Composer Spotlight: Lynette Quek
Interview conducted by Jan Li Tan, 15th March 2021. As part of our new Composer Spotlight series and in conjunction with Women's History Month, we sat down with Lynette Quek to talk about her work.
Lynette Quek is an audiovisual maker from Singapore. Incarnations of her work include audiovisual installations, composition through sound manipulation, as well as cross-disciplinary performance with the computer. Her current work examines the synchronisation and interaction within audiovisuality, challenging the notion of loops with the heard/unheard, seen/unseen. This varies across the medium of video, performance, sculpture, installation, and expanding.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Lynette Quek from Singapore. I think I do quite varied things that depend on a project’s content, who I work with, whether it’s a collaboration or solo project. Recently, I’m going towards a little bit more of installation art or interdisciplinary platforms.
I recently did a performance installation at this venue in Singapore as part of the local Art Week event and that incorporated dance, visual and sound. It is sort of branching out from my usual practice of just sound, visuals or both but incorporating different elements like movement, external bodies, external tools, external parties and the usage of space but it’s always revolving around the theme of loops between the image, the sound, whatever you see, whatever you experience, wherever you are at, there’s always loops to be found within my works.
Would you primarily call yourself a composer, performer or a musician?
I like to call myself a maker. I make stuff. I like to tinker with stuff, I like to break apart stuff and put them back together. It’s not really a creation every time. I think words like creator, composer all have a very specific meaning. You always have to finish the product, you’re always doing completed projects or items or pieces but I just make. I might make a sculpture today. I recently got into clay so I play around with clay quite a bit now but they’re just pieces of… clay just lying here and there. I’m more like a maker rather than anything else.
What would you say what your interests are as a musician specifically?
I primarily perform, improvise but with the laptop. I think quite a lot of people see me performing with just a laptop, a piece of metal on stage and I quite like the idea of breaking apart the boundaries of the laptop as a device, as a tool but try to incorporate it as an instrument that can blend in with other acoustical instruments, as well to utilise it on a stage, concert venue, as compared to only on a desk or where I have to be seated down to perform with this instrument of mine. I've always wanted to explore and push the boundaries about the laptop as an instrument and how I can adapt it for different purposes. Not only to just perform with other electronic devices but how can I make sounds, produce sounds or perform with the laptop to incorporate with an acoustic ensemble, for example. That’s what I’ve always been looking for in performing.
So not just the sounds coming out of the laptop as a piece of the performance, incorporating the physical laptop
Yes, I don’t think I use the laptop very conventionally anyways. I don’t really just sit down and type emails. I try to rub the metal. I think different laptops sound different when you rub the metal or even if you go against the keys. I just got a new laptop and this new Mac laptop has very shallow keys and how I run my hand across, run my fingernails across the keyboard it sounds very different from the older laptop which has a little bit more height, so it creates a very different timbre as well. If I rub the surface of the laptop, it sounds different depending on how matte or glossy it is, if there are any grooves, the surface area of the laptop. I do swing my laptop here and there just to find new sounds with it which I think is quite dangerous but it’s like extended techniques on the laptop.
Would you say you prefer your old laptop then because the keys have more depth which I imagine has more sound to dig into?
It sounds different but I think it’s the same as getting a new violin or piano. I need to find the right way of performing again. I upgraded the instrument for a reason so I think there should be other aspects than just the lesser in height of the keyboard keys. For this new Mac laptop, there is the touch bar which allows me to do some interesting stuff with which is another dimension of interactivity. It’s a slight touch bar thing that creates another kind of smoothness as well which I can’t wait to explore.
Lynette Quek - re: -act (2021) performed as part of Singapore Art Week.
Next question. Why did you decide to become a musician?
Yes. *laughs* Deep questions here at The Arc Project.
*laughs* I know. Musician, meaning?
Well you do so much more than just playing “music”, “sounds” but what got you into this field? What made you decide to pursue this field of study initially? If I’m not mistaken, you did an electronic music degree, was it?
Music tech. I’m usually part of the behind-the-scenes crew. I always see myself as the crew which is why I’m always in black, I’m always on the floor coiling cables and getting my hands dirty. I started out with sound recording, studio recording and live sound experience as well. I wasn’t as comfortable with the instruments that I studied and used to perform with which is why I didn’t want to be a performer at that point in time and because there are so many more people who are doing way better than me. I really like the experience of recording, treating sounds, manipulating sounds and archiving sounds which then get used in recordings, live performances, studio recordings.
