Posted by: "Lee Wen" email@example.com unframed7
Wed May 5, 2010 10:57 am (PDT)
How sound is sound art?! A thought!
Posted at 1:58 pm
At the latest Rooted In The Ephemeral Speak (RITES) event yesterday,
sound artist Marc Chia (aka One Man Nation) brought up something
regarding sound art performances that’s probably on the minds of even
the most open-minded of audiences (including this RAT).
And that’s the lack of an actual performance.
How sound artists are more concerned twiddling the knobs and, well,
checking their emails (?) on their MacBooks and overlook other
aspects like building personal rapport with the audience in front of
them or making use of the actual space they have.
Aside from now Singapore-based Chinese artist Cai Qing who presented
his work in process, a collaboration with his son that will take them
to Hong Kong and China, the rest of RITES was focused on sound art.
It was a valid point. And for his own processes at least, Marc (Mr
Nation?) said he tries to add that performative aspect by turning
whatever gadget he has into a tactile surface that he physically
interacts with the way a cellist would his/her cello. Not by just
pressing buttons but by slapping and hitting the console. (Of course,
I doubt he’d go so far as to smash his gizmos ala Jimi Hendrix or
For his performance, Chia also went around the Substation Theatre
screaming very much like Zack de la Rocha.
This and a number of the presentations have underscored for me at
least, our reliance on the visual, the theatrical to grasp a sound
performance (as opposed to an installation), which in a way is
something sound artists in Singapore may need to contend with.
Zai Tang’s presentation was the simplest, but in a way it was also
the clearest. Talking about acoustic ecology, high-fi and low-fi
sounds, and one’s perception of noise/sound in an urban environment,
he took us on a walking tour from The Substation all the way up to
Fort Canning Park and then down. (Yes, it was also a much needed
Simply put you were made to focus on sounds. I was surprised that I
had a hard time doing so, battling with the constant barrage of
imagery throughout the walk. At some point, we had to close our eyes
and do this again. I ended up trying to “picture” something.
And so we have One Man Nation doing a One Man (Screaming) Show. Which
doesn’t quite translate well (a documented video of the performance
elsewhere seemed more effective) but props for trying to prove his
Another presentation, by Filipino sound artist Tengal Drilon, also
highlighted my reliance on the visual. It’s an interesting piece – a
collage of seemingly random (but not so, it turns out) snippents from
movies and documentaries over which Drilon “collaged” his own set of
studio sounds and field recordings to somehow match what was going on
in the screen. Sound, at least from my experience, was secondary and
supplementary to what I was seeing.
Have we, as audiences, become so reliant on the visual, the
theatrical? Are we still lacking the necessary tools and vocabulary
to fully understand and articulate how we should be mapping out sound
devoid of a video or something our eye can peg itself to? Especially
the kind of aural experience that can be abrasive/non-melodic/etc?
How on earth do classical music concert goers do it?
Oh yeah, they fall asleep.