Tan Dun’s Water Music

a sonic investigation on the instrumentality of water through experimental percussion practices and contemporary music performance





Tan Dun’s Water Music, Experimental percussion, Instrumentality, Music performance, Contemporary music


This article aims to discuss the instrumentality of water in the repertoire for percussion, using the performance of the work Water Music (2004) by Chinese composer Tan Dun (1957) as a case study. Rooted in my own artistic practice (as percussionist, improviser and composer) in the performance of the work as the core of research process, this investigation also combined methods and theoretical perspectives from the fields of auto- and performative-ethnography (Wong 2008), in addition to semi-structured interviews with other percussionists specialists in Tan Dun’s water percussion works. Starting with an overview on water's integration into Western art music and its dynamic connection with percussion, this investigation intended to reveal, from the perspective of a percussionist, the intricate performative process involved in Tan Dun's Water Music. This investigation underscored the presence of a unique performance path, shaped by singular performative demands, in addition to creative and experimental artistic practices.


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Author Biography

Luís Bittencourt, Universidade de Aveiro

Luís Bittencourt is percussionist, artist-researcher, science communicator, composer and producer. An active performer in a range of various styles (from Western art music, folk south American music, free improvisation to contemporary experimental music), Luís Bittencourt is considered "a master of sound experimentation" (Vision Magazine) and has performed solo in Europe, Oceania, north and south America. His performances, described as "a torrent of originality" (Casa da Música), include first auditions of his own compositions, and by composers Tan Dun, Gabriel Prokofiev, Steve Reich, Vinko Globokar and contemporary Portuguese composers. Bittencourt has also been featured in many contemporary art/music festivals and venues like IKLECTIK (UK), Sound Res (IT), The Cockpit (UK),Ciclo Do Audible (ES), Theatro Treze de Maio (BR), Guildhall School of Music and Drama (UK), Queensland Conservatoire Theatre Griffiths University (AU), Lisboa Soa, Casa da Música, Sonoscopia, Convento de São Francisco, Theatro Circo, Serralves em Festa!, GNRation, Arquipélago Centro de Artes Contemporâneas, Solilóquios, Museu de Lisboa, among other. He has performed and collaborated with Lee Ranaldo and Leah Singer (Sonic Youth), Jeffrey Ziegler (solo/Kronos Quartet), Phill Niblock, Kuniko Kato, Helga Davis, Katherine Liberovskaya, David Sheppard, Paola Prestini, Found Sound Nation, Gabriel Prokofiev, David Cossin (Bang on a Can), Jon Rose, Rafael Toral, Miquel Bernat, Mina Tindle, Emily Hall, among other. As composer and music producer he obtained 1st prize in the contest Legends of China - Confucius Arts Institute Award 2016 and has already collaborated with artists and institutions, such as Cecile Elton, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Lange Studios, Instagram® and Cannes Lions. As an artist-researcher, Bittencourt is the author of pioneer investigations, namely "Percussion and instrumentality: exploring the performance of unusual instruments and sound sources", a doctoral artistic research funded by CAPES; "The use of water as a percussive sound source: analysis of Tan Dun's Water Music", a master study on the sonic affordances of water; and "Liquid Memories for solo waterphone and live loops: creation, performance and transtextuality", an artistic research on the sonic potential of the waterphone, an almost unexplored contemporary musical instrument. His groundbreaking investigations have established new insights on experimentation in percussion music and on the instrumentality of "found instruments", and have been published and presented at many institutions worldwide, such as the Conservatoire Supérieur de Musique et Dance de Lyon (FR), Leeds College of Music (UK), Conservatório de Valencia (ES), Guildhall School of Music and Drama (UK), Universidade Federal de Santa Maria (BR), International Summer Course for New Music Darmstadt (DE), Bath Spa University (UK), Queensland Conservatoire/Griffiths University (AU). Bittencourt holds a PhD and a Master in Music Performance (University of Aveiro, Portugal) and a Bachelor Degree in Percussion Performance (Universidade Federal de Santa Maria, Brazil). He is a member of the Society of Artistic Research (SAR) and Percussive Arts Society (PAS), and contributes regularly as peer reviewer for Per Musi, SHIMA, ORFEU, the Society for Artistic Research (SAR) and other. www.luisbittencourt.com


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How to Cite

Bittencourt, Luís. 2023. “Tan Dun’s Water Music: A Sonic Investigation on the Instrumentality of Water through Experimental Percussion Practices and Contemporary Music Performance”. Per Musi 24 (December):1-18. https://doi.org/10.35699/2317-6377.2023.48635.



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