Once I got introduced to making sounds, “blip blops”, it really captivated me and there’s so much to explore. Even if you call yourself a laptop musician, all laptop musicians would sound different if they’re using the same device so I really like the idea of everyone having the same materials but creating very very different experiences and performance styles. That’s what captivated me to be in the fore-front, to perform with the laptop and also make people aware that a digital device can be treated as a conventional instrument. I wanted to bring that awareness to people so I started to do more performances with the laptop from then on.
And then improvising… I’ve all along liked the idea of improvising as compared to reading very strict scores. Maybe it’s because of the music education I was brought up with. It was very strict, I can only play it a certain way but if I want to express it a different way, it would be counted as wrong or not the correct way of expression. Improvising does break that boundary. If you feel this way at that moment of time, you just do it that way and if you feel like it in a different time but playing the same sort of instructions, same sort of scores, you can interpret it a different way. It’s more free. So that's how I got into performing/musicking. What has your experience with The Arc Project been and what has the experience been like for you?
I think I started out helping Arc with tech stuff. Yes, for our first ever project I believe. Yeah. So I think from then on, it’s friends. Working with friends is always nice, helping one another is always nice. Arc actually does explore quite a varied amount of things during each event; the venue, the performance, the theme, the collaborations or solo pieces even. It’s always very varied and it’s very nice to see the evolution of Arc starting with Jake and then with you and incorporating such a big group of people that all came from York which is very nice. It’s a very nice community, nice collective so I would like to support it as much as I could. I started out with tech and now you have very nicely invited me to be one of the composers and now with this interview. *laughs* Yes, we love having you around so we’re just finding reasons to have you be a part of it at this point. Aww so nice. I think it’s just the community and collectiveness of everyone being involved and everyone wanting to be involved. Being passionate and the drive is what I really want to be part of as well. Thank you for all the nice things you are saying. Next question. Could you name some musicians, or maybe not strictly musicians, that have influenced your perspective on music and your style? All along my music journey, a lot of people have shaped how I am. Even with laptop performances, there’s a whole bunch of people who have inspired this sort of practice but I always go back to two artists that really shaped the way I listen and have influenced the way I think in terms of creating, experiencing.
One of them is Zimoun, a Swiss artist and sound sculptor. I really like his stuff because of the minimalist look, how creative he is and how captivating his works are. It’s mainly big sound sculptures that he does that are always kinetic and aways in different galleries. It’s really nice to be seeing this in galleries as compared to still paintings, still artworks as his works are always moving, making a lot of sounds and he always gets a room to himself.
Also, I stumbled upon an artist who is getting a lot more attention now, Christine Sun Kim. I think she’s gaining more and more attention with her murals. She does huge murals that are mostly text-based. She is a deaf artist, born deaf, but she creates visual works and sound works. Quite recently, she was at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival to perform a piece of hers with Ensemble Contrechamps, “deaf, not mute”. Seeing her as deaf artist, she is always trying to push the boundaries about “what can I hear?”, “what are other people hearing?”, “what is my baby hearing?”. She has a kid who is hearing, her husband is hearing as well so she’s always trying to figure out “what am I hearing?”, “what are other people hearing?”, “how is hearing perceived?”, “how should hearing be seen?” and “how should seeing be heard?” so there are a lot of nice correlations between her sight. Of course she is very strong on the visual side of things, but she’s always trying to push the auditory-side of herself as well but she’s not always doing vibrations. Usually, when you hear someone is deaf, you tend to think of vibrations but she is not doing any vibration works because she thinks it’s not enough to express what sound is so she went on to do different works to express sound in her own terms which I thought was very interesting. She often creates it with her own sense of aesthetic which is very evident and obvious as well. What areas do you wish to explore more of in the future?
I’m hoping to explore as many different mediums as I can. Now, I’m incorporating clay into some of my stuff just because it’s a little bit more tactile and it’s not difficult to get some good clay or cement around and you can manipulate it as you wish. There’s some dry clay that I’ve got; it literally comes in a pack and when you want to use it you just knead it into the shape you want so it’s a little bit more malleable. I’m trying to push as much and go into as many different mediums so I’ve done structures, sculptures, performance of course, web-based, generative stuff, dancing, movements. I’m trying to expand as much as I can but always with the theme of loops. I’m mostly interested in loops but across a variety of mediums.
So right now is clay but there’s not a particular list or anything. Just as it comes, you jump on it?
Yeah, as it comes. I don't have a specific thing that I would really like to go into in the near future. Maybe things that are more tactile and physical, maybe wood, materials, different sorts of materials. I'm trying to move the digital into the physical in that way. I’m just playing around with materials at the moment.
