Three Sonic Musketeers and the Femme Fatale

By Jun Zubillaga-Pow

Rooted in the Ephemeral Speak: Sound Gig #04

Saturday 24 September 2011

White House, Emily Hill

Chong Li-Chuan

In an elongated room atop the little mould call Emily Hill in Singapore gathered some thirty odd strangers; some here to support their friends, others came to hear what our sonic artists have been up to with their switches and kits. The artist and curator Kai Lam has assembled an array of four sound artists and an eclectic auricular programme for those who had bothered to trek up a few hundred metres to get their ear canals stuff with electronics for a couple of hours. The opener of the evening was someone I would like to call the electro-acoustic whiz kid – Chong Li-Chuan. Equipped with just a black laptop and black outfit, the surrounding chirping birdsong was interrupted by the nocturnal creatures of Singaporean streets and fields. The irregular metre of snare drum beats against that of the bass steps in criss-cross fashion creating an economy of polyrhythm, which is sufficient to entertain any mathematically-trained listener. Alas, but it was the return of the cricket-like sounds, albeit with digital manipulation, that brought us back to the ethereal atmosphere of the tropical hill-slopes. Citing an anti-nuclear agenda as inspirational seed, I allow the listeners to draw their own interpretation of this little eco-ditty.

Jordan Johari

More dexterous was our next artist, Jordan Johari Rais on laptop, mini-keyboard, bugle, alto saxophone and a couple of radio sets. His piece, Mass Media, is composed in a ternary (three-part) form, with the subtitles Newspaper, Radio and Television. Meticulously-organised, the sequence which unfolds from one movement to the next, had allowed space for the listeners to accompanying the musician on his sonorous voyage as he piled on the timbre (instrumental colours) via various techniques. From the now common-place MAX-MSP playbacks to the simultaneous improvisation, Jordan handles his tools and gadgets with high efficiency. He knows what he wants and gets the harmonies right on the spot. However, there was consideration neither for restraint nor repose as more experienced artists would have cared for, especially when the subsequent accumulative surge had confused this reviewer whether this potential talent had wanted to defy classical formations in his art. Two flaws of this work lie in the lack of dynamics contrasts and the out-of-place synthesised drum-set (which really isn’t related to the mass-media), both of which have perhaps caused the aural interests waning for some audience members.

Yuzuru Maeda

Except for Chong, regularity was one of the major pitfalls for all the performers this evening. The Japanese sarod player, Yuzuru Maeda, pitted melodic fragments against a mono-tonal drone recorded as background accompaniment. The lights were dimmed and we sunk into an ambience of neon blue hue under the evening sky. Although her introductory passage of stroking a Tibetan bowl had failed to make an impact this time round, her solitary, downward-curling poise fixed her as the centre of attention, just as how she had wanted the trance to be in her command. Unfortunately, this reviewer has situated her stance as problematic for her attempt to blend an Indian doctrine of heterophonic raga with the repetitious metrical regularity of Western minimalism was rather hesitant. With eyes closed as if in deep concentration, each of her strums betrayed her uncertain grasp of the instrument; her playing had shackled the versatility of the sarod into a mechanical toy. No thanks also to the unprepared ritardando (slowing down) at the end of the set, which destroys the nirvana, which her piece could have attained if set within a solely acoustic setting. Most commendable should be her video back-drop showing the back of a blue leather figure strolling around a private estate, which I read as representing the maze-like facade of a changing Singaporean landscape.

Evan Tan

The final performer of the evening was Evan Tan. His was a no-hold release of all the industrial and rotary noises that he could blast into the meagre space, which naturally could not contain the soundwaves much less their reverberation, causing the latter to penetrate through our ear drums. Like the many performance acts that I have seen, the concept of acoustics has yet again been neglected. Against the static tessitura descending from mid to bass decibels (which happened to be the only unvaried sonic object), any event of modulatory oscillations or extraneous interjections were non-purposeful. This reviewer believes that structural and dynamics management were poor, such being the case of a repetitive high drilling sound of five seconds each without a teleological direction. The awkward juxtaposition of distorted radio speech from Singapore radio stations clearly reflects the insufficient development of artistic thought invested into the work’s poiesis (creation). Certainly, more money and effort are needed to produce quality sonic artists from Singapore, and this particular programming of R.I.T.E.S. is the first step in the right direction. If I were to pick, the best musical musketeer tonight is Jordan.

Jun Zubillaga-Pow is a Music curator and postgraduate in Music psychoanalysis at King’s College London. The opinion expressed are purely his own.


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