INTIMATE GRANDEUR

“CLOSER TO THE musicians,” Darren Moore, artistic director of the C.H.O.P.P.A. Experimental Music Festival urged the audience as we sat cross-legged on the floor. Obediently, we wriggled our bums across the floor, as musicians Yong Yandsen and Daysuke Takaoka wielded their instruments and took their seats less than a metre away from the audience.

As purple and yellow spotlights cast gentle hues on the performers in the pitch-black room, we braced ourselves to be reeled in for an intimate musical experience.

C.H.O.P.P.A., which ran from 22nd to 24th January at LASALLE College of The Arts, took experimental music fans on a thrilling yet well-paced journey. The festival, previously held in 2008 and 2010, showcased prominent musicians including Toshimaru Nakamura, Gerry Hemingway, Anla Courtis and members from homegrown experimental and electronica band The Observatory.

Moore, who is a lecturer of Music at LASALLE, played the drums on all three nights with bands Game of Patience, Tim O’Dwyer Trio and string-instrumentalist Xu Fengxia. Moore had started C.H.O.P.P.A. in 2007 as a monthly experimental series, but developed it into a music festival the following year and has brought C.H.O.P.P.A. to new heights since it first started.

“THE PREVIOUS FESTIVALS WERE GREAT BUT THIS FESTIVAL HAD A VERY STRONG LINE UP AND THE PRODUCTION VALUES WERE MUCH HIGHER.”

— Darren Moore, artistic director of C.H.O.P.P.A

Indeed, all the performances – ranging from the mellow and poignant to the rousing and spirited, had left us spell bound. Saxophonist Yong and tuba player Takaoka paired up for the opening act on the second night, putting together an intimate set. Yong’s creation of soft breathing sounds and mechanical noises and Takaoka’s extended technique involving metal bowls melded seamlessly, while both showed individual finesse in their craft.

Towards the end of the second night, Xu brought the house down with her dexterous playing of the guzheng and sanxian and electrifying vocals during her set with Tim O’Dwyer (saxophone) and Moore (drums).

On the last night, O’Dwyer, Moore and Clayton Thomas (double bass) forming the Tim O’Dwyer Trio, set the stage for the festival’s dramatic finale. Their free-jazz set displayed a palpable chemistry built over more than 10 years of playing together.

While most of the sets were abstract improv pieces, the musicians kept a clear direction for each piece, at the same time managing to surprise the audience.

“THE MUSIC IS CLEAR FOR BOTH THE PLAYER AND THE AUDIENCE. FOR AUDIENCES WHO ARE NOT USED TO SUCH MUSIC, THEY CAN CONNECT TO THE MUSICIAN THROUGH THE PERFORMANCE.”

— Clayton Thomas, double bass player

It was this connection that the Baliphonics – a band playing a mix of traditional Sri Lankan Music, contemporary jazz and improvisation, had managed to establish with the audience. Their finale performance of the Båli ritual involving dance and chanting, might have been abstract to some, but they captivated us through their showmanship and boisterous audience interaction. As the band reached the climax of their set, one of the band members ran up to audience members, hugging and even shaking some of us.

Like how the festival ended on a high, Moore expressed a hopeful view towards the developing experimental scene in Singapore.

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