Reflection, togetherness, creativity: “Udlot Udlot” at the Roundhouse

Drawing from the oeuvre of the Filipino composer José Maceda, the Vancouver-based non-profit Western Front invites the public to gather for a rare event: the opportunity to create a work of musical art communally. It will present a musical workshop on April 27 at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre where registered participants will prepare and interpret Maceda’s immersive musical piece, Udlot Udlot.

Departing from the standards of many musical performances, the artist-run center released a call for participants on their website to simply “anyone interested in music” to join them for the workshop, forming part of the creative process that will culminate in a public performance on May 4 at George Wainborn Park.

The workshop and performance will allow participants to experience Maceda’s experimental and inclusive work as they reflect on their surroundings and consider their own creative potential.

An early performance of Udlot Udlot, a musical performance that invites the public to participate, regardless of musical background. | Photo courtesy of the UP Center for Ethnomusicology, Via Western Front

An invitation to connect

Udlot Udlot was originally performed by a group of 800 students at the University of the Philippines in 1975. The composition accommodates up to 1,000 performers of all musical abilities to produce collective harmony accompanied by a few simple instruments as they connect with their social and natural environments.

Inspired by tropical rainforest ceremonies, the performance bears an element of togetherness whose roots might be foreign to most. But, as Western Front’s curator-at-large Aki Onda explains, the composition’s conceptual foundations are meant to resonate on a universal level.

“Through Udlot Udlot, Maceda explored musical ideas that evoked sounds of the rainforest and people’s lives in rural villages. He also felt that this work could apply to cities anywhere in the world,” says Onda. “For him, the bamboo instrument is a symbol of nature, and an open-air performance means communal gathering.”

Onda thinks the performance could resonate in a specific way for Vancouverites, with the city’s complex identity at the intersection of diversity, nature and urbanism yielding the potential for a unique experience and interpretation of the piece.

“I thought it would be good to restage this work in Vancouver as the city is so close to nature and embraces people from diverse communities,” says Onda. “It’s a good opportunity to think about the environments we live in.”

Ode to a visionary

More than a call to reflection, Onda says the event represents an opportunity to pay homage to its composer, remembered for his immersion in both Eastern and Western musical traditions. Having been trained in Western avant-garde musical traditions, in addition to working as an ethnomusicologist researching Indigenous music across Southeast and East Asia, Onda says the composer’s background is reflective of his work’s ability to bring genres, practices and people together.

“Maceda had a gigantic imagination and was driven by unique passion and curiosity,” Onda explains. “Who would think of music with such simplicity as Udlot Udlot –
a composition that can gather hundreds or thousands of people to play simple bamboo instruments and chant together regardless of their musical experience.”

Unsurprisingly, the musician’s multidimensionality continues to influence artists today. By bringing Maceda’s creation to Vancouver, Onda hopes to stir creativity within the community and shine a light on the works of this crucial Filipino composer.

“I am fascinated by how Maceda’s music is both highly theorized and intellectual, covering both Western and Eastern music traditions, and at the same time inclusive and communal,” says Onda. “As his music had been largely forgotten for decades, it felt important to profile his work, as he had many conceptual interests that are still relevant to the current experimental music and performing art scenes.”

For more information about Western Front’s Udlot Udlot workshop and performance:

Leave a Reply