Essentially a one-man act, Pixel Apartment is the brainchild of Jordan Chia. He may come across as a clean-cut tech-savvy geek but when he picks up the guitar and starts to sing, you can’t help but be dazzled by his immense musical talent.
Jordan applied for, and got into, Noise Singapore’s Music Apprenticeship Programme two years ago. Since then, he has performed a couple of times at the Esplanade outdoor theatre and released a free-to-download EP titled Paper Aeroplane in 2009.
On stage, Jordan usually performs with a drummer while he handles the laptop programming, keyboards, bass, guitar and vocals. However, things have grown really big now. For Pixel Apartment’s upcoming show on June 11at the Project Echolocation Concert, he will be performing with a 13-piece band.
I talked to Jordan about this new direction and the upcoming gig at Hwa Chong Junior College.
When and how was Pixel Apartment formed? And is it still a solo project?
Pixel Apartment is a name that I decided on for my solo recording project, which has been going on since 2006. In late 2008, I decided to give the project a name and called it Pixel Apartment, bringing the music to the stage for live performances. At the moment, it is still largely a solo project because the songs are written and arranged by me, but I hope to integrate the current line-up as permanent members who would contribute significantly to the songwriting and arrangement process.
What did you learn as an apprentice in the Music Apprentice Programme at Noise Singapore 2008?
I learned many things as an apprentice from my mentor, Nick Chan, especially studio techniques and about the music business. The most important thing I learnt, however, was to let myself go wild in breaking the rules and conventions after understanding why they were put there in the first place. This makes for a more creative process and new ideas will flow naturally, so making music as an art form is fresh and unique, and also very personal. This holds true not just in the creation of the song or the recorded audio mixdown itself, but also in the marketing process and image of the band.
For example, I spoke at length to Nick about why bands like Radiohead are willing to release recorded material for free, and how myspace and other social networking sites are the keys to reaching out to a larger audience. This resulted in a radical move to release some raw mixdowns as a free EP, Paper Aeroplane, which allowed anyone in the world with internet access to download it and appreciate the band in all its rawness. At least more people know about Pixel Apartment now. It has been a pleasant experience to meet people I never knew before who had listened to the EP in real life, which happens on occasion.
You performed as a duo for your early shows but now your line-up is 13 members. Why the drastic change?
I believed strongly in the philosophy of less is more, where if two people could pull it off, why not? But it came to a point where I realised that playing with sequencers and laptops all the time take away a lot from the live experience, and I missed playing in a huge ensemble. After tuning in to bands like Jaga Jazzist and the Arcade Fire, I had a wish to form a band where there were more timbres played by humans instead of being triggered by computers. Also, when playing to a computer, the tempo is fixed all the time so there is also the loss of expression when the drummer doesn't speed up slightly before the chorus and things like that
So why do you need so many members and what do they do?
The current members actually do a lot of different things that are essential in creating new timbres and also inserting new counter melodies to beef up certain sections of the songs. There is a brass section made of up three trumpet players as well as a bass trombone, which adds a new dimension to the standard overdrive guitar at the chorus affair. The violin also plays a key role in being almost like a second main vocalist, sometimes going against it, sometimes weaving around it.
The violin itself is a very emotional instrument, which adds another depth of expression beyond what lyrics can express. A glockenspiel part played by a keyboardist also serves a similar purpose but in a different way, giving the music a much livelier and festive feel, especially at uplifting songs like Dancing On. There are also three guitarists and the focus is more on creating textures instead of standard power chords. Overall, the general sound of the band now sounds a lot like a mix of brass marching bands with modern rock instrumentation, which does captures the feel of the European streets and towns at some points. At one part of the song Dancing On, the lyrics go "The city is alive". The brass stuff really creates the mood and adds another dimension to the meaning of the lyrics.
What can we expect from Pixel Apartment at the Project Echolocation Concert?
You can expect a louder, bolder, and more lively Pixel Apartment. There will be visuals for one of the songs and this is a first for the band. I won't reveal too much but what I can say is that this is probably going to be the best of performance of the band yet.
Any upcoming plans for Pixel Apartment?
I intend to integrate all the members permanently, and move on to play more live gigs. There are also plans to record a full album with all the new instruments.
Catch the Hwa Chong Junior College: Project Echolocation Concert featuring Ingride, Pixel Apartment, Trella, For This Cycle, Derek & Derrick. The concert will be performing on June 11, 7:30pm.
Tickets & CDs are at $10 each, but a CD may be bought at $8 upon purchase of a ticket.
About Patrick Chng
Forever young at heart, Patrick Chng loves going to gigs and checking out Singapore bands. He has also been playing in bands since the late 1980s, writing about music and being an important mover and shaker in the Singapore indie music scene. When he's not checking out or playing gigs, he's at home playing with his guitars and updating his Facebook.