A whisper on earth is like thunder in heaven (2015)

“A whisper on earth is like thunder in heaven” is an old Chinese (Song Dynasty) proverb, fitting in describing the peculiar acoustics of the Imperial Vault of Heaven, in Beijing’s Temple of Heaven. The fascinating acoustic properties of this space are well-known, most famously the smooth round Echo Wall, but also the Three Sound Stones and the Dialogue Stone. They indicate the mysteriousness with which sound was endowed and its role in imperial rituals of rulers of Ancient China. 

Ironically, the sheer volume of visitors keen to test these acoustic characteristics out, drowns them out. The contemporary soundscape reflects Beijing’s booming tourism industry and is filled with bustling tour-groups with guides equipped with mini-PAs, families with children directing and snapping photos, along with shouting voices trying to be heard along the echo wall. 

The installation is a meditation on the bustling contemporary soundscape and its former sacred atmosphere. Contrasting the stark lines and corners of Inside Out Art Museum’s architecture with the round, circular architecture of the Imperial Vault, a shift of imagination occurs as the circular architecture is traced onto the surroundings of the Mini Museum of the Inside-Out Art Museum. The intimate, concrete space, rectangular seen from above, itself home to some peculiar sonic characteristics, is re-imagined as the rectangular line of stones in the middle of the imperial vault. A microphone hanging through the cavity at ground-level links the outside to the inside, and ultra-directional loudspeakers inside the installation highlight the golden spots from which the outsider’s voice can be heard. A sense of intimate communication is re-enacted, amidst the veritable ruckus of Temple of Heaven’s contemporary reality.