When one thinks of contemporary, the mind immediately wanders to the Western canon by various artists recommended by Billboard or even Spotify. We think about synths, electronics and repetitive verses that may or may not make any sense. In this increasingly Western equation of what's good contemporary music in 2019, where does the contemporary Southeast Asian music come in?
Are we able to distinguish Southeast Asian music apart from Western ones when the music does not feature any cultural or traditional instruments? Can we, as a region, break free from this expectation and identifier?
While we ponder upon these questions, Australia-based musician Aquila Young is back with new music after a two-year hiatus. Born to Singaporean and Vietnamese parents, B-Side invites her to share with us about her music, heritage and if Artificial Intelligence is indeed the future, even for music.
In your opinion, what is the definition of a musician?
A curator of sounds, harmony, rhythm and tones.
What draws you to music and music-making?
For me, it’s the emotional response to the everyday life. It’s the pride and joy, but also the hurt and sorrow that music captures and expresses so deeply and articulately. I fell in love with it because of the way it helped me express myself when I could not through actions or even through words.
How does your Southeast Asian heritage inspire you or give you a different perspective to music making, compared to other native Australian musicians?
It makes me curious of the things outside my native world. Knowing that there is more beyond these borders gives me the desire to uncover the sounds and the history of my heritage. How that translates into music is much more of a subconscious thing that unravels during the process of writing and recording. Certainly within this duality, there is more and more of the existence of these two worlds coming together: East meets West.
Usually SEA references are still intrinsically tied to our traditional instruments, do you think our genre of contemporary music will be able to stand on its own in the future?
As long as there is enough value and emphasis placed on the growth and innovation of a contemporary music scene, there will be new sounds that will emerge and a community to support it. Given time, anything could happen.
What do you think it will take for SEA musicians to break out internationally?
Preparation is so important to achieving goals – no matter what those goals are. Developing a sound by creating over and over again will bring something unique to the table.
Success of anything comes down to dedication, hard work and preparation.
What other explorations would you like to make with your music now that you are back after a two year break?
At the moment I’m exploring all sorts of sampling and soundscape textures, building on the sound palette. I’m writing and uncovering new ways to express perspectives of the human condition and all its complexity of emotion. I do want to explore non-western scales and harmony and incorporate some of that into the mix.
Do you think human-led music will always have a place now that AIs are being taught how to create and generate music? Any thoughts/opinions?
I believe that human-led music will always have a place.
I think the creative field needs the human approach to survive.
While technology will always advance and present new tools, it’s still an art that requires the consciousness of emotion and the human perspective to make it much more tangible and real.