Pat Rocks

Behind the eyes of The Observatory

By Patrick ChngEvents - 18 April 2014 12:00 AM | Updated 21 April 2014

Behind the eyes of The Observatory

The Observatory’s perpetual musical evolution – from electronica-folk to present-day experimental music – makes them one of Singapore’s most intriguing and acclaimed bands.

Formed in 2001, the band – currently comprising Leslie Low, Vivian Wang, Dharma and Bani Haykal – has released five albums to date and is putting out its first remix album, titled ‘Behind These Eyes’, on 25 April 2014.

The Observatory’s last album, ‘Catacombs’, was released in April 2012.

Widely regarded as their darkest and angriest album, ‘Catacombs’ is viscerally emotional with themes about insanity, delusion and obsession.

‘Behind These Eyes’, features 11 artists who were invited to re-interpret and add their unique sonic touches to the songs from ‘Catacombs’.

Hailing from Singapore, China, Norway, Thailand/Japan and the USA, the artists have embraced the experimentalist spirit of The Observatory and steered its songs into different directions, making it a remarkable and worthy companion to the original album.

Read also: Interview with Bani Haykal

elintseeker, one of the artists featured in ‘Behind These Eyes’, explained why he came on board the project, “The Observatory represents forward-thinking and fearless music making. To any musician or artiste here in Singapore, they are an inspiration and benchmark for the process of evolution and change. I think ‘Catacombs’ is their strongest work to date.”

X’ Ho aka DJ Mentor, who did the remix for the song ‘Anger & Futility’, agreed, “’Catacombs’ is among the greatest Singapore works ever. I am delighted to be given the chance to ‘frame’ one of its songs in an ‘altered form’.”

Norwegian musician Lasse Marhaug is another fan of The Observatory. He chose to remix ‘Ends to No Means’ because “it was the first track that hit me when I first heard the ‘Catacombs’ demos.”

Marhaug added, “In the mix, I used both the demo and album versions. ‘Catacombs’ is a dark album, even for The Observatory, so my approach for the remix is to venture further into the darkness. I didn’t want the remix to simply be a friendly gesture to a group of musicians I admire. It needed to be a proper musical statement, built on the foundations of the band’s ideas.”

The remix album was a project initiated by Dan Koh, a big fan of The Observatory, who used to work for an online magazine.

The Observatory (from left to right) are Dharma, Vivian Wang, Bani Haykal and Leslie Low

The Observatory’s Wang recalled the evolution of the project, “Dan originally conceived this as a sort of audio-visual-prose project. A site-specific remix done with a particular location in mind. The idea was to create soundtracks specially for underground and cavernous spaces, drawing inspiration mainly from our last album ‘Catacombs’, that dealt with themes about insanity and what happens to a Singaporean psyche when subject to a prolonged and constrained existence.”

She continued, “This album was intended as a soundtrack to accompany subterranean visits to these unusual spaces. It then became tried to capture these spaces in photography and written word (prose/poetry). The idea was to work with certain writers who'd venture into spaces like Jurong Rock Caverns for instance, listen to the remixers' interpretations and then express their experience in writing. However, trying to get permission to visit some of these spots proved far too challenging for us.”

All the 11 artists who did the remixes have worked with most of the collaborators before.

“There are artistes such as Lasse Marhaug from Norway and James Plotkin from the States as well as fantastic musicians from Singapore with whom we've wanted to do something more concrete with for a while already; people like Pam aka The Analog Girl, whose take on 'Headworm' blew me away first time I heard it; George Chua who is recently awaking from 'reclusion' to perform again; X' Ho, who we've always respected for his wicked, ironic sense of humour and bold musicianship; and Fuzz Lee aka elintseeker who has such a deft and elegant touch towards music and sound. There were many others who were keen to contribute but a double LP is quite a substantial release as it is now,” said Vivian.

The band is thrilled with the remixes and Leslie Low summed it up best when he said, “As the remixes started coming in, each listen became a discovery into the essence of the song itself filtered through the minds of the interpreters. There are so many ways to dissect a song and it was an extremely rewarding experience to hear everyone's take. Eleven musical visions-lessons-perspectives. The interpretations elaborate on ‘Catacombs' theme of madness and reach sonic territories we could never achieve on our own. In all instances, the songs visited a broad range of alternate mind-spaces and aural landscapes in their reconstructions. A big thank you to all involved in the making of this. Glad to finally put this out.”

‘Behind These Eyes’ is available on vinyl (double LP) + digital download for $35. Digital download only for $12. Available from www.theobservatory.com.sg and www.ujikaji.net.

The Observatory ‘Behind These Eyes’ album launch with performances by Evan Tan, George Chua, Kiat and Xhin | Date: 25 Apr | Time: 7:30pm | Venue: Artistry | Address: 17 Jalan Pinang | Free