Culture — April 2, 2012 at 2:42 pm

No Church in the Wild: Nullifying the Divide between Live and Electronic Music.


 “Music is the shorthand of emotion.”

—Leo Tolstoy

We live in booming times. The watchwords of our era are “growth,” “speed,” and “connectivity”. The Internet has taught us that we can want everything and have everything. And that wanting and having are not moral transgressions but merely facts of existence in this age of maximalism. This phenomenon is evident in its unquestionable ubiquity, in the creeping prevalence of social media and in the way, “media” — and all its constituent elements — have come to dominate our lives. But nothing expresses the ascent of the maximal as clearly as music. For music itself is the amalgamation of disparate elements into a larger cohesive whole and the state of music today reflects the rolling influence of the maximal in our lives. Today’s world is no place for purists. Live vs. Electronic — say, what? If we believe Tolstoy’s words, then, music is sacred and inviolate no matter how or where it is created. No church in the wild.

For a better understanding of how the Live vs. Electronic debate plays out in Singapore, I spoke with an esteemed Singaporean multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, Isa Ong. Standing at the helm of two of Singapore’s most innovative and imaginative rock bands, Amateur Takes Control and Pleasantry, Isa is an excellent position to survey the scene and illuminate the Live/Electronic issue. Isa opines that for a fuller, more rounded understanding of the arts scene in Singapore and in the rest of the world today, there has to be a paradigmatic shift in what constitutes “live” music. Before the advent of synthesizers and software programmes, music that was played from physical instruments to a crowd at a venue was the gold standard of what it meant to play “live.” In today’s context though, such a perception has to be greeted with nothing short of a total overhaul.

“Live” today, is just that. Live, today; live, now. Electronic music, prepared in the studio and played live, is still live. DJs playing sets at clubs is no less “live” than a regular band outfit playing to an audience. As Isa says, “Live music is not what is confined to what you can play live but how you present it.” The art is in the presentation. The musical credibility and vision of the artist(s) is measured by how compellingly s/he crafts sound as opposed to how the sound was made. Guitar string or laptop key, “music is the shorthand of emotion.”

As an indication of the maximalization of musical potential, Isa cites the increasing number of local and international acts melding conventional “live” instrumentation with “processed” electronic sounds in their performances. Sampling, looping and electronic sequencing are now all evident in the repertoire of musicians, both local and international. This can only ever be a positive development in the musical history of the world for it provides listeners with a more expansive field of emotional and creative engagement.

Personally, I rue the day when music becomes one-dimensional and hermetic. Electronic processes do not dilute the immediacy of a “live” feel in any way and it is the responsibility of the artist to fulfill this in the presentation of the material and the responsibility of the audience to maintain an open-minded and informed understanding of musical creation, and of music in general.

Yet, it must be maintained that an expanded account of “live” music does not mean that musicians should be allowed to be sloppy and evasive in crafting their sounds. Maximalism is not permissiveness. Maximalism is evolution. Art always moves with society and if we can check our respective sentiments and agendas at the door, we will be able to see our time expressed in our art, our music. Life, in relief, in a mural of sound. Life, played “live”.

—Indran Paramasivam


Indran Paramasivam is a freelance writer especially interested in culture and the arts. In this age of speed and connectivity, the relationship between art and society and between art and culture is complex and dynamic. Situated in Singapore, Indran is actively involved in exploring how art, particularly, music, is produced and received amidst a backdrop of ever-evolving trends and influences.

Don’t miss Indran’s review of Ho Tzu Nyen’s Song of the Brokenhearted Tiger show in Esplanade, Singaopre (April 4-7) in the next Music Weekly!