The 3rd Golden Balangay Awards begins hours away as I write this post. Filipino-Canadians have established this award to recognize excellence and impact among the work of individual Filipinos throughout Canada. I’ve been shortlisted among other nominees for the Excellence Award in Music and Entertainment, and I traveled by train (encompassing 35 hours and thousands of kilometres to traverse) to Winnipeg for the purpose of attending the event.
Being adventurous with this opportunity, I think it timely to write about the notion of space and how the “Grumpy Kitty” project came to be. To start this off, I’ll mention that Grumpy Kitty now has his own humble Facebook page, Instagram profile, and Youtube channel! (Of course, follow them! Why would I even bother mentioning this? 😹).
Space is a concept that I really like thinking about. Its abstraction helps you learn how to control your body movements and measure the physical world in order to navigate it at will. It teaches you the concept of distance, reveals its elusive temporal nature (space is time, time is space?), keeps track of one’s positionality in reference to other entities. As a composer, I’ve explored certain ways to articulate what I recognize as spatial forms in my music including relationships between past and present (history, tradition, and contemporaneity), topographies among social landscapes, and also geographic/physical space in itself.
I can alternatively say that I’m digging up the ways my fragmented selves connect with each other and occupy spatial dimensions as a result. After all, I am from the Philippines, with parents whose ancestral lines also possess Spanish roots from Spain (as far as I know). I currently live in Canada—despite socioeconomic factors, my educational attainment (read: privileges) brought by family core values and environment ultimately enabled me to see the world outside the bubble I live in, take that one-way flight to pursue higher education, and remodel my life to invent ways of coping up from transplanting one’s roots. Moreover, I currently live in diaspora spaces (with people of specific origins who are now scattered and dispersed throughout the world), and this movement was made possible through complex economic and geopolitical relationships with structured communities (sovereign nations), the continuing definition of boundaries (much to the detriment of those lacking access to mobility), and the propagation of network flows (not only financial but also social and cultural capital) to shape each individual based on privileged access.
Ok, those were big words.
I gave a talk during my artist residency at Nebraska City (read previous entry if you haven’t heard about it), and I realized that throughout the years as an artist, I wasn’t treading down a singular mode of artistic creation anymore. Besides the contemporary musical work that I do, I’ve been involved in community radio production while living in Montreal for a number of years. I started to write poetry and pop songs since last year. I taught piano, composition and songwriting students. I’ve also continued academic writing and expanded my grounds through the Canadian Music Centre‘s library residency that led to Nomadic Sound Worlds. This is to say that I started branching out in other areas and modalities of artistic creation, breaking free from the confines of the limited space I used to occupy. In my own terms, fragmentation is a postmodernist (if not meta-modernist) project, making one curious with identities and their relationships with spaces they inhabit and occupy.
Grumpy Kitty now enters the picture. Personal issues came about last year, which led me to resort to poetry and pop songwriting as my means of coping up. As someone living the diasporic life, the world was already a bleak place even in spite of numerous possibilities in building a better life away from home. Throughout this intensely painful year, the sense of belonging and having friends (who definitely moved on from my absence) lost their meaning. Mistrust, detachment, and feelings of being misunderstood got in the way. Detaching myself from communities that instigated more feelings of toxic disillusionment led to more isolation. I was disillusioned even with my own artistic work, the city I live in, my existence in the world. As a functioning adult, I was cynical and bitter. The weight of being human was so great, I couldn’t bear to carry myself. And unfortunately, today’s culture of “feel-good” positivity distorts and oppresses one’s capacity to express complex emotions just because of the fear of being branded as “negative” and, thus, undesirable. I’ve endured a lot of those remarks from people who just dismissed this complexity as “negativity,” which even led to unnecessary gaslighting and emotional pain.
For reasons I prefer not to disclose, cat emojis in chat messages initially reminded me of my deep loneliness and pain. Ironically, I managed to appropriate them as a coping strategy later on. The angry cat emoji particularly got my attention–it is both angry and cute. Thoughts of angry cuteness making me feel human meshed themselves with an increasing number of questions regarding this renewed interest in songwriting–why should I write songs? What for? For who?
The musical style was obvious for me. Trained in classical piano, I’ve gained interest in dabbling with synthesizers for music production. Christian contemporary music headed in the direction of adapting EDM (electronic dance music) and synth pop styles, and so did my previous engagement with church band music. However, answering the question “for who?” was a difficult one to navigate. Since I’m no longer active as a pianist/keyboardist and a performer, the thoughts of being a singer-songwriter and the suggestion of going back on stage were never reassuring. Moreover, subscribing to an industry and a capitalist mode of production that promotes joining a competitive market puts me off, knowing that one has to actively participate in a popularity contest in order to “make it.” I’m not popular, nor do I seek approval for popularity’s sake. Why should I?
But with the fascination of expanding one’s territory, I find it an interesting experiment. In this sense, adopting the name “Grumpy Kitty” (which originally had nothing to do with the Grumpy Cat meme, but temporarily using it until I get original artwork) brought the challenge of creating another “self” upon where I could explore and channel genuine feelings of indifference, irony, pain, and sarcasm. Lyric lines such as “With blue eyes that lure me to my destiny // I’ll pretend that I don’t see,” or “Airplane wings keep flying // While you stood, not caring” spewed out like fizz popping out of sealed champagne bottles. The most interesting part for me, however, is how these articulations are meant to be paired with (almost campy) synth pop styles—cute, video game-like music that reinforces the vibe of a cute, grumpy cat. This is a prototype version of “irony” within my practice.
The fact that I created social media channels for these articulations creates another fragmented self that keeps everything sensible to me (just like mowing your lawn and designing your own garden). Funny that Voldemort’s horcruxes resemble this kind of fragmentation, now that I think about it!
Future plans will involve releasing singles and an EP containing all original songs. I actually enjoyed making the tracks myself, and am glad that Mayie Calvero, a very good friend and colleague based in Freiburg (Germany), is stepping in as my mixing and mastering engineer. The future is unknown, but I’m very much invested in pushing everything forward and letting these different selves live their own lives. (As a contemporary music composer, I still have commissions to start and finish!)
You’ll definitely hear much more from Grumpy Kitty!