“Everything we do is Music”

Jeroen Malaise © Wouter Van Looy
Jeroen Malaise
© Wouter Van Looy
As well being a composer, John Cage was a great amateur mycologist – a forager of mushrooms. He believed that “ideas are to be found in the same way that you find wild mushrooms in the forest, by just looking”. Creating music from everyday sounds fascinated him and inspired many of his experimental compositions. That sense of exploration and fascination lay behind Zonzo Compagnie’s “Listen to the Silence”, an interactive musical experience – ostensibly aimed at children – which guides us into Cage’s sound world.

Strategically split, the audience descended onto the Linbury Studio stage from two sides, half seated on benches, half positioned within a large canvas frame along with – we later realised – a grand piano. Metronomes clicked and clattered until the lights went down. Directed by Wouter Van Looy, with video designs by Letizia Renzini, the show features a single actor – Tjyying Liu – and pianist Jeroen Malaise.

What is music? Can noise be music? Can music be noise? Children were silently invited to participate – anything from adding bolts and ping-pong balls, to create a prepared piano, to blowing up balloons and rustling plastic bags and bottles. While Malaise and his young assistants played ‘under the bonnet’ of the piano, on the other side of the screen Liu employed his laboratory, which included a blender, cups and saucers and a whoopee cushion.

Listen to the Silence © Wouter Van Looy
Listen to the Silence
© Wouter Van Looy

Video projections included a giant head of John Cage, while just about the only words spoken were quotes by Cage himself: “I can’t keep a tune. In fact, I have no talent for music.” He recalled foraging for wild mushrooms and also declared that “My favourite music is the music I haven’t yet heard.” That sense of exploration was tangible, along with a sense of fun. Although adults outnumbered children in the audience, young and old were just as entranced at this slick performance, right to the moment when Malaise, playing a toy piano, was wheeled off-stage.

Jeroen Malaise © Wouter Van Looy
Jeroen Malaise
© Wouter Van Looy

Along with the toy piano music and some of Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes, Rozart Mix (imagine turning the dial through the radio stations on a ‘wireless’) was played to a psychedelic projection of dancing mushrooms, mesmerising its audience. Increasingly, the “white noise” created by Liu and his assistants drew the attention more than the sounds of the piano itself, like silence punctuating the music.

It’s a thoroughly absorbing show and it drew me back to a quote I’d heard earlier in the week: “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” No, not Cage this time. That one was from Mozart.