Friday, January 16, 2009

Feature on Business World: Out Now.

Ah, yes shameless plugging. We are all guilty. But with the abundance of web 2.0: networking sites and the like, how can we not be tempted?
Anyway here's the unabridged interview for a feature in Business World January issue that "will focus on young artists who are on the bleeding edge of their chosen art".
On shelves on January 16, but you can also find the link here on the business world website: Feature

Reporter: Sam L. Marcelo, Business World

I'm sure you don't like labels, but for the sake of expediency, could you describe your "sound"?

To encapsulate music of this kind into labels like: “sound art” or “experimental music” as a descriptor is a cop-out. Simply because there are various elements, cultural references, schools of thought, fusion of styles, techniques, as well as the technological contributions towards music-making are many-faced. To disregard this whole process by simplifying it into categories that are ambiguous isn’t really doing the work justice. Even the term “experimental music” coined by John Cage as "an experimental action is one the outcome of which is not foreseen"; seems to undermine the great amount of thought, planning, and effort on the music creation.

I don’t like describing my music as simply sound art or simply calling myself a sound artist. I probably am contributing towards the Western ideals in which I would prefer calling myself a composer, among other things. Since I compose sound towards a particular order or end.

The majority of my work involves a great deal of improvisation and collaboration. I work with electronic (computers, etc) and acoustic instruments and interactive ensembles, video graphic instruction scores, structured improvisation, and mathematical algorithms. When I was starting out, I was sampling a lot and was inspired by the “plunderphonic” works done during the late 80s/early 90s as well as musique-concrete during the 50s. Extreme Cut and Paste. And I often used a lot of sound layers from synthesizer-based softwares and most of my performances were generally LOUDER. Although in recent years, the majority of my solo work has been greatly focused on microscopic electronic sound worlds coming from the very electronic devices themselves: the sound of machines – the buzzes, hisses, glitches, electrical cracks, sine waves, and the raw sound of analog and digital data.

I love music and all of its many faces and genres/styles. I do not limit myself in doing only one particular kind of style, I try to combine them in the hopes of creating something I have never (and hopefully you’ve never) heard before. I have 23 albums upcoming right now and each one of them is distinctly unique from one another. I had challenged myself 3 years ago to create 20 albums (and only last year I added 3 more to the list) in a span of a few years time. In the list, I have solo work, ensemble music, film scores, non-electronic works, artist collaborations, free jazz albums, an electronic verbo-psycho opera, avant rock albums, hip hop and dub inspired albums, cover songs, even a Japanese pop-inspired album. Of course all of these will still be twisted further inside out.

Expect it to be complete by July 23, 2010; but I have been releasing them sporadically throughout the years. I plan to collect them all into a box-set and name it, “My Education”.

How different is it from what's heard on the radio?

What do you mean? If you meant, popular radio channels, then definitely these songs belong to another set of radio listeners. There are a lot of radio channels abroad and in the internet that host this kind of music. BBC even has a regular experimental music program, as well-established radio stations would commission established experimental composers to produce experimental radio pieces produced specifically for radio. Nowadays, radio has become powerful through the digital revolution, and this has opened more opportunities and options. Take the first ever automated internet radio station for real-time generative music, “rand()%”, as an example. Generative music is simply ever-evolving music that auto-composes itself as it goes along, and is based on algorithmic instructions programmed by composers, sound artists, programmers.

Maybe there are not as much radio opportunities here for experimental music; mainly because there is still a great deal of lack of proper dissemination of this music towards the general populace. But there are always alternative channels that cater and focus on this music elsewhere.

However, one fact also that is usually taken for granted remains, that like the majority of art, this kind of music is never for the masses.

Gangan Ensemble (L-R: Malek Lopez, Chris Brown, Caliph 8, Tad Ermitano)

How alive is the experimental music scene in the Philippines? Do you have an audience? Are people receptive?

When I was starting out I was totally ignorant with the experimental music scene here. I only knew a few artists who were doing the similar things. Early performances were held in art spaces and galleries usually during exhibit openings. When I compiled and produced an anthology album before, this was when I discovered most of these artists (that I still work with to this day) I never knew existed before.

