Paper Orchestra|ペーパーオーケストラ ビッグ・タッチャタム Bigg Thatchatham

“What does it mean to make a contemporary art–music–in outer places?”
A reflection on a “Paper Orchestra” workshop as a part of “Ensemble Asia Orchestra” 

research project in Chiangmai, Thailand, 27-29 March 2015
Thatchatham Silsupan

“What does it mean to make a contemporary art–music–in outer places?”

Such question can be tricky to answer or finding an answer(s) and in fact, even by keep looking for, you would perhaps never found one instead. However, it is indeed a worth question to be kept asking especially for those whose artistic journey lied in the countless transit paths–including myself.

The substance of that question, to a certain extent, has a huge effect on my artistic life.

After having been living abroad for almost a decade, last year I suddenly had to relocate myself in Chiangmai, Thailand. Finding myself “out of place” and “out of context” in term of artistic envision, it was in fact a rather difficult time in my artistic life.

Having been trained as a (Western) contemporary music composer for the whole life, I keep thinking over and over again about what if I have to work with outside (contemporary music) community, and then how could I adapt or apply my artistic practice to fit within the context of–let’s say specifically–a tribal community in the north of Thailand. That is a challenge for me as a contemporary artist and musician.

Indeed, music can be thought about in multiple ways but, for me, thinking about music only as an object of art will never provide any clues on this matter. And if Pierre Boulez said “… we came to regard music as a way of life rather than an art.”, it is essentially important that one should broaden one’s view when come to the experience of music-making–as “a way of life.”; and perhaps “lives”; also depend on how one interpret it.

“The artistic value need to be constantly re-evaluated, although the path could lead me to the unknown.”

It was in the early of February this year right after when the chilly wind was just to be blown away, and I was fortunate enough to meek Keiko Arima–a young Japanese enthusiast in art, and also a director of Ensemble Asia Orchestra–together with my friend–a local sound artist, Arnont Nongyao.

The initial meeting at a local café was focusing around a discourse of possibilities to do a participatory musical project in Chiangmai, in which finally led to a collaborative project– Sense of Orchestra Life “Sunday Market Orchestra”; funded by Japan Foundation and also featuring one the greatest Japanese musician–Otomo Yoshihide.

The main idea of the project, proposed by Ms. Arima, was very impressive. It was based on a model of Mr. Yoshihide’s Fukushima project, in which to “assembling a participatory orchestra that goes beyond the concept of playing a particular type of music”; and perhaps a particular type of instrument as well.

To penetrate through the discourse, a part of that conversation was the idea of how to make music (and we talked about real music here) without “proper” musical instruments; and how to make an act of music-making participatory and inclusively especially for those who are not trained with or lacking of having “proper” musical instruments.”

Reflecting on our conversation, I came up with an idea of making music that use only our practically surrounding materials, but insist on thinking about sound and music as musicians typically do when they perform. That later resulted to be a workshop called “Paper Orchestra”; through other materials are also possible, but I proposed to use paper because of its flexibility and accessibility.

And although making sound or music from paper and other materials is not something new in contemporary music-making, I rather see it as a reflective idea from my artistic practice that I could contribute to the community. Therefore, it should be in completely different context.

During the workshop, participants were oriented to basic elements found in music as well as parameters of sound through sound-making from papers. Toward the end, they gathered together as an ensemble to produce music together. It was very interesting to see that many participants suddenly realized that they actually were making “music” but with paper instead. For them, this activity opened and broadened their paradigm about music even if they had no “proper” instruments in their hand. Therefore, for them, to realize that it is possible to make music with anything that fit into their context from rocks, leaves, glasses, pieces of wood, rubbers, etc.

Not only this activity oriented participants about a way music could be made, it, to some extent, embraces community and collective working. It was joyful to see a local student interacted with a traveller (stranger, might be!), and a professional musician interacted with a person who never-before making music, through sounds and music-making of paper that both of them were familiar with in daily life, for instance.

In retrospect, the “Paper Orchestra” project is, for me, “contemporary” because of its “living, as well as being “a way of life” because of its embracement of the community. As a (Western) trained contemporary music composer, this activity was truly a revelation for me of how contemporary art or music or whatever can be created especially in its outside community. Although it is still fresh and early to foresee a shred light, as I said, it might lead me to nowhere. But what is more important for me is a way, perhaps, has already paved which I hope as a community we could grow from there.

To end this journal, I have no words other than expressing my gratitude to Mr Yoshihide, Ms Arima, Arnont, and everyone who have involved in this project, from my deepest heart.