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7 September 2016

‘ The way the land is shapes and is shaped by its inhabitants has an impact on differences in musical production.’ Terry. E. Miller Our world vibrates, our world speaks, sings and resonates. We, Humans, join this resonance with a sonic offering, the expression of our cumulative intentions and actions. The recent opening of AEC (Asean Economic Community) is an opportunity to sit back, reflect upon and celebrate the rich cultural diversity of the countries of Southeast Asia. Using sound as the central medium for this exploration, the “ASEAN SOUNDS” exhibition aims to present an overview of the vast cultural heritage of the region as well as to give insight into its sonic and musical evolution. 

The subcontinent of Southeast Asia is one of the most fascinating places on the planet, a place full of contrasts where many different languages are spoken and many different religions practiced. From the mountain tribe cultures of Laos and Myanmar, the countless ethnic groups organised around the Mekong basin, the aboriginal people of Kalimantan to the materialistic cultures of the urban shopping malls, the region hosts around 630 million people, roughly 8% of the world’s population, in a complex mix of races and ethnicities. 

But if the region is characterised by cultural and social contrasts, there is one unifying factor: the climate. Crossing the equator line, this complex compound of mainland and islands is blessed with hot and humid tropical weather all year round. This vibrant and generous climate responsible for the abundant natural diversity displayed in the fauna and flora is mirrored by the creativity found in the designs, crafts and multiple musical expressions of its people. 

This world is indeed making music and the song it is singing is currently telling us something. We are witnessing an era of rapid change. The changes in the landscape can be heard in the soundscape, through the presence of new sonic entities but also through the absence of others. The region has one of the fastest rates of species extinction due to the ongoing destruction of large areas of natural habitats. Along with the loss of those species are many sounds and songs that we will never hear again. Simultaneously, on the human side, we witness the disappearance of minority languages and many traditional musical styles. The natural soundscape once so rich in subtle nuances and variations is gradually being covered up and replaced by the omnipresent and homogenised sound of so-called ‘progress‘ and ‘development’. The quiet rural ambiences that once characterised the countryside is now accompanied by the relentless roars of engines. The cities resonate with constant construction noise and the markets and shopping malls are filled with amplified sounds all competing with each other to impose their consumerist ideals through Westernised melodic hooks and computerised rhythms. The ways in which we employ our incredible ability for technological innovation has brought about sterile homogenisation instead of allowing us to share and expand the creative diversity that characterises the human spirit.

From the perspective of the ASEAN world, we hope this exhibition will make us listen to the sounds we made, the sounds we make, the sounds we have forgotten and neglected as well as imagine the sounds of tomorrow. Engaging in a collective dialogue from their own respective cultural and geographical location, the sound artists involved in this project were invited to contribute sonic responses to a selection of themed sound categories. ( language, communication, human activities, urban, fauna and flora, transportation, bamboo, bronze, religion, historical and archival sounds). Creating juxtapositions between these groups of thematically connected sounds, this exhibition is a unique opportunity to engage intimately with the musicality of the many sonic colours the region has to offer. We are hoping this exhibition will encourage visitors to open their eyes and ears to the sounds, stories and histories, tastes and tales of the region. 

We would like to ask you to think of the sounds you are contributing to this ongoing collective evolution and also to invite you to listen to what the world around you is telling you, that only your ears can tell. The themes and materials of the exhibition will also be integrated within the program of our two performance evenings. Curated by Jean-David Caillouët,Princess Galyani Vadhana Institute of Music and Kittiphan Janbuala, Silpakorn University

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