- “Rojak-ness” in Singaporean Music
- Mapping the Adhan: Abu Dhabi’s Cacophonous Soundscape
- Civilization, Indonesia-Style, and its Discontents as Martial Arts Action Movie
- Pirmasens, Portrait of a City in Sound
- Bangkok on Screen: City of Angels, Circles of Hell
- Red Road in a Box: Memory Work and Urban Endings
- Urban Arts, Contested Cities
- Intimate Musical Strangers in the Multicultural City
- Celebrating Performance in Singapore Gaga
- Clapping in the City: An Acoustemology of Urbanization
“Rojak-ness” in Singapore Music
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music
National University of Singapore
A local delicacy that involves an eclectic mix of fruits, vegetables and fried foods, Rojak is often used to describe the cultural diversity that is quintessentially Singaporean. It also serves well as an analogy relating to local concert music, which is marked by the diverse musical idioms and sound worlds. I argue that Singaporean concert music of the last 50 years broadly deals with three issues: traditional culture of various ethnicities, urbanism unique to Singapore, and international influences. This paper will explore a cross-section of the local music literature to demonstrate the range of local concert music, supported with additional musical illustrations from my own work.
The musical works of pioneer local composer Leong Yoon Pin had forged a strong sense of local identity in his iconic choral works such as Street Calls, Dragon Dance, and Lenggang. As a student of Nadia Boulanger, Leong was encouraged to find inspiration within his own culture and background. However, the current musical landscape in urban Singapore offer composers the liberty to pursue and create individual paths without being tied to a single “Singaporean style.” The wide spectrum of “Singaporean styles” is what makes concert music in this pluralistic city sound.
Mapping the Adhan: Abu Dhabi’s Cacophonous Soundscape
NYU – Abu Dhabi
In Abu Dhabi, a city where the adhan, (The Islamic Call to Prayer), is recited five times daily, mapping the cacophony of its sounds can provide insight into its built environment and the lived experiences of the people in it. By considering the urban ambiance of the city through the acoustical mappings of both the uniform and pre- recorded natures of the adhan, I will offer a perspective of how live recordings can participate in a discourse on the aesthetic and temporal landscape of the city. What is it about the process of recording what we hear that allows the sonic content of the recording to become live, and does this impact our understanding of place? What do recordings reveal about urban spaces, and how do we “listen back” to them?
Wasted! Civilization, Indonesia-Style, and its Discontents as Martial Arts Action Movie
Yale-NUS College and ISEAS
In this paper I examine a cinematic “wasteland” that emerges out of the urban imagination of contemporary middle-class Indonesia. In my reading of Jakarta-based, Welsh director Gareth Evans’s Indonesian-language action flic The Raid: Redemption (Serbuan Maut, 2011), set in a 30-story apartment building in a Jakarta slum, instead of a typical narrative where a “wasteland” of crime in the heart of the city is conquered and civilized, it is the so-called civilizing effects of state-led urban development that are “wasted,” in the name of an ancient Indonesian ideal: a superheroic, male kind of physical prowess. As the film blurb puts it: “1 ruthless crime lord, 20 elite cops, 30 floors of hell!” Identifying with the prowess of martial arts performers in the film as they fight their way up through 30 floors of hell, I argue, offers the Indonesian (male) viewer both empowerment and escape from a life of anxious anomie in the middle-class suburbs of Jabotabek. In my paper I touch on aspects of urban development, ideas of power, surveillance, and the globalized nature of film making in Indonesia today.
Pirmasens: Portraits of a City in Sound
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music
National University of Singapore
Peter Edwards is a composer of acoustic and electro-acoustic works. He is particularly interested in computer-assisted composition, live signal processing, and collaborative composition. Edwards compositions have been performed at festivals including June in Buffalo, Darmstadt Ferienkurse für neue Musik, MATA, Wien Modern, and Donaueschinger Musiktage. He has worked with numerous ensembles including Ensemble Surplus (Freiburg), Ensemble Interface (Frankfurt), Ensemble Multilatérale (Paris), Ensemble Ascolta (Stuttgart), Red Fish Blue Fish (San Diego), and mmm… collective (Tokyo). A CD of his works entitled Object Lessons (Albany Records) was released in 2010. Edwards was a founding member of Ang Mo Faux, an experimental music trio dedicated to improvisation and realizations of experimental music, and is currently in Zero Crossing, a duo for percussion and electronics that focuses on collaborative composition.He studied composition at Northwestern University; the University of California, San Diego; and the Folkwang Hochschule in Essen, Germany. His principle teachers were Chaya Czernowin and Nicolaus A. Huber. Edwards is currently an Associate Professor and Head of Composition (Composition Studies) at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, National University of Singapore where he teaches composition and computer music.
Bangkok on Screen: City of Angels, Circles of Hell
Thailand’s capital is referred to internationally as Bangkok, based on the original name of the settlement where the city was founded in 1782 – bang kork, ‘the village of the olive groves’. The Thai-language name, however, is krung thep or krung thep maha nakhorn. Its literal meaning is “City of Angels” or “Great City of Angels”, the nominal Siamese equivalent of the epicentre of cinema – Los Angeles.
Film Director Wisit Sasanatieng disrupts the grandeur of this moniker in his 2004 movie Ma nakhorn, recasting the urban landscape as a “city of dogs” by contracting maha to ma in the film title’s humorous play on words. (The pun is lost in translation in the film’s international release under the title Citizen Dog.) The principal ‘dog’ in question is Port – a worker in a Bangkok sardine-canning factory who, like his obsessive-compulsive cleaning-lady girlfriend Jin, is a migrant from the Thai countryside. When Port leaves his home village to travel to the City of Angels his grandmother warns him that to do so will make him grow a tail. Later Granny reappears in the film, reincarnated as a gecko and repeating the same concern. Jin’s penchant for collecting used plastic bottles produces a mountain large enough to overshadow the city and Port scales the plastic mountain to be reunited with her.
