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“Could I ask you to explain the music of heaven for me?”
“Sounding the ten thousand things differently, so each becomes itself according to itself alone—who could make such music?” — Chuang Tzu (369-286 BCE)

Music of the Heavens is a multicultural creation of live music and multimedia animated visuals that tell ancient astrological stories, exploring the mythology and belief systems that make up the diverse fabric of Canadian and Indigenous society. The multimedia projection shows real-time animated images of star stories, not unlike a DJ creating their own unique set— alongside world-class cross-cultural music. The project is co-produced and performed by the Centre for Culture and Technology of UBC Okanagan and the Vancouver-based Orchid Ensemble.

The artists re-interpret the cosmological stories and oral histories from their own cultural heritages — Greek, Chinese, and the Indigenous’ Haudenosaunee culture, and explore the meeting of cultures in their collaborative process with community members, where unique stars signifying individuals’ heritage were made. Each story is connected to a season, and characters from the heavenly world travel through time and space as the night unfolds, highlighting different cultural beliefs.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Orchid Ensemble features: Lan Tung erhu/Chinese violin and vocals, Dailin Hsieh zheng/Chinese zither, Jonathan Bernard marimba and percussion. The ensemble is known for its cross-cultural innovative works, performing diverse styles ranging from Taiwanese music, Chinese music, world music, new music to jazz and creative improvisation.

Media artists Aleksandra Dulic and Kenneth Newby of the Centre for Culture and Technology at UBC Okanagan conceptualized the visuals, with significant input by artists Jessica Dennis and Amberley John.  Aleksandra Dulic, PhD, is also an Associate Professor in Creative Studies and Director of the Centre for Culture and Technology. Kenneth Newby is also a composer-performer, educator, interaction designer, and audio producer. Jessica Dennis is the lead animator and coordinator, and Indigenous artist Amberley John illustrates and tells the story of the Three Brothers and Giant Bear.

  • For thousands of years, Chinese have told the story of Weaver Woman, who has traveled from Heaven to Earth and back to Heaven, crossing between yin and yang, human and god, to seek her eternal love.
  • The Haudenosaunee Nation tells the story of the Big Dipper, where three Brothers are forever hunting the Giant Bear that they chased into the sky.  
  • The Greek mythology sees human desires and emotions in the Greek Heroes, who are the reflections of the human spirit.

To contrast with the narrative stories, the final section features handcrafted stars created by community members, representing the meeting of different cultures in Canada and Indigenous Nations.

The animation and illustration team also included artists Ardanna Semeschuk, illustrating the Greek heroes; Dianne Schnieders, illustrating the Weaver Woman story; Sarah Polak and Charles Landa, providing animation; with additional drawings by Taiwanese artist Li Tung.

The music is written by three composers: John Oliver’s “Celestial Storehouse” is inspired by the eternal balance of yin and yang. Lan Tung sets haunting melodies to ancient Chinese poems about the Weaver Woman. To the Bear and 3 Brothers story, she contrasts vigorous rhythms with Asian sensitivity of space/breath, depicting the story from a cross-cultural approach. Stefan Smulovitz translates the cross-cultural cosmological designs created by community members into graphic musical scores to guide the final improvisation.

The Orchid Ensemble and media artists Dulic and Newby have been collaborating since 2006, creating interdisciplinary projects of critical acclaim. (see videos from previous production). Music of the Heavens creates dynamic fusions, both musically and visually. It is an immersive audio-visual inter-arts performance that marries the traditional art forms with modern technology and contemporary expression.