This album, SABAW anthology of electronic, noise, and experimental music, was released in 2006 and had gained some recognition of some sort in the local underground scene. It was the first attempt and I plan to follow it up with more anthologies, this time involving international artists in the region and beyond. However, I was much thankful to have met all these artists from different parts of the archipelago; some of which have been doing experimental music for a little over 2 decades – namely Elemento and Children of Cathode Ray.

I gathered them by creating a few experimental music gigs in more open-minded bars/spaces like Mag:net and the now defunct, Future Prospects. Usually our audience before would leave after an hour or so. There was even one show that only had 2 people.

During our first few shows, the audience was mostly composed of fellow artist friends and artist-enthusiasts. But throughout the years, we’ve been gaining more curious people who were not really connected to the art scene. People always have mixed feelings about these performances. Some of them would simply be mesmerized by the visuals (we incorporate videos during performances), or by the musician’s performance and theatrics, but rarely would they understand the music. Sometimes when I perform, I would see some people bobbing their heads to the music, some would chatter with their friends and not care, and I even had a female foreigner who had approached me and told me off for being too loud, and that she found it erotic nevertheless.

I guess we have a better audience now than before. We have attracted more curious people throughout the years, and recently our quarterly gigs were always full. This has been long overdue. I think the public is ready.

Transmissions Gangan, 1.10.09

Why didn't you buy in to traditional forms of music or the mainstream? How did you get into your field? Were you always interested in sound, per se?

Either I am not really sure or I have simply forgotten the initial reasons why I got into this. But I have always been interested in music. Apart from my early interests in the moving image, and more recently, interactivity and media art, I grew up in a musical family. My father studied opera and history, my mom came from musical theater, my aunt is an internationally successful, well-established opera singer, and my eldest brother was a professional musician. I played piano at an early age but I stopped, but my teen years would still be immersed in musical activities by playing in rock bands and such. I started out with conventional instruments (drums, bass, alto sax, guitar, etc) then recently shifted to computers and electronic devices. I studied music for a year and a half and played in jazz ensembles, sessioned in pop bands, but I was already pursuing my own material which was totally opposite from all this exposure I got in the music world. I don’t simply want to push the boundaries of taste… I want to break through the surface and dig inside and plant seeds.

There was a definitive decision years ago when I turned off my radio and TV, stopped listening and going to popular music gigs, to dedicate myself to years of immersion into libraries of art, sound, literature, and history of the whole spectrum of art and music. Although I have recently stopped this kind of isolated study, I am still constantly inspired and learning from new experiences and new people, ideas, thoughts, social or cultural nuances, works, and sounds that I encounter. This is what still keeps me in this field. There is always something interesting (and something that could be more interesting if I or someone else could do something with it) around the corner.

Could you tell me more about SABAW? What are some of your accomplishments?

SABAW media art kitchen is a not-for-profit, artist-run initiative and a platform for all kinds of information and communication carried via modern electronic media, with an emphasis on the region of South East Asia. Initially it started out as a monthly concert production, a mailing list, a loose collective of experimental musicians and media artists, and a DIY record label in the Philippines. As a DIY label, we have produced and released around 8 albums from local artists and released the first ever anthology of experimental, electronic, and improvised music -- documented work from the past 2 decades.

SABAW is translated as "soup" in Filipino. It's a mixture of food ingredients; with openness to experiment or to use existing recipes with combining ingredients such as meat and vegetables with boiling hot water, until flavor is extracted, spices are added, forming a delicious broth. This could be analogous to what SABAW is supposed to do with media art, experimental and electronic music, and cross-platforms between media art and other art practices. A soup is formless and takes shape with the bowl or container that holds it. Also, soup can be served cold.

After various transformations and roles, I decided to shift SABAW’s focus to address the lack of proper dissemination of information in media art, experimental and electronic music, and media culture in South East Asia to the general public and candid exchanges between sub-cultural and academic initiatives. SABAW is also dedicated towards the facilitation, publication and exposure of creative and experimental works of people who find it difficult to release their material through more conventional channels. This is a recent direction we are moving and working towards. We are currently working on our internet network and websites, and we plan to utilize web 2.0 seriously for this kind of dissemination to the public. It will be an online art map -- a network of information, data, and people. We’re trying to expand our collaborative efforts to other countries in South East Asia particularly Indonesia with the House of Natural Fiber, in Malaysia with EMACM, and the Choppa collective in Singapore. It’s a long and grueling process, but we’re trying to pave the way for an international collaborative effort in this region that would last for years to come.

