Thursday, 29 August 2013

Two New Works (Bukit Brown Cemetery Series)

Respect (Bukit Brown Cemetery I)
Zai Tang


Exploit (Bukit Brown Cemetery II)
Zai Tang & Simon Ball

One of the largest Chinese graveyards outside China, Bukit Brown Cemetery is home to 100,000 graves, including many of Singapore’s early pioneers. The 200-hectare woodland habit also assumes the role of sanctuary to a colourful array of wildlife, including a handful of vulnerable and endangered bird species. Despite its historical and ecological significance, part of Bukit Brown will make way for a 8-lane highway to begin construction in the coming months, whilst the rest of it will eventually be displaced by new public housing in the decades to follow.

I'm currently making two works (one solo, one collab) which will be the first in series concerning the transformation of Bukit Brown's acoustic environment, stemming from an on-going soundscape study that I began in May 2013. These pieces will be shown at STRARTA art fair in London, from 9 -13th October.

Respect... (in progress)

Respect (Bukit Brown Cemetery I) takes the form of a hand-drawn visual score in response to an arrangement of sound recordings from the study pressed on to a 12” dubplate. A subtle compositional approach has been adopted, treating each documented sound as if it were the very living thing from which the sound emerged. The unique characteristics of each creature’s utterance and the quality of its acoustic environment can initially be heard relatively untouched, in its original state. However, with each successive play of the dubplate the fidelity of the sounds pressed upon its surface deteriorates, rapidly fading underneath the surface noise of the medium over the duration of the exhibition and beyond.

Exploit... (in progress)

Exploit (Bukit Brown Cemetery II), in collaboration with Simon Ball, takes the form of a digitally animated visual-music piece and also makes use of the soundscape study recordings. In opposition to Respect, the compositional approach for this work treats the material as a resource to capitalize on. The collaborators were curious to discover how far they could develop a work together when regarding the sound material purely as sound-objects (i.e. apprehended without any relation to its source). Any ethical concerns pertaining to the treatment of material as living things from Bukit Brown have been put aside, so that the primary aim of creating a rich and dynamic synaesthetic experience can be achieved - the material is simply a stepping-stone for the collaborators own progress.

The contrasting choice of mediums and conflicting philosophical stances towards the material exist as thesis and antithesis, stimulating a discourse around the themes of impermanence, heritage and modernity inherent in Bukit Brown’s fate. Situated within the narrative of Singapore’s perpetual morphosis, the tension between the works encourage us to question the extent to which a sacrifice is justifiable for the sake of development, as well as considered how the symptoms of an imbalanced soundscape – where an increasing number of distinct voices loose their platform to communicate – demand that we instigate a radical collective shift in direction, before a remedy spirals out of reach.

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