Wearing the writer’s hat

Recording a Nomadic Sound Worlds episode at the Canadian Music Centre.

I admit that being a composer is not enough for me. Sure, exploring sounds and making “cool” stuff is trendy nowadays. However, I’m not primarily interested in going with that flow. I also think of “cool” as problematic many times, with all its baggages of class privilege, positionality, hegemony, even capitalist machinations…in short, things that decide “who” gets to be popular and “what for.” (Note: I excluded the “why” in the equation for now, as it requires more effort in unpacking them). So I don’t fully subscribe towards jumping into bandwagons just because some sound making is considered “the next big thing!”

(On hegemony: A running trope in the Philippines about mindlessly wasting food goes with the line, “think about the poor children who go hungry.” That applies similarly to my apprehension: “think of those who aren’t privileged enough to be ‘interesting’ and have their ideas considered the same way.”)

This dissatisfaction reminded me of “blogging” as an example. It used to be the trend, back when you invite everyone to share a world of your own devising (or just bait everyone in buying stuff). One student pointed out that blogging isn’t a thing anymore–people had already moved on to newer social media tactics to get everyone’s attention. Sure, you can still treat Facebook like a blog. However, I grew to learn that gaining sympathy with a long rant doesn’t happen anymore. If genuine self-expression isn’t worth people’s attention spans or computer algorithms, then it’s best not to go fishing on murky ponds and expect good, shiny things from it.

Regardless, I appreciate the solace of writing as another way to channel self-expression and thought. (If one considers another’s capacity for genuine self-expression “cool,” then I agree that self-expression also harbours privilege!). Contrary to the positivist approach in a sterile, objective and detached relationship with ideas, I believe that the informative writer needs artistic thinking to facilitate thought process. With the Canadian Music Centre’s Library Residency and the ongoing Nomadic Sound Worlds project, wearing a writer’s hat allowed me to tackle material that otherwise will be out of reach for me as a composer. In return, notions of displacement and mobility to highlight spatial consciousness (social, geopolitical, etc.) further informed my ongoing compositional practice (“praxis”). In this sense, writing about sound should usher in an invitation towards multidimensionality rather than perpetuating the gatekeeping of the majority. Examining social environments enveloping them matter to me more than constructing dogmas about experiencing sound and objectifying it into the voids of cultural neutrality as a result.

You know something’s going on when you suddenly see big words! 😹

Two academic conferences filled my schedule for September and October, making me rush one research paper draft after another within that time margin. At first, the topics appear situated on opposite ends: I presented one paper on transnationalism within Canada’s contemporary music (Nomadic Sound Worlds: towards the transitory and migratory) in University of Ottawa, and another one on the overlapping compositional ideas of Iannis Xenakis and José Maceda (Concentric Circular Circles: Xenakis and Maceda on Diffusing, Translating, and Decentralizing Musical Thought) in Université de Sherbrooke-Longueuil. Bearing the theme “Power in Southeast Asia,” that second conference in Montreal effectively tied both of them together for me. Even when people recognize the impact of complex power relations in today’s plethora of artistic practices, that doesn’t necessarily translate easily towards taking control of spaces that facilitate art creation. The biggest take-away I got within the past months is that, through exploring ways to write about these things, developing one’s artistic “praxis” (balance between theory and action) brings more meaning for me than just simply making up sounds and putting them together just because they sound good.

Presenting in “Power in Southeast Asia” (McGill University & Université de Sherbrooke-Longueuil)
“Put more ‘praxis’ into it, bruh!” 😹

Circling back towards my dissatisfaction, this realization doesn’t discredit art creation for what it is. However, cultivating a meaningful practice means that I have to start inhabiting spaces that contribute towards a strong, cross-platform “praxis.” If wearing a writer’s hat, a journalist’s hat, or a radio producer’s hat (remembering my more-than-two-years stint at CKUT 90.3 FM Montreal; also here) helps me achieve that, then so be it. Even with the complications of being an independent researcher, the advantage of starting this path now also liberates me from “noob status” in scholarly engagement upon pursuing a higher academic track in the future. (At the same time, I don’t want to be confined within the academe either). Setting this sojourn in stone, a publication of my research paper “Examining the Asian Imaginary in Philippine Contemporary Music” is now under way. Gist: I wrote about how Filipino composers, despite their relative invisibility within the global scene, imagined a collective notion of “Asia,” and whether that still applies nowadays or not. I’ll announce details when the journal finally comes off the press.

Grumpy Kitty scholar stays grumpy, as always.

Future writings are also on the works with Nomadic Sound Worlds. Another spoiler: the upcoming article peeks into the nature of Canadian citizenship and the national project as an “invention” (a fabrication, a myth). If you don’t believe me at that, look up Benedict Anderson and other scholarship on (postcolonial) nationhood (my favourite is Greg Bankoff and Kathleen Weekley’s book on the celebration of the 1998 Philippine Independence Day). And as much as Canada’s citizenship and immigration policies (along with their flaws) open up a new world of possibilities in postnationalism, it has also affected the ways “outsider” artists navigate Canadian spaces.

Two new articles are also forthcoming, with one of them slated for publication under the magazine Musicworks next year (thanks for the opportunity!). I also have more ideas in publishing a book, but details will come once the wheels are actually set to roll! For now, the exhausted, tattered and worn-out composer hat needs some TLC. 😿