Deliberately surreal and fantastical in terms of both content and form (as with Wisit’s previous movie Tears of the Black Tiger, the colours are saturated and hyper-real), Citizen Dog offers a serious commentary on the alienating effects of city life, albeit contrasting the solemn outlook of earlier filmmaking and literature in Thailand on a similar theme. The early filmmaking of Chatrichalerm Yukol – in particular Thepthida rongraem (Hotel Angel, 1974), Thongpoon Khokpho, ratsadorn tem khan (Citizen I, 1977) and Isaraphap khongThongpoon Khokpho (Citizen II, 1984) – exemplifies the socialist-realist approach to the plight of country migrants to the city, victimized by urban corruption and lured into desperate lives of prostitution and crime. And this message is pervasively reiterated in the post-1997 economic crisis period of Thai cinema, wherein city-dwellers are often urged to return to the simpler and purer lives of their long lost rural pasts. The work of Pen-ek Ratanaruang (most notably in Ruang talok 69, or 6ixty-nin9, dir. 1999; and Monrak transistor or Transistor Love Story, dir. 2001) is particularly indicative of this genre.
This paper takes an overview of the relationship to the urban that persists over three decades of Thai filmmaking, observing consistent representations of the city and analysing them in necessary relation to projections of rural life that come to embody fantasies of modern Thainess.
Red Road in a Box: Memory Work and Urban Endings
Jane M. Jacobs
This paper looks at a memory work project called Red Road in a Box, which was undertaken in conjunction with Glasgow Museum, on the occasion of the demolition in 2012 of a high-rise housing complex in Glasgow. The project used a range of social science, architectural and art techniques to create a box that represented memories and artifacts relevant to the building and the lives that were lived in it. Models are usually made by architects as a preliminary to a building being constructed. Red Road in a Box used the craft of model building to mark the end of a building’s life. Along the way, we will show how laser-cutting and 3-D printing can be used to represent and interpret the city.
Urban Arts, Contested Cities
Singapore Management University
On Contestation for space, for cultural practice in urban contexts, drawing from Singapore.
As a global city, Singapore’s multicultural self-representation has hinged on one hand on visual mosaics of discrete ethnicities, and on the other hand, on the intentional preemptive erasure of ethnic conclaves through its public housing policy; there is a cap on the number of families of particular ethnicities who can reside in a block of flats (maximum of 87% Chinese, or 25% Malay, or 15% Indian and others). Musical multiculturalism has sometimes hinged on the mosaic model used in official representations, whether in the legislature (in the form of Group Representation Constituencies, a “package” of 4-6 members of parliament who are voted in en bloc, and always include a minority candidate), in government-sponsored tourism advertisements, and music videos of national songs (composed for the annual National Day). For example, rules for the Music and Drama Company of the Singapore Armed Forces stipulate that if any Chinese, Malay, or Indian songs are performed, then songs in all of these languages must be performed. This kind of enforced intimacy indicates the possibility of a fundamental phenomenological strangeness between ethnicities. Examining Singaporean composers who have created multicultural musical mosaics, I explore the logic of intimate strangeness that governs their works. Rather than the multicultural cohesion expressed in visual representations, or the “melting pot” paradigm of public housing policy, musical multiculturalism constructs the city as a fundamentally strange place because of the palpable clash of different musics coming together—yet, at the same time, new connections arise from this clash. Following Sara Ahmed, I argue that above and beyond the specific traits of different ethnicities, the intimate stranger is a structural feature of the multicultural city, someone who is already factored into the scene before his voice is heard.
Celebrating Performance in Singapore Gaga
National University of Singapore
Tan Pin Pin’s Singapore Gaga is often perceived as a film that celebrates diversity and difference in Singapore through a collage of performances that would otherwise be unnoticed, ignored, forgotten or remain unknown. This paper argues that it is precisely what the films documents as well as how these are framed and presented that not only produces an alternative performance of Singapore but also problematizes how performance is considered, legitimised and ultimately celebrated.
Cities are cacophonous places. All kinds of sounds and noises are made and heard in the city. Cities built to accommodate development and migration inevitably lead to the intermingling of cultures and commodities. When cities undergo gentrification, society and geography become urbanized resulting in a transformation of sights and sounds. While certain sounds meander through the local sonic assemblage across day and night, other sounds remain fixed albeit having their meanings changed. We can draw, for example, from the practice of bell-ringing which has been used for the church’s call to prayer as well as by the ice cream seller seeking the patronage of potential customers in the likes of tourists and teenagers. Contributing to what Steven Feld has called “acoustemology” of experiences in space where sounds act as determinant of knowledge, the symbolic capital of clapping provides a richer history of place than other tangible material or relations.
This research is based on an ethnographic fieldwork in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, particularly from the high street lined with boutiques and eateries. What fascinated me was how sales assistants would erect themselves on stools and clap repeatedly in an attempt to attract buyers to their shops. Without shouting or waving, the sales assistants resemble twenty-first-century claques luring passers-by to stop and buy. I argue in this paper that the signification of clapping qua sound object is appropriated from an outward sign of appreciation to a gesture of self-flattery. Given its high frequency, clapping utilized as a marketing ploy transcends street discourse and mechanical noises. I contend that clapping, as well as the reactions to the sound, reveals the ascendency of the self and selfhood caught in the process of urbanization. The audible presence of clapping in the city assumes the epistemological agency of an urbanizing individualistic society.