Going onstage (www.esplanade.com).

Visual Arts

Insights: The Rumbling In-between 

The impacts of sound on our lived experiences, history, memory, imagination and environments.


Published: 4 Sep 2023

Time taken : ~10mins

Co-curated with Hasana Editions, The Rumbling In-between delves into the trajectories of sound as a medium and concept through the works of Singapore artists ila + bani haykal and Tini Aliman, alongside Indonesian artists Julian Abraham 'Togar', Riar Rizaldi, as well as the research group Danarto dkk. In this piece, the artists share more on their works in the exhibition.

Danarto dkk.

Presented by Danarto dkk., Nayamullah Station is at least three things: a space for jamming, conversing, exercising hospitality and recording; a platform for workshops and exchanges; and a radio station without a network, generating programmes to be aired on other broadcasting channels. The station is an exercise for embodying archives, redistributing knowledge, rewriting history and nurturing practices that are mindful of its predecessors, be it persons, approaches, occasions or the universe.

Every Wednesday during The Rumbling In-between, Nayamullah Station will broadcast Danarto’s short story readings and conversations surrounding his ideas, thoughts and works on online radio platforms ragadigiogo, Radio Alhara and norrm. The broadcasts will focus on the potential articulations, implications and approaches of Danarto’s 'Teater Tanpa Penonton' (Theatre Without Spectator), which he started elaborating on—through practice and writings—from 1978.

Also presented in the exhibition are quotes and drawings from Danarto's works that capture the constellations between sound and text in his writings.

Installation view of quotes and drawings from Danarto’s works and Nayamullah Station's schedule.

Could you share about the episodes as part of Nayamullah Station as well as elaborate on the activities of the research group Danarto dkk.?

In conjunction with The Rumbling In-between, Nayamullah Station is collaboratively broadcasting seven episodes of radio programmes in the form of an hour-long conversation, a radio drama as well as an 'oral modular' on various radio networks.

The content of each episode departs from Danarto dkk.'s interest in works or themes that frequently appear in Danarto's practice. Our reading and interest in Danarto's works are closely related to the context of the group's practice today. For example, from the cak ngung episode, Julian Abraham 'Togar' and Hayyi Al Qayumi 'Agen OH' play with the sonic elements in Danarto's short stories. The episode is named after the titular 1970 short story by Danarto titled after a drawing of what might seem like a musical notation with the words 'cak' and 'ngung' repeated. In this work, Danarto articulated the story through words, drawings and oral visuals. For the episode cak ngung, Togar and Agen OH adapted this approach into a configuration of modular oralities using their mouth and voice as the main tools.

In another episode, Asmaraloka: Speaking of drawings…, Akmalia Rizqita (Chita) and Grace Samboh converse about Danarto's peculiar drawings, which are omnipresent in his sublime short stories, cutting-edge installations and works across multiple forms and media. Chita and Grace challenged themselves to converse about drawing through an aural medium.

Apart from those two episodes, there are four programmes in the form of an hour-long conversation. One of which is Faktor X, which features concrete poetry alongside imageries of the Buraq (a mythological winged creature often depicted with a human head and the body of a horse) as well as angels. There is also a radio drama episode (abracadabra) that adapts one of Danarto's short stories of the same name. Embedded in each episode, listeners can also listen to several songs and 'Danarto world news,' which broadcasts selected materials from Danarto's archives.

Danarto dkk.'s activities began in 2016 when Hyphen—, a research group, started collecting Danarto's documents, photos, interviews and ephemera. In 2020, this developed into bi-weekly focused group meetings with friends from multidisciplinary backgrounds. Now, Danarto dkk. comprises 11 members. A few of the members also operate a band called Nayamullah. Together, we have devised a rhythm and routine in keeping with Danarto's practice by exchanging, collecting and vetting archival documents, as well as uncovering objects, stories and new readings of Danarto's multidisciplinary oeuvre with a view to eventually build a compendium of his life's work. This research has found its public iterations through various forms, such as archival exhibitions, translation workshops, stand-up comedy, band performances, public discussions and a monograph publication, amongst others. Together, we want to sustain this process.

ila + bani haykal

ila + bani haykal developed pelan-pelan kayoh—a phrase with two meanings: pedalling slow, and a colloquial phrase meaning 'moving slowly but surely'—to think about the relationships between cycling, sound and the city. These connections include, for example, a cyclist ringing one's bell or horn to signal presence as an act of territoriality, or an individual playing music on speakers while cycling as a form of entertainment.

