The mud floor is covered in wood shavings from where Thào A Chua has been carving. His one-room house is his workshop, bedroom and the open fireplace his kitchen. He is making the traditional Hmong instrument called the Khèn (sometimes referred to as the Qeej). For the Hmong, the Khèn transcends music alone and is considered an extension of the Hmong language. Since the Hmong language is tonal every note is its own word and so Khèn players are often known as story-tellers.
Legend has it that there once was six brothers who were talented bamboo flute players. When their parents died the brothers cried in grief until they lost their voices so instead picked up their flutes to make a crying sound. Their devotion moved the spirits and the Mountain God came to them and said "Make an air bulb with six holes and plug your flutes into it. Then only one man blows and all six pipes will cry."
The origin story of the Khèn can be seen in how it is still most commonly used: as part of funeral proceedings for the Hmong. Its purpose is to communicate with the spiritual world and in doing so lead the deceased to their final resting place. When not observed the deceased spirit may wander back, bringing bad luck to the family.
Thào moves outside as he plays, symbolising the journey of the spirits. He begins to make slow, methodical circles whilst raising and lowering the tubes of the Khèn. Later he interacts with the plants and other foliage as if to strengthen the connection with the spirit world. The droning melody of the Khèn takes us into Thào's trance as he continues his circling dance, eventually returning to our world.