Fallen City is an interdisciplinary project that fuses the arts and science to raise awareness of earthquake risks and to honour the lives lost to earthquakes around the world. Co-presented by Proliferasian, C- Works, and Sound of Dragon Society, Fallen City offers a unique interactive theatrical experience in which audience members will participate.

Fallen City is created by a team of three siblings – Lan Tung (producer, musician, composer), Dr. Dorian Tung (researcher, earthquake engineer), and Li Tung (visual artist, performer). They grew up in Taiwan, a country with frequent earthquakes, and now live in Vancouver, where there is increasing concern of a major earthquake. Coastal British Columbia is home to two active earthquake zones, known as the Cascadia Subduction Zone (along the coasts of Vancouver Island, Washington, Oregon and northern California) and the Queen Charlotte Fault (off Haida Gwaii). Some of the world’s largest earthquakes have been recorded in this region. 

Proliferasian performs cutting edge music composed by Lan Tung for improvising musicians on a cross-cultural instrumentation. Proliferasian’s core members are Lan Tung on the erhu (Chinese violin) and voice, JP Carter on the trumpet and electronics, Kevin Roman on the drums, and Colin Cowan on the bass.

Bringing together science and arts, Fallen City has a number of innovative elements. The centrepiece is a large musical pendulum built in collaboration with software designer Arne Eigenfeldt and sound design artist Jeremy O’Neill. The movement of the pendulum creates spectacular visual effects and functions as a musical instrument to interact with the musicians.

Fallen City is presented in four sections: Seismic Hazard, Early Warning, Earthquake Engineer, and Disaster Recovery, identified by Dr. Dorian Tung. Since all three siblings are cat owners, Li Tung has created paintings of cat communities to symbolize these four sections.

Seismic Hazard

When cats find something they do not understand, they do some research – in their own way, of course. They see a plain triangle and gather around it. Curiosity drives them to study the unknown, very much like people.

Illustrations of plate movements and seismic waves will be used as graphic scores in the musical composition. Dramatic video footage of major earthquake events acts as the backdrop. On stage, a structure with multiple pendulums of varying lengths will be equipped with sensors. The moving pendulums create shapes simulating earthquake waves and triggering various pitches and timbres. This transforms the structure into a musical instrument for the musicians to interact and improvise with.

Early Warning

When the earth trembles, cats know, at least before people do. Research shows that cats can sometimes pick up on the fast-travelling P-wave, which is the first indication that an earthquake is coming. Therefore, tight before a major earthquake, cats often act funny, and their alerting ears indicate their sense of coming dangers.

By installing sensors to measure earthquake waves, warning signals can be sent to citizens. Video animations illustrating how earthquakes are detected by different kinds of warning systems worldwide will be used as visual scores for the live music. In addition, an earthquake warning message will be sent to participating audience members’ mobile phones. The notification sound made by the phones will then cue the musicians to play the next motives.

Earthquake Engineer

Bastet is an Egyptian goddess in the shape of a cat. In ancient Egyptian mythology, Bastet is not only a protective goddess who could fend off evil threats, but also a goddess associated with music, dance, and pleasure. The pyramids are one of the strongest human-made structures in history, and they have survived many earthquakes.

Video collages demonstrate structural damage caused by earthquakes and engineering designs that can reduce such damage. Audience members will assemble wood blocks to create small models of buildings on top of a shake table. This table simulates shaking during an earthquake to test the strength of such models. Cut into different shapes and sizes, the wood blocks are assigned to different musical gestures performed by the musicians.

Disaster Recovery

After any distress, people seek out for comfort, much like sleepy cats. The unorganized triangles in the “Early Warning” cat painting have now been restored to order, bringing calm and relaxation.

Video projection and live music tell the stories of successfully reconstructed earthquake-proof communities, as well as of abandoned ruins that have never been rebuilt. We remember the sites and mourn the losses. Some voices and words from earthquake survivors will be incorporated in the audio soundscape and video projection, which will further lead the musical development.