At the nexus of this work is a hacked bicycle attached with various sonic interventions. These attachments are constructed from discarded materials, forming wind chimes, bells and mechanisms that produce sounds when the bike is pedalled. Also on view are a series of three maps based on the artist's commutes; audio recordings by ila and bani from their individual travels on the modified bike; and a video that documents the process of utilising this bicycle.

'pelan-pelan kayoh'  thinks about cycling as a sonic encounter and how we experience the city acoustically. What was the impetus to collaborate and start this project?

Installation views of <em>pelan-pelan kayoh</em>, ila + bani haykal, 2023.

bani haykal: ila and I cycle a lot, mainly as a form of commuting. We both have different approaches to navigating our commutes! I prefer cycling without listening to music, whereas music is necessary for ila to keep her focused without feeling anxious. These different approaches led to conversations about our relationship with sound and cycling. Our discussions opened up various things for us, such as how we handle being in traffic surrounded by noise as well as how visible or audible, we feel when we are cycling in or amongst traffic. We wanted to dive into the effects of sound and cycling and how our personal encounters imply deeper structural ramifications when it comes to thinking about overall safety.

Ila: It was also interesting to collaborate as, aside from how our approaches to navigating cycling are pretty different, our impetus for commuting also varies greatly. For example, bani's motivation is to reach a destination as fast and as efficiently as possible, whereas I prefer to take my time. With this difference, we also wish for pelan-pelan kayoh to invite other cyclists or commuters to think about their relationships to navigating the city. The work somewhat shows how differently we respond to and process certain experiences on the road, with subtle suggestions that gender (and I am sure race and capital, in terms of the kind of bicycle one is riding) plays in shaping these encounters.

Installation views of <em>pelan-pelan kayoh</em>, ila + bani haykal, 2023.

The work is undergirded by urban and safe cycling infrastructures in Singapore. How do you see sound as important in shaping how we navigate our built environments and informing transportation infrastructures?  

bani haykal: On the issue of addressing safer environments–both for users and in relation to our climate–I feel that sound is an integral layer to examine these ecological problems. From transportation and noise emissions, we get to evaluate the effects sound has that are central to overall health. For instance, how does noise pollution impact our mental health, and in what ways do the general anthrophonic activity affect wildlife? Not to mention, how safe are environments for pedestrians and cyclists when there is an overwhelming presence of noise, or even the lack of it, such as acoustic wayfinding through proper design?

Beyond visibility, sound is crucial in understanding how to prevent harm in an overwhelmingly loud and polluted city. It is no surprise that regarding noise pollution, Singapore does not fare very well overall. In 2017, Professor William Hal Martin and then-graduate student Diong Huay Ting from the Faculty of Medicine at the National University of Singapore conducted a study that discovered that the city state's average outdoor sound level is 69.4 decibels. Considering that Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) recommends a range of exposure to sound of 'no more than 67 decibels averaged over an hour', the existing emissions need a lot of consideration.

Of course, while various sources contribute to this high level of noise pollution, traffic sounds are regarded as central to this issue. Wanting to reduce traffic's overall noise emissions through cycling is not new or controversial. In fact, it is an approach that tackles a couple of crucial emission problems, such as noise and carbon, which we should focus on urgently. Having a safe and efficient infrastructure for cycling and implementing traffic calming measures goes a long way in how we can shape the outcome of future emissions.

There is a study by Xavier Rojas Nogueira and Jeremy Mennis titled The Effect of Brick and Granite Block Paving Materials on Traffic Speed, attributing how rougher roads slow down a moving vehicle by about 5km/h. I think the implementation of such measures in loud neighbourhoods reduce vehicle speeds and noise levels to create safer environments for pedestrians and cyclists.

