Saturday, 11 May 2013

Unform (Solo / Duet) | Collaboration with T.H.E Dance Company

"Un-form began as a burning question I had to ask myself. The question concerned my role as an artist; the validity and value of such a profession to myself and in the context of the society. I extended these questions to the dancers..." Kuik Swee Boon // Performance Programme

Below is an excerpt from the 12 minute piece of music I wrote for Kuik Swee Boon's Unform, one of three works that featured in Solo / Duet at NUS Arts Festival 2013. Kuik worked closely with dance-artists Sherry Tay, Lee Mun Wai and Jessica Christina to choreograph a dynamic piece of contemporary dance that brought the audience in to the interior world of the dance-artists, revealing their individual journeys and the burning questions they have as artist in relation to wider society.

Process / Methodology

Being keen to further expand my understanding of the relationship between sound and the body, I lept at the opportunity to work with Kuik Swee Boon on this piece! During our first few meetings Swee Boon explained the intension behind the work, shared the material and choreography that they collectively created so far, as well as expressing how he envisaged the music to interact with the dance in terms of dynamics, structure and feeling.

There would be three pieces of music within Unform, each helping to create a window into the personal narratives explored by each dance-artist; Lamb's Cotton Wool for Mun Wai, Fun's Some Nights for Sherry, and the third would be my take on an Indonesian folk song entitled Sing Sing So:

Swee Boon gave me an open brief of freely reimagining Sing Sing So as an electronic dance music composition, bringing its relevance as a old song from Jessica's homeland into the present. The intention was not to create a nostalgic link to the past, but rather to use the act of reinterpreting the piece as a metaphor for Jessica's journey from her point of origin to establishing herself as contemporary dance-artist based in Singapore; the process of becoming.

A sing sing so….
O boat & wind
Please bring me to my
Maternal uncle's house
To meet my soul mate who is
Bethrothed to me
My heart do not be sad
If she has yet to exist
Your luck will brighten
As bright as the sun
When the time comes

To me, the sentiments of unity within the lyrics of the song (above), could be interpreted from a Jungian point of view, where the union of masculine and feminine forces becomes an allegory for the individual integrating with the dormant, subconscious parts of their psyche to achieve self-realisation. To me, creative practise is an integral part of self-realisation; it is the process of individuation, of becoming who you are in relation to the external world, through lucid encounters with your subconscious.

As I thought more about the intention of Unform and its relation the theme of the song, I began gathering material and developing a direction for the composition. I decided to loosely play off the imagery of going out to sea and gently gliding beneath the waves, conceiving this descent as a metaphor for traversing the boundary between the conscious / unconscious. This device could be a possible route to drawing the audience into the psyche of the artist; the place where, as creators, we have to search for true intention, impetus and determination to persevere and make work that will meaningfully connect with others, as well as helping us to develop as a human being. 

Using ones deeper self as a resource for empowerment is particularly relevant when faced with constrictive or oppressive environments or situations. However, I feel this 'inside-out' approach is only appropriate when the individual views their existence in connection with all conscious beings within a shared context, and never in isolation.

In terms of reinterpreting the musical content of Sing Sing So, I kept things quite simple by; 1) playing variations on the melodic lines from the verse and chorus using found sound samples and jaw harp (which I later processed digitally), and; 2) responding to the main groove of the original using layered, descending sine wave bass to create a little extra rhythmic movement.

With each progressive meeting / rehearsal of the Unform ensemble, Swee Boon and I cultivated a much clearer dialogue, sharing our progress and giving honest, critical feedback to one another. I filmed each session, as well as making notes and sketches as reference to work from back in my studio.


In response to the dynamism within the choreography I felt the form of the music needed to capture a sense of spatial depth and ambiance, and contain subtle rhythmic articulation to respond to the movement well. Ideally a sensitive balance would have to be achieved between the sound and body in space, to form a unified dialogue capable of expressing the intension of the piece. The finished work definitely made hearty strides towards this goal within the timeframe, but I feel there is certainly more room to explore this in greater detail in future collaborations.

Visual Scores

During the process of fleshing out the structure and details within the piece I made a couple of visual scores. I always find this is an extremely useful method of ideating around the structure of a composition; it gives me a different way to think around the form, trajectory and transformations of sound within a piece and their structural relation to each another.

*More on visual scores in future posts*

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