Freedom Beat (自由擊) has all the usual accoutrements of a percussion ensemble: xylophone, vibraphone, drum set and gong. But you’d also spot some funny outliers on their stage, such as PVC pipes, metal tubes and stainless steel boards.
“We often have ideas that can’t be conveyed through conventional musical instruments, so we reached out to a diverse range of elements,” said Kate Hsu (徐睿君), one of the four founding members of the ensemble.
The innovation of Freedom Beat is not limited to its musical instruments. Since its inception in 2010, the ensemble has been experimenting with its repertoire, mixing genres like electronic music into its percussion sound.
In fact, the desire for more freedom is why Hsu, along with fellow classical percussionists Gray Liu (劉冠萍), Clara Chu (朱純瑩) and Xero Yeh (葉柏岑), left their previous ensemble to build one of their own.
Hsu said no one has the final say on how the ensemble operates.
“Most percussion ensembles in Taiwan go the way its instructor sees fit. We discuss everything together, which we believe will lead to further development,” she said.
So far, their development has been remarkable. For the past two years, Freedom Beat has participated in France’s Festival d’Avignon, performing shows titled Fu-Hua (浮華) and Underground (在地底).
Fu-Hua, Freedom Beat’s debut, is their first break from the shackles of established percussion practice. In July 2012 at the festival, the ensemble tried to create a performance that extended beyond the stage, giving 22 shows at Condition des Soies Theater in which the audience and performers were invited to enter through a long winding staircase.
“It felt like going deep into the underground. The theater’s unique architecture inspired our second production,” Chu said.
A year later, Freedom Beat brought Underground, a mixed-genre performance characterized by original percussion and electronic music with a storyline, to the festival.
Yeh said people in the music circle understood the story of Underground well, whereas theater people saw it as a collage of fragments.
After returning to Taiwan from France, Freedom Beat members decided to make Underground accessible to a broader audience. They decided to make it theatrical, to anchor it to a fantasy story written by director Inred Liang (梁允睿). Actor Daniel Wang (王靖惇) was invited to take up a role and play bass drum in this new version of Underground.
Hsu said the story is about caring for the environment, friendship and love. In the production, she, Yeh and Chu are musicians and the owners of a musical instrument store. One day, an earthquake strikes and the three of them fall down to the center of the earth, where Liu’s character time-travels to search for her fiancee.
Liu, the composer of Underground, said that acting has led her to try new things as a musician.
“It is as if I am playing the instrument as my character,” she added.
To be able to perform as actors and musicians almost simultaneously, the four members have been taking voice lessons, as well as classes on acting, body language and space in theater.
“It is no doubt pretty challenging for us. But an extended integration with other forms of art has always been our pursuit,” Hsu said.