SABAW: An anthology of Noise, Electronic, and Experimental Music 2006

When you're composing, what inspires you? Do you have any idols (on your blog, you recently posted a link to George Brecht's obituary, was he a major influence?)

I am not really sure what an “influence” really is, in general. In my mind what is transmitted are not “ideas” but “languages” – forms that which can be filled in different usages. I see things in the perspective of “references” that are freely circulated; which I think is more appropriate than influence. I take things from so many existing “languages” from people, works, historical literature, and those brought about by curious experiments. My generation is the generation that abuses the directly accessible amount of data that is freely circulated everywhere, esp. in the internet and media piracy – which I think is a cultural revolution. The ability to reproduce what used to be inaccessible, like dvd films of Bela Tarr or Dovzhenko’s Earth, which used to be found only in elite film libraries, are now being sold in the streets for 50 pesos. And in the internet, you can get anything, even wives. This is the digital revolution. Media culture in the high rise.

However, this is really a hard question since there is no definitive, central, or singular influence that could define my work since it still is evolving and the list below are things that inspired me in terms of formulating my own music. This is different from the music that I simply enjoy listening to in my own time, without thinking of it inspiring me to write similar music.

What recently (and what continually) inspires me in music are the minimalist electronic improvisation movement in Japan and Europe (Sachiko M, Toshimaru Nakamura, Mego records, Erstwhile records, poire_z ensemble); the jazz ensemble work of Otomo Yoshihide; Ennio Morricone’s film scores; John Zorn because of the variety and sheer expansive body of work and his focused dedication to new music and it’s promotion; the microelectronic world of Ryoji Ikeda and Tetsuo Inoue’s Fragment of Dots; the Boredoms and crazed avant rock bands; Jose Maceda’s recent recording of his masterwork, Strata; Eyvind Kang’s 7 Nades; Christian Fennesz’s melodies; Ikue Mori’s improvisational performing style; Tujiko Noriko’s sweet strange music; and the boxset release of The Hub, a pioneering computer improvisation ensemble predating laptop bands.

When newbies first hear your music, what should they keep in mind?

There is nothing wrong with your radios.

Could you talk more about Situations of the Flesh? When is it opening? What should people look forward to?

Situations of the Flesh, as it is loosely titled, is a solo media art installation exhibit, but I am collaborating with a few artists as well. It is actually two installation works that interact with each other. This conceptual multi-media installation consists of digital video and audio, as well as utilizing kinetic structures, sculpture, natural sand, performance, RFIDs (Radio-frequency identification tags), computer software and the internet.

It is a treatise and an exploration on the concept of body, and all of its derivations: the human body, a body or a system, the immaterial body of the virtual world (the internet), and the symbolic (i.e. the church as a “body” for a collective spiritual communion with God). However, I am particularly interested in how the physical body has long been manipulated by its relationship with cultural, religious and political institutions, to the point of self-mutilation. What is being explored is the body as a construction of forms of discourse, obligations and mechanisms of control. Presented there are methods, trends, acts of rebellion, mutations and images of humanity undergoing transformation.

I recently got a grant from the NCCA to realize it, and it is still in pre-production. Expected opening would be this May 2009. Hopefully.

Situations of the Flesh (work in progress)

If people want to buy your music, where should they go?

SABAW is currently working towards this kind of dissemination. Once the internet website is done, all the music online can be downloaded for free, as we would also have P2P (peer-to-peer) exchanges: torrent files, soulseek community, etc. However, we would still be pressing out real albums but this will all be made to order. I still have some albums I think over at Mag:net CafĂ© in The Fort and Ricecooker DIY store in The Central Market Annexe in Kuala Lumpur. That’s about it. I ran out of copies of all the SABAW material, including my own.

We’ll be reprinting new stuff soon, hopefully.

Photo credits: Shale Albao, Top Manalo, Miyamoto Musashi, Poklong Anading