With the space adventure on hold indefinitely due to our ship’s system turning into an Atari (no thanks to Lee Kwang’s toxic astro-mist), JUICE heads to Studio in Cheras, KL (SiCKL), art lab of experimental musicians Siew Wai and Yandsen. These 2 were responsible for organising the Sama-Sama Guesthouse Alternative Festival in August last year as well as a host of other events under the Experimental Musicians and Artists Co-operative Malaysia (EMACM), which they also founded. Siew Wai is a vocalist while Yandsen plays the flute, clarinet and saxophone. We sit back as they spew their perspectives all over us. Finally, some clarity cast upon the unknown.
Text: June Low
Images: Magnuscaleb of KLflickr, Yee I-Lann, Siew Wai + Yandsen
“Experimental music, as the word suggests, is an experiment. You set it up, you try it out, but you don’t know what the result will be. For example, playing an instrument in a different way. When improvising with a partner, you respond to each other on the spot. It’s direct, honest and immediate. What it brings is freshness, curiosity, surprises and the unknown. And isn’t that what life is about? My teacher Tony Conrad shared an insight, which I find very true: “Perhaps the greatest thing about performance is overcoming fear towards the unknown.” It is this challenge and constant alertness that makes the performer feel alive.”
“I’m not sure if there is a ‘scene’ yet because there are too few people doing it (or maybe they’re all low-key). There isn’t enough to create impact and awareness even amongst musicians. Malaysian audiences do not get much variety due to the small number of players. Some even think that experimental music equals to electronic, drone-like or noise-like music because this is the style most Malaysian experimental musicians adopt. But it’s obviously not only in electronic form.”
“Experimental musicians here are still in the learning stage and need to develop further, but they don’t have the opportunity to watch established musicians perform in Malaysia. The impact is really great when you watch a master musician in concert. It’s a strong and immediate education! That kind of energy is immense. It’s completely different from downloaded MP3s, CDs, YouTube videos or reading reviews online. You may acquire intellectual ‘knowledge’ of the music, but you won’t be feeling its ‘soul’.”
“I think most people misunderstand experimental music over here. Many people claim to be experimental musicians, but what are they trying to experiment? Experimental music is not ‘cool’ when you play it. It requires lots of time and courage. Knowing what you want to experiment with is very important and the 1st thing you need to be sure of. It’s not just plugging some new tech equipment to create weird sounds. What do you want to do with the sounds? If you don’t know what you’re doing or experimenting, how is the audience supposed to know?”
“I think experimental music is an attitude with which to approach music rather than a genre of music. It is something adventurous and unpredictable. There’s a phenomena here, where we call art ‘experimental’ when we’re unable to apply existing or familiar labels on them. This is rather irresponsible labelling. It’s merely something that is alien to us, not commonly seen or heard in our little world or something that we don’t quite understand in general. Something ‘experimental’ here might actually be quite ‘traditional’ elsewhere.”
“I hope that Malaysian experimental musicians can unite and work together to build a strong community in order to really make a ‘scene’ here. We can reach out to regional experimental communities and build strong ties within South East Asia. Such communities already exist and are growing actively in Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines. If we all worked together, exchanged ideas, supported each other and shared resources, we would all benefit from it. For example, we could share the cost of inviting foreign master musicians to do a SEA tour. SEA countries have limited art funding, especially in experimental arts, but we are very close and we can work together to make an impact and develop a unique South East Asian experimental art scene. There’s potential, I believe.”
To find out more about the experiments Siew Wai & Yandsen are conducting, check out www.myspace.com/klangmutationen. That’s all for our experimental space adventure this time! Keep making music, even if people don’t call it that!