Oral Stunts: The Art of Sound Illusion

Explore the mesmerizing world of ventriloquism, where performers use oral skills to create the illusion of music and voices, captivating audiences with their artistry.

In the village, a young woman arrived, approximately in her mid-twenties, carrying a medicine bag, selling her medical skills and medicines. For those who came for treatment, this woman didn’t prescribe medicines herself; instead, she waited until evening to ask the gods to provide prescriptions. When evening came and it was time to prescribe the medicines, the woman would tidy up a clean little room and lock herself inside.

A crowd gathered around the door and window, leaning in to listen attentively. Each person could only whisper quietly, afraid to cough loudly. Inside and outside the house, everything was silent. It was close to midnight when suddenly the sound of lifting curtains was heard. A woman inside the house asked, “Has Sister Nine arrived?” Another woman replied, “She’s here.” Then she asked, “Is Sister Lamei here with Sister Nine?” It sounded as if a maid answered, “Yes, they’re here.” The three of them chatted incessantly. After a while, the curtain hooks moved, and the woman inside said, “Sister Six has arrived.” Someone interjected, “Did Chunmei bring her little baby with her?” A woman replied, “This stubborn child! He refused to sleep and insisted on coming with his mother. He’s so heavy, weighing about 180 pounds. He could crush someone!” Following this, there were sounds of the woman attentively serving, Sister Nine asking questions, Sister Six exchanging pleasantries, two maids comforting, and the laughter of children, creating a noisy atmosphere. After a while, the voices gradually died down. The curtain rustled again, and the room was filled with noise. Someone said, “Why did Sister Four arrive so late?” A young woman softly replied, “The journey was over a thousand miles, and it took a long time to reach Auntie’s place. Auntie was slow.” Then there were murmurs of concern and the sounds of people adjusting their seats and adding chairs. It went on like this, with the room filled with conversation and movement, until it finally quieted down after a meal. At that point, the woman asked about the medicine for the illness. Sister Nine thought ginseng should be used, Sister Six preferred astragalus, and Sister Four advocated for white atractylodes. After some discussion, they heard Sister Nine calling for someone to bring writing materials. In no time, there were sounds of paper folding, pen caps being removed, ink grinding, and pens touching paper. Later, there was the sound of pens being put down on the table and finally the rustling sound of packing medicine. After some time, the woman opened the curtain and called the patients to come and get their prescriptions and medicines. She then turned and entered the room. Following that, they heard the voices of the three sisters bidding farewell, the voices of the three maids bidding farewell, the muffled laughter of the children, the meowing of the cat, all happening at once. Sister Nine’s voice was clear and melodious, Sister Six’s voice was slow and aged, and Sister Four’s voice was sweet and graceful. Combined with the three maids’ voices, each had its own distinctive quality, and one could easily distinguish who was speaking. Everyone was amazed, thinking they had truly encountered immortals, but after taking the medicine the woman prescribed, there was no remarkable healing effect. It was simply a form of ventriloquism, used to promote her medicines. Nevertheless, her ventriloquism reached a remarkable level of skill.

Once, Wang Xinyi mentioned that he had passed by a marketplace in the capital city. He heard the sound of someone playing the qin and singing, and a crowd of onlookers had formed a wall around the performer. As he approached, he saw a young man singing melodiously in time with the music. There were no musical instruments; he simply used one finger to tap his cheek. As he tapped, he sang, and it produced a resounding “clang” similar to the accompaniment of stringed instruments. It seemed to be a skill of a similar nature to ventriloquism.

《口技》

村中来一女子,年二十有四五,携一药囊,售其医。有问病者,女不能自为方,俟暮夜问诸神。晚洁斗室,闭置其中。

众绕门窗,倾耳寂听,但窃窃语,莫敢欬。内外动息俱冥。至夜许,忽闻帘声。女在内曰:“九姑来耶?”一女子答云:“来矣。”又曰:“腊梅从九姑来耶?”似一婢答云:“来矣。”三人絮语间杂,刺刺不休。俄闻帘钩复动,女曰:“六姑至矣。”乱言曰:“春梅亦抱小郎子来耶?”一女曰:“拗哥子!呜呜不睡,定要从娘子来。身如百钧重,负累煞人!”旋闻女子殷勤声、九姑问讯声、六姑寒暄声、二婢慰劳声、小儿喜笑声,一齐嘈杂。即闻女子笑曰:“小郎君亦大好耍,远迢迢抱猫儿来。”既而声渐疏。帘又响,满室俱哗,曰:“四姑来何迟也?”有一小女子细声答曰:“路有千里且溢,与阿姑走尔许时始至。阿姑行且缓。”遂各各道温凉声,并移坐声、唤添坐声,参差并作,喧繁满室,食顷始定。即闻女子问病,九姑以为宜得参,六姑以为宜得芪,四姑以为宜得术。参酌移时,即闻九姑唤笔砚。无何,折纸戢戢然,拔笔掷帽丁丁然,磨墨隆隆然。既而投笔触几,震震作响,便闻撮药包裹苏苏然。顷之,女子推帘,呼病者授药并方。反身入室,即闻三姑作别,三婢作别,小儿哑哑,猫儿唔唔,又一时并起。九姑之声清以越,六姑之声缓以苍,四姑之声娇以婉,以及三婢之声,各有态响,听之了了可辨。群讶以为真神,而试其方,亦不甚效。此即所谓口技,特借之以售其术耳。然亦奇矣!

昔王心逸尝言:在都偶过市廛,闻弦歌声,观者如堵。近窥之,则见一少年曼声度曲。并无乐器,惟以一指捺颊际,且捺且讴,听之铿铿,与弦索无异。亦口技之苗裔也。

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