More than one hundred people climbed to the second floor of the iconic Phnom Penh apartment complex known as “The Building” last Saturday afternoon for the launch of Sa Sa Art Project’s new installation, The Sounding Room.
A joint initiative of Sa Sa Art Project and UK based arts organisation, Incidental, The Sounding Room is advertised as “an interactive sound installation where everyone becomes a performer”.
Featuring eight gigantic traditional Khmer musical instruments hooked up to amplifiers, The Sounding Room is open to anyone who wants to come in and try them, explained Vuth Lyno, the director of Sa Sa Art Projects.
“We just wanted to make people remember old or extinct musical instruments by copying their style and re-making them a bit larger. People can come into the room to play these musical instruments or just to chat. They can use it as a place to express ideas about freedom, human rights, or land issues. It’s up to them. We don’t have the clear schedule, we’re waiting to see what will happen after people get involved.”
The giant instruments installed in the room include the Wild Drum, the Kong Gurl, (sometimes called the Khmer xylophone,) and a Wind Bell suspended in mid-air.
Each instrument is hooked up to speakers which broadcast their diverse sounds throughout the room, a feature David Gunn, the director of Incidental, explained is part of The Sound Room’s modern take on traditional Khmer instruments.
“Once upon a time, someone invented it. It didn’t come from nowhere. People experimented and changed instruments, so we tried to carry on that process. With this project we tweaked instruments with a long history and let people express their own character and personality in the way they play it.”
Sa Sa Art Projects shares The Building with hundreds of residents, among them Hem Phyrum, who told the Post at first he didn’t understand the idea behind the The Sound Room. After the goal of the project was explained, he pitched in to help, assisting local and overseas artists in placing and wiring the instruments.
“It looks strange to me because I have never seen large musical instruments like this, and they can make their sound heard on speakers,” he said.
Hem said he sees the project as playing a role in connecting the building’s inhabitants with the world outside, and observed that the decaying facade of The White Building leaves some people feeling too intimidated to come inside.
“I feel that we have more connection with each other, between people in this community and people from outside. I think it builds more of a relationship between people and breaks down walls in the community,” Hem said.
Gunn told the Post the popularity of The Sounding Room lies in it’s appeal to the inner rock star lurking inside everyone.
“We want to show everyone is a musician, everyone can play something and everyone can listen. So it’s about creating a space for people to be part of the creative experience.”
The Sounding Room can be found on the second floor of The Building on Sotheros Boulevard.