The third SoundBridge New Music Festival, October 6-7, 2017 showcased its niche for contemporary new music compositions once again at Damansara Performance Arts Center (DPAC). Organized by the Society of Malaysian Contemporary Composers, the festival connects contemporary composers with musicians through performance and mid-career artists with young composers through collaborative mentorship. Thus, SoundBridge creates a setting for multi-cultural and multi-generational crossover through music.
The first concert features composers from different cities. With German composers residing in Asia and composers in Asia fluent in Western schools of rhetoric, this concert challenges the ear to see cities beyond its assumed location and ethnicity. As a program, perhaps fluid identities are creating a contemporary aesthetic for music in reflection to each culture’s influence on a composer’s heritage and training.
Concert 2 was a showcase of cross-media collaboration between emerging young composers and mid-career artists. It is the fruit of a 3-5 month long collaboration with a challenge to write for a mixed ensemble of ethnic and western instruments. This was done in close partnership with a co-creator in traditional music, traditional dance, modern dance, visual arts, painting, improvisation or live electronics. In the music scene, SoundBridge is one of the few, if not the only sponsor in Malaysia for staging experimental music and support young work.
Concert 3 features an all-Malaysian cast. It is a performance of works from young professionals and mid-career composers. The program featured new works for piano, percussion, and choir from soloists and ensembles in the area.
In reflection, it is interesting to note how much theatre and performance art is adopted into a music composition as an artistic process or as enhancement to an expression.
There role that SoundBridge plays in Malaysia’s music and arts scene as a growing industry is significant. The support that went into Concert II, for instance, reminds me of a downtown performance art platform called La Mama ETC in New York. It is a place that saw Tan Dun and Meredith Monk launch into their careers. La Mama is a theatre that supports highly experimental art. With this space, artists revisit the ideas that are unique to its time and place. In Malaysia, SoundBridge is the only platform that persists at a conversation of cross-media experiments since its precursor as Urban Scapes 9 years ago. It meets the needs of a maturing arts industry. Even though experimental pieces runs the risk of seeming unfinished and incomplete at showings, seeing the raw thoughts behind a piece is what informs and audience and new artists on the aesthetic that is in construction for their time. If it is finished, the work is no longer contemporary. That said, unfinished conversations can be refined and raw work.
The smell of new music in SoundBridge 2017 is like that of durian: a pleasure that one repels, rebels or found invigorating. The choice to present only contemporary music of the region makes SoundBridge a platform of contrast where artists can see fine arts, removed from its pedestal and reframed in its local context. From raw works-in-progress, to competitive performance pieces, this festival adds to the regional and international conversation of new music compositions. But most of all, the festival is a sign of an adolescent arts industry at the cusp of maturing where art is relevant to the day-to-day, and experiments are supported and caught on in the broader audience.
Reflection by Teh Tian Yoon
Photos by SoundBridge 2017