POWER OF POP INTERVIEW: SA – GOING WITH THE FLOW

Photography - Rebecca Toh Styling - ArmCollective
Photography – Rebecca Toh Styling – ArmCollective

It’s a brave new (music) world as far as SA is concerned. Founded in 2010, the band takes its name from Northern Chinese dialect, 仨, which means three, as a tribute to their traditional Chinese roots though all three are Singaporeans.

Each member received professional training in their respective instruments in Shanghai, Hongkong and Beijing – Andy C. plays dizi (flute), Natalie Alexandra on guzheng (zither) and Cheryl Ong on drums and percussions.

On its new album FLOW, SA continues its musical evolution in taking an experimental art music approach to ethnic Chinese instrumentation, the result is a distinctive exploration of the boundaries of seemingly disparate genres that is at once challenging and satisfying.

What was your songwriting process for FLOW? 

Cheryl: Over the last year or so, SA has been actively pursuing ideas and concepts related to musical improvisation and experimentation. It was more of a natural progression that we decided to make an album that was fully improvisatory in nature.

What is the concept, if any, behind FLOW?

Cheryl: When we read about Csikszentmihalyi’s psychology of flow, it was something that really resonated with us and we decided to take it as an over-arching concept for the album and the show. But of course, a game only becomes fun and challenging when it comes with some rules, thus we decided to set some parameters for ourselves while still allowing enough space for spontaneity and free play. 

Was there a conscious decision to grant almost equal time to each individual instrument?

Cheryl: I don’t think we have ever talked about how to give equal time to all 3 instruments. It’s really more about listening out and reacting to each other. Someone will start a musical idea / motif and the rest of us can decide at anytime whether they would like to support or oppose the motif.

What are the songs about and what inspirations did you draw from?         

Andy: There are 3 pieces in this album. The 3 songs are based on the parameters of what we have conceptualised as the 3 segments of what SA is currently exploring. The first piece is a drone piece that weaves the musical lines of SA’s sound together. The second piece is an acoustic piece that pays tribute to our traditional roots and our reinterpretation of it. The third piece is an electro acoustic piece where our live instrumental sounds are manipulated through the usage of pedals.

What was thinking behind naming the songs “I”, “II” and “III”?

Cheryl: We decided that sonic parameters were much easier to work with as compared to worded titles. We did a few takes of each track and chose the ones that we thought best represented the concept of FLOW, thus what you hear in the album are complete live takes. We didn’t want to cloud the listener’s perspective with a worded title as people tend to draw certain references or come up with pre conceived notions once they see a word. 

What has been traditional musicians’ response to your approach? 

Natalie: Unfortunately, our music has not gained much traction with traditional musicians. Perhaps it is challenging for some to understand what we do, as we break out from the norm, sometimes falling in between the cracks. Using ethnic Chinese instruments, most may have pre-conceived notions of specific ways to approach the instruments.

What can music lovers expect from your launch show?

Natalie: An audio-visual sensory re-perception. As FLOW suggests, the show is improvisatory in nature. Audiences can witness live audio-visual conversations between SA and Brandon Tay. 

Cheryl: For the live show, Brandon Tay’s visual element comes in as a counterpoint. It now becomes a 4 player game with even more parameters, so we are really excited as to what will happen during the show! 

SA launches its new album FLOW at Aliwal Arts Centre on 24th and 25th November at 8pm. Tickets are now available from http://flow.peatix.com/

… still there’s more …