Ila: pelan-pelan kayoh is also a playful approach to experimenting with how the external environment, other commuters, riders, vehicles and traffic respond to such a strange sound contraption. The instruments attached to the bicycle are deliberate to take the loudness of the traffic and echo it out as a kind of subtle transgression to this noise pollution. Not only does this make the bicycle more visible, but it is also a cheeky nudge for us to listen out to our environments and each other.

Julian Abraham ‘Togar’

Over the past few years, Julian Abraham 'Togar' has been exploring sound regulation in public spaces. Togar is interested in understanding what types of sounds need to be regulated, who is responsible for enforcing them and how these regulations are executed. As a sound practitioner fascinated by how auditory conditions connect communities, Togar believes that city soundscapes are environments hotly contested by its inhabitants. For him, quantitative or qualitative regulations governing sound are integral factors that contribute to this idea of harmony within a sonic environment.

Tolerating Intolerance #03 explores Togar's ongoing interests in sound regulation through the megaphone. A common device for amplifying sound in public spaces, the megaphones in this work are modified to function as instruments. The sounds generated and repeated from these cone-shaped forms function as both input and output through a feedback loop, resulting in a cycle of cause and effect.

'Tolerating intolerance #03' explores ideas of sound regulation in public spaces. In this work you use the megaphone to explore these ideas. Could you share more about your interest in the megaphone (TOA speakers)?

Installation view of <em>The Rumbling In-between</em>. 

Exploring the use of a megaphone or TOA speakers as a medium for artistic expression is a way for me to delve into the concept of sound regulation in public spaces. The megaphone is a device that amplifies sounds, allowing the user to project their voice over a greater distance. It traditionally has associations with public announcements, protests or performances where the speaker wants to reach more people.

By incorporating this specific tool, we can potentially engage in a dialogue around issues of control, resistance and the boundaries of tolerance in public environments. Tolerating Intolerance #03 aims to examine questions such as: Who has the power to regulate noise? How do regulations regarding amplified sound affect the freedom of expression? What happens when marginalised voices utilise the same tools traditionally employed by those in power?

Installation view of <em>Tolerating Intolerance #03</em>, Julian Abraham ‘Togar’, 2023.

The sounds generated and repeated by the speakers are produced through a feedback loop. Why did you choose the feedback loop to explore these ideas of sound regulation?

The feedback loop can be heard as a metaphorical representation of self-perpetuation. In a feedback loop, the output of a system is fed back into the input, creating oscillations. The repeated sounds generated by the speakers could symbolise the way regulations, once established, can become unshakeable and perpetuate themselves, often suppressing certain voices or forms of expression.

Moreover, the sound of the feedback loop from the megaphone can also create an intense and disorienting sonic experience. It may provoke a sense of unease or discomfort, serving as a symbolic representation of the stifling nature of strict sound regulations. It can also challenge the notion of controlled and orderly public spaces by introducing an element of chaos and unpredictability.

Riar Rizaldi

Tellurian Drama explores a spectrum of relationships between humans, nature, technology and spiritual energies through Radio Malabar. A project initiated by the Dutch in 1923, this radio station in West Java harnessed groundbreaking communication technology to connect the Dutch East Indies to the Netherlands through telegraphic transmission. An engineering feat, Radio Malabar was constructed between two mountain ridges and built by forced indigenous labourers who later looted and burned the station.

Centred on pseudo-anthropologist Dr Munarawan's research and writings on Radio Malabar, Tellurian Drama unfolds across the events of 1923 and the site's subsequent revitalisation projects, including the station's 2020 reopening by the local government as a tourist attraction. Merging archival history, fiction and personal narratives, the work delves into issues of colonisation, the history of technology and communication, and the exploitative forces of humans on our natural environments.

Installation view of <em>Tellurian Drama</em>, Riar Rizaldi, 2020.

'Tellurian Drama' is centred on Radio Malabar in West Java. Could you share how you got interested in this site? 