Upcoming joint installation between Jaxton Su and Lynette Quek (Singapore), Jieun Gu and Darae Baek (Ulsan, South Korea).
Interesting. Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with in the future?
Christine Sun Kim. I’ve emailed her and she’s replied so that’s a good thing.
Oh so there might be…
No, I think she’s too busy to entertain me. I requested some sort of text from her before for one of my previous works and she very kindly guided me to the area I was going towards but she didn’t provide me with anything because she was quite busy at that time. Recently I’ve been working with hearing aids. That’s another thing I’m working with but that’s together with this artist, Ryoko Akama who is based in Huddersfield. She runs the Dai Hall in Huddersfield and a publishing company called “Ame”. This is a collaboration with her. She’s doing some stuff with hearing aids and the feedback with hearing aids. We are creating a vertical hearing aid because she’s inserting them into glass bottles to get the resonance of the glass bottles. She’s done a lot of research with glass bottles and hearing aids; some glass bottles work and some don’t and you can’t use jars because the holes of the mouths are too big. She knows what kinds of glass bottles are usable.
Wow. That’s amazing!
Yeah so we’re going to create a vertical feedback system and that’s something I’m working on. I want to work with as many artists as possible but Christine Sun Kim is someone that I would love to work with just because she does not only work with sound. She did a piece, “face opera”, an opera with just facial gestures. She speaks in sign language but together with sign language, there are a lot of facial gestures involved to further express the signs which is the same way as how musicians express their performance. She’s trying to bring in a lot of musical elements into her work as well. So yeah I would love to work with her at some point.
If you could perform anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I would love to perform in a barren land, like on a barren piece of land. Doesn't matter where as long as it’s an open field, open desert. I just got a boating license recently. I would love to travel to the seas on a small boat or sampan that would bring me out to the sea. I would just do a happening and that’s it. I would like to perform on barren land, in the middle of nowhere maybe, where only satellites can see it or only those who know would be able to see or I could live stream it but it needs to be an open area with a lot of grass, a lot of water and clouds.
Emptiness all around you.
Empty but filled space.
This kind of ties in with what we’ve been talking about but are there any projects you’ve been involved in recently besides the ones mentioned previously?
Singapore Art Week, hearing aid project with Ryoko Akama. Next week, I’m involved in this festival in Japan, Tama Music Festival (this interview was conducted before the festival which has since ended). I’m doing this collective piece with the Sound & Word Network; an international collective that combines artists that deal with sound and text so there are a lot of writers, that write novels, books, passages and things like that. This network came about because this musician based in Japan, Francesca, originally from the UK, plays the sho and knows this writer from Germany, Charlotte, started to exchange works, exchanging sho compositions and writings and ended up expanding it by bringing in their friends. I think in Asia we have me in Singapore, someone in Taipei, Taiwan and two friends in Japan and one more artist in Japan. In a way, COVID-19 did bring about some nice things. People are trying to collaborate across the globe.
Yes. We are feeling that as well. We’re getting quite a lot of engagement. Before this, it was all UK-based, if not just people within our York circle. Now, we’re getting people in America, Sweden, all around.
In April, I’m doing this festival, Audiograft as well with a different collective, also with Ryoko, called "a.hop". There are 9 of us, all female. It’s set up by Ryoko, and it’s basically all her friends and she’s introducing everyone to each other. Everyone does non-conventional sound, none of us play traditional instruments. All of us are playing motors or sand, toys but we all create stuff. We did three pieces for this festival.
We’re actually on our last question now, a fun question. If you won the lottery tomorrow, what would you do with that money?
Yeah that’s my idea of fun *laughs*
The immediate thought is to get a boat. I’m not sure. Maybe do up a very nice studio. I would love to set up a space where everyone can just come in like a workshop with different tools. Very messy, cement floor, wooden tables and a café or a coffee machine. People would come into a communal area, to set up their painting gear and start to paint on the floor. Someone would come in, there will be a piano of course, and just start to play. Some will come to get coffee and leave, that’s fine too. Just a space where you can make, create and get together with people. I think a lot of places I’ve been to have a lot of rules and only a certain kind of people can be there. There’s a lot of hierarchy and I don’t really like that. If you’re making things, just make them together. Bring your tools, talk to people and just start making. So I would love to have a place like that or to set up one where people could just come in to make things. Upcoming solo installation, updates to follow in April: https://www.instagram.com/islands.peninsula/ Lynette is one of the composers on our upcoming project, Cross-Medium Collaborations, premiering 16th April, 2021 on our YouTube channel.