Melantun Records Pop-Up: Electronic Dreams of Tsao Chieh（Chee-Wai Yuen ＆ Ujikaji）
Melantun Records was an artwork installed at a vacant unit of a Singapore shopping centre in
2017. Set up to look and feel like a record shop, the artwork allowed the
audience to enter a place where the past, present and future of underground
music culture in Singapore seemed to converge, through displays of historically
seminal albums and gig posters, the organising of in-store gigs to facilitate
the direct transmission of a musician’s creative impulse to an audience, and
the careful insertion of speculative elements such as the creation of album
artwork from imagined futures. As an artwork, Melantun posited the space of the record store as cultural and intellectual economy,
facilitating subcultural knowledge production and exchange.
Melantun Records Pop-Up: Electronic Dreams of Tsao Chieh finds the beloved
record store reviving the story of forgotten Singaporean polymath, Tsao Chieh (1953–1996).
Tsao was an engineer with a distinguished career in the military but who also
established himself as a composer, especially of Romantic
works. Sent overseas by the military to study engineering in England and the
United States in the 1970s and 1980s, Tsao took the opportunity to pursue his
musical passions, taking extra classes in music (a subject not offered by local
universities in Singapore back then). By the time he graduated from Stanford
University in 1985 with a PhD in electrical engineering, he had somehow also
found the time to obtain master degrees in music composition and mathematics.
his return to Singapore, Tsao began to establish himself as a promising
composer, writing works such as the ambitious Singapore,
Symphonic Suite for Large Orchestra, a 40-minute work in five
movements. The piece was performed by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra at the
Singapore Arts Festival in 1986, which contributed to his national recognition
as Outstanding Young Person of the Year that same year. What is perhaps less
known is his pioneering work in electronic and computer music in Singapore. His
stint at Stanford in the early 1980s had exposed him to the work of the Centre
for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics and he had used the MS
software created by Stanford’s Professor Leland Smith to write his
compositions. In the early 1990s, Tsao created works for synthesisers and also
used Kyma, a programming language for computer music, to compose a handful of
computer music pieces. Unfortunately, he did not have much time to explore
these new technologies, as he fell sick and soon passed on from liver cancer at
the age of 42. In fact, shortly before he was too sick to work, he had
conceived of writing an opera based on the myth of Bukit Merah in Singapore,
which would combine his love of orchestral music and the new sounds he could
create using the computer. We can only imagine how this might have sounded.
“Of all the different artists, it is quite terrible to be a composer,
because your dream has to be realised by other people.” ─Tsao Chieh
The artwork will present the life and works of Tsao Chieh from the angle of his work as an electronic and computer music pioneer in Singapore. Besides an original mindmap of Tsao’s life and work, there are also reproductions of his scores, interviews with his widow and colleagues, and newly commissioned remixes of his work by different generations of Singaporean or Singapore-based musicians.
Curator: Chee-Wai Yuen(Singapore)
Chee-Wai Yuen is a musician, artist, designer and curator based in Singapore. Born in 1975. Often inspired by ideas drawn from philosophical and literary texts, and perspectives glimpsed through the filmic eye and photographic lens, Yuen’s stylistic oeuvre in improvised music is marked by internalised reflections on memory and loss, invisibility and indeterminacy.
In 2008, he teamed with Otomo Yoshihide (Japan), Ryu Hankil (South Korea), and Yan Jun (China) to form the improvised music quartet, FEN (Far East Network). FEN focuses on the continuing multifaceted networks and collaborations between Asian countries. Since its inception in 2014, Yuen is part of Ensembles Asia as Project Director for Asian Music Network, to which he co-curates the annual Asian Meeting Festival (AMF) with dj sniff in Japan.
is also a member of the avant-rock band The Observatory (Singapore), with whom
he plays guitar, synth and electronics. With thirteen albums to date, with the
most recent being a release of a collaboration with Haino Keiji named Authority is Alive (2020). The Observatory has also
conceived a vanguard of initiatives such as the annual festival Playfreely,
which gives artists new creative avenues for performing and working together.
Through Playfreely, he is also the co-curator of Nusasonic, a multi-year
project that plunges into a broad spectrum of experimental sound and music
cultures in Southeast Asia, enabling dialogue within the region, with Europe,
He continues to tour extensively with FEN and The Observatory, performing in Europe, America and Asia regularly, and has presented in MIMI Festival, Lausanne Underground Music and Film Festival, All Ears Festival, Ftarri Festival, Gwangju Biennale and CTM Festival.
is a curatorial project in the form of an experimental music label, mail order
and event organiser. Its key interest is in bringing to
fore sounds and sound cultures which may be marginal, ignored or forgotten.
Recent music releases on vinyl, cassette and digital include albums by FEN,
Pupa, The Observatory and Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O.
Ujikaji co-presents the acclaimed BlackKaji series of experimental sound events,
which is equally comfortable with holding intimate studio gigs as it is staging