It all started with my fascination with the technology of radio. I have a great interest in the history of technology in Indonesia. My research began with thinking about the history of the internet and later, I looked into wireless communication, which eventually led to the exploration of the history of radio technology. I explored the genesis of radio technology in Indonesia, how it developed, why it was needed and vice versa. This investigation led me to Radio Malabar and its relationship with the people who built the station: engineers, manual labourers and builders employed by the colonial government. Today, Radio Malabar has been forgotten and overlooked in Indonesia's official history. When I went to the station's ruins, I met several people who shared that there exist multiple micro-histories of Radio Malabar. Initially, I intended to gain knowledge and understand this small part of Indonesia's technological history, and perhaps publish the research as a book. However, through the research process, due to the many visual elements and the possibility of generating an interesting narrative structure, I decided to make a film out of this site.

You will soon publish an artist book for Tellurian Drama. Could you share the conceptualisation process of producing the publication? 

The publisher, Jordan, jordan Édition, approached me after he watched the film and asked if I would be interested in expanding the project into a book. I was unsure at the start, but since I have so many materials, I thought it would be fascinating to present the project in a different format. However, throughout the process, I started to reflect on the idea of monographs or artist books. I'm a big fan of conspiracy, fringe-theory, huge-claim-type pseudoscientific books, especially pulp and self-published ones. I started to think that instead of just presenting archival material and research, it would be more interesting to incorporate my interest in pulp publication with artistic research. The whole process then took a direction where the book's content resonates with the film.

Tini Aliman

Through sound sculptures, The Grass is Greener When You Don't Touch It develops from Tini Aliman's ongoing endeavours to archive the sounds and voices of 158 species of fauna and 118 species of flora in Dover Forest. In 2020, the Singapore government announced public housing development plans for the 33-hectare half-century-old secondary regrowth forest embedded in the central-western part of the island. Following subsequent advocacy efforts, appeals and pushback from nature groups, concerned individuals and the community, the western half of the forest has been earmarked for preservation, with the eastern half slated to follow redevelopment plans.

For this work, Tini draws upon the idea of the antipode–diametrically opposite spots on the earth's surface–to think and imagine the other side of the situation and her thoughts on Dover Forest's future. Interested in creating a sound 'sandwich', the sculptures play recordings of Dover Forest and its antipode: an area in Yasuni National Park, situated between the Napo and Curaray Rivers in Napo, Pastaza, and Orellana Provinces in Amazonian Ecuador. This site was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989 and became a protected area of 9,823 km² of primary rainforest, wild lagoons and rivers.

'The Grass Is Greener When You Don't Touch It' expands upon your ongoing endeavours to archive the sounds and voices of flora and fauna in Dover Forest. An integral part of the sculpture is the idea of the antipode. Could you elaborate why you were drawn to this idea?

Installation view of <em>The Grass Is Greener When You Don't Touch</em>, Tini Aliman, 2023.

Since learning about the antipode, I have been fascinated with this idea of making an earth 'sandwich'; I am interested in looking at the world from a macro view and how a small change could affect the rest of the world. The recent pandemic has caused many of us to be confined in a specific space, location or a state of mind. These circumstances led me to imagine, reminisce or even long for an alternative world outside my own. The extractive hands of the state on the fate of our forests, or what remains of it, has led me to speculate and ruminate on other scenarios. For example, if an alternative decision was made, like how the antipode of Dover, Yasuni National Park on the other side of the world, was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989.

The work draws upon your participation in International Dawn Chorus Day. Could you share more about this event and how you came to be involved in it? 

World Dawn Chorus Day started in the 1980s in Birmingham and has been celebrated annually by nature enthusiasts on the first Sunday of May. I first took part in 2021 in a broadcast platform called Reveil, where live dawn choruses from all over the world were streamed. Over two days, we had around 48 hours of dawn choruses playing in order of their locations around the globe and time differences. Based on my location, we were instructed to record from nautical twilight to civil twilight. If we study the area's biodiversity, we are able to tell which species wake up at a stipulated time and which ones go to bed. For example, the night jar goes to bed when the red jungle fowl wakes up in Dover Forest. This experience sparked an interest of mine to keep on waking up early to record or archive dawn choruses, especially during my travels.

The Rumbling In-between is on view at Jendela (Visual Arts Space) from 26 May to 10 Sep 2023.

You have 3 out of 3 articles left this month. Create a free Esplanade&Me account or sign in to continue. SIGN UP / LOG IN