14 Apr 2013

Sounds of Singapore

I've had this idea floating in my head for quite a while now. There's been lots of debate and discussion over each year's National Day song(s) for Singapore, in recent years. "Why the melody so weird?" "Lyrics so forgettable leh!" "Aiyo very hard to sing!" "Don't even have the word 'Singapore' in it! ...okay lah, actually got, but still only like one or two times only!" "Eee the lyrics so lame!" "This hardly describes Singapore at all!"

So I've been thinking: what if we just shift the emphasis away from lyrics altogether?

I'm not saying just come up with a National Day composition without any singing at all. I won't mess with tradition! Instead this is an idea that I've considered doing for quite a while, but never really found enough time or motivation to do it yet. In essence, I may want to make a collection of music that might better summarize what Singapore means to us. Not really songs, but more like soundscapes: sounds that are commonly associated with Singapore, weaved together in a musical way.

That certainly sounds like a very ambitious project to take on, doesn't it? Actually this idea isn't entirely original: I know there have been televised attempts to do similar things, i.e. record sounds from all over Singapore, add in some instrumental and vocal sounds, and mix them into a song. Don't know what happened to those final products though, which unfortunately hints at the success of my current idea. 

Still, I don't want to completely throw away this idea. More often than not, abstract musical sounds capture the essence of ideas more succinctly than lyrics. The whole action-speaks-louder-than-words effect, you know. This might be a more effective (and perhaps subtle) way of putting Singaporean's sentiments and opinions into a public form. 

Also it seems like a more vibrant and interesting way to express what Singapore has to offer, and what we hold significant in ourselves. Something different from writing an article, right? Plus there could be opportunities here and there for collaboration with other local artistes... if they're willing...

The tricky bit is making use of the sounds that "mean" Singapore. From the top of my head there are the familiar bus and train sounds, including the beeps from tapping the ez-link cards on the readers; the sound of money flying away as the ERP gantry deducts money from your card; the cacophony of chatting customers, plates clinking with cutlery, and shouting drink runners at coffee shops and hawker centres; construction noises like blaring blowtorches and loud drills partially blocked by metal walls; the radio announcements of winning lottery numbers; speeches made by Members of Parliament or Ministers; conversation dialogue in local TV shows... the list is not that short, actually. Apart from ownership issues that I might run into when sampling some of these sounds, the planning needed to organise all these sounds would take a really long while.

Maybe I could ask around for ideas of more relevant sounds to use. Of course not every composition will be entirely made of those samples only; they'll likely be a mix of samples and other instrumental sounds. 

But this will certainly take a lot of time and effort. Spreading out the workload means taking months to finish an album like this. And I'll certainly need good equipment to deal with the samples. All of this is feasible, but certainly demands quite a lot in commitment.

What do you think about this? Is it worth giving this idea a shot? It would be quite timely to have this done by next year August if I do commit to this, as a way to celebrate that year's National Day, wouldn't it?