This paper is a “constructed multilogue” oriented around a set of questions about sound art in Singapore. I have lived here since 2007 and felt that a “community report” should aim to probe recent history deeper than what I could possibly do on my own, in order to give a rich perspective of what is happening here today. I was very happy when Pete Kellock, Zul Mahmod and Mark Wong agreed to be interviewed. Each has a long-time involvement in the Singapore sound scene, in a different capacity. Pete is an electroacoustic music composer who has worked in research and entrepreneurship, and is a founder of muvee technologies. Zul is a multimedia artist and performer who has developed a rich personal expression, mixing sonic electronics, sculpture and robotics in playful ways. Mark is a writer and sound artist who has followed Singapore’s experimental scenes closely since the 1990s.
I sent the three of them a letter containing a range of observations I had made (which may or may not be entirely accurate) and questions (admittedly thorny and intended to provoke), including the following:
The geographical location and Singapore’s historic reason-to-be as a trading post has instilled a sense of ephemerality — people come and go, ideas and traditions too — as well as a need to develop contacts with the exterior. The arts scene in general seems to be largely a reflection of whatever the current trading priorities demand. In what way does the current local sound art reflect the larger forces within Singaporean society? Since art is mostly orally traded, how are its traditions nurtured and developed?
Around 2010, the Government seems to have indicated a new task for cultural workers, including sound artists and musicians: to define — create or discover, stitch-up or steal — a “Singapore identity”. The Singapore Art Festival shut down two years while the think tanks were brewing. Will this funnel taxpayer money and (more importantly) peoples’ attention towards folkloristic or museal music, rather than to radical and/or intellectual sound art? At the same time, there is considerable commercial pressure to subsume music / sound listening into an experiential, multimodal, game-like and socially mediated lifestyle product. Are commercialization and identity-seeking two sides of the same coin — one side inflation-prone, and the other a possible counterfeit? Is there room for a “pure listening experience”, for example to electroacoustic music? Or is the future of sound art ineluctably intertwined with sculptural and visual elements?
Different kinds of creative people involved in sound art are entrepreneurs, programmers, academics, educators, curators and journalists. Which institutions nurture talent and bring audiences to meet new experiences? Where are the hothouses for developing ideas, craft, artistry, innovation and business?
The interviews, loosely structured around these themes, were made in January and February 2014. Our conversations often took unexpected turns (mostly for the better). I diligently transcribed the recordings, and each interviewee made corrections and additions, before we gently nudged spoken language a little closer to prose. I then brought out a pair of big scissors and a large pot of coffee, and made a cut-out collage, weaving the texts into the multilogue that follows. The idea has been to create an illusion of four people conversing with each other under the same roof. Deceit or not, at the very least, we all live and work on the same small island, somewhere in the deep southeast. I hope you will enjoy reading Sound Art Singapore.
2014. Vol. 16, no 2
Kellock, Zul, Mark Wong, Singapore, sound art, sound design, contemporary art, South-East Asia, performance art, music, experimental music, design