people that I've talked about in this piece were all there in the venue. It was creepy and it gave me goosebumps. That was a special moment, I didn't expect that. Even one of my aunties bought tickets and came. She was in one of the events or one of the memories that I talked about.
Angela Hui, Shuta Shinoda and Jasmin Kent Rodgman (left to right), Image Courtesy of Angela Wai Nok Hui (via Instagram)
PH: Then how do you think the audience affects your performance?
AH: Comparing day one and day two, I would say performing in Hong Kong, in general, is different from what I normally do. In London, my family wouldn't be there. If there's a piece that I need to be naked, I could do that. But in Hong Kong, I can’t do that. Even though I can do that, I have to go through lots of mental preparation to do that. But I haven't really thought about why I'm having that feeling.
PH: Can you compare your experiences in Hong Kong to the scene in London where you're normally based?
AH: Not to say that London is having a good time as well. I think there is the same problem everywhere in the world. It is fine, we have to deal with problems that's kind of our life.
Audiences in London are more open minded and willing to support artists. I don't know if that is the case because ticket prices are cheaper?
In Hong Kong, I didn't know that my show could be sold at $250HKD, which is expensive. The shows I went to in London were just around seven pounds to walk in. Early bird tickets were just five pounds. I would love to do an experiment on this, for example, what if I do a completely awful show and sell tickets for $10 in Hong Kong.
In London, people are trying to bounce off ideas more openly. I've been in Hong Kong for two months, including my 21-day quarantine. I have a sense of the Hong Kong music industry, which is in groups. It's very hard from the outside to break in.
I think the observation for me, between Hong Kong and London, is that everything in Hong Kong is very, very pretty and well presented.
For example, the big font of Tai Kwun is so pretty. All the wordings and even some English I don't even understand like “microwave”. Emails used in Hong Kong are different from how we do in the UK. Whereas in the UK or in mainland Europe, such as Germany, Belgium, they have more of the rawness of art. I can see some really, unprepared, ugly, and raw shows in London, but then I don't think I will get to see them in Hong Kong. But maybe ugly and beautiful really depend on how you see them.
Image Courtesy of Angela Wai Nok Hui (via Instagram)
PH: Are there any kinds of trends that you've been noticing in experimental art or in the music scene?
AH: People all have a lot of energy, but then they don't have the support to do it. I'm seeing this crossing of disciplines, which might be a by-product of the pandemic.
I'm a percussionist, I’m a musician and now I'm trying to do some sound and music design, which I would never have thought of before. So my by-product of the pandemic is five short movies I made for this show. People as artists are trying to see how far we could go in different directions, which is really good.
Sometimes I don't have the normal knowledge of how to make a sound and then something interesting can come out from that. I don't know the normal steps of making a soundtrack. That could be the element of why the soundtrack could be so bad, or so good. So that’s why a painter tries to do music, and play percussion or piano. Simply because they don't have normal lessons on how to do it, something interesting that I wouldn't think of would come out of this.
PH: Do you think these thematic topics of the pandemic and cross-disciplinary avenues changed how artists approach their practise?
AH: The pandemic didn’t really change what I wanted to talk about in the show. It was more about what happened in Hong Kong during these two years that changed a little bit on this show.
For me, it all started by asking myself who I am. The identity crisis, you know? Where is home? Do I have one term or do I need to go back to my home? Am I humble or maybe I have no home and I will never have a home. And then the whole movement happened in Hong Kong.
It makes me think no matter where I go, I really have a very strong bond with Hong Kong and that would never change. I think I found the answer or maybe I don't think I would ever find it. Do I have one home or do I have no home? I could have two homes. Now I'm married to an Italian Frenchman, so here's my home as well? But it doesn't really matter, I think I'm just going to continue this journey.
So I think that is a little change of direction because of what happened or what is still happening now in Hong Kong, such as people leaving the country and moving away. So I'm really excited about the London one as well. I really don't know how the audience or Hong Kongers in London would take it. What would it remind them of? Can I give them the sweetness, a bit of comfort or would I remind them of something bad? So for Let Me Tell You Something, I didn't really tell them forcefully and spoon-fed them. I created a space for them to tell themselves something. People would get different things from the show.
Follow Angela Hui on Instagram here: @huiwainokk
Let Me Tell You Something collaborators on Instagram: