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Shazam; Texture

A few days ago, on switching to the local classical radio station, an alchemy junior asked if I was some “classical music shazam”, i.e. someone who could name the piece as it was played.

I honestly said probably not.

However, inspired as usual in the shower, I thought of music shazams who guided me through attaining some competence at being able to identify at least the styles, periods, techniques, timbres of various pieces, if not the pieces themselves (sometimes unconsciously, and at the 2nd or 3rd note upon noticing).

I turn my (and your!) attention, now, however, to one shazam known as L. van Beethoven – with benefit of hindsight now, what we call “textural“, “atmospheric“, or more often “notes that do not need to be heard/played clearly“, was part of the ground broken by his writing as much as the forms he broke in his works and structures. It just seems unremarkable with the spread of Romantic and 20th/21st century repertoire available now.

Take the last movements of Symphonies 8 and 5 for example. The opening of Symphony no.8 is a series of broken arpeggios, the main “theme” yet again being broken into sextuplets:

Called an “itching idea”, it simultaneously adds dimensions of relentlessness and (to sound contrite) “impressionistic” dotting of notes to form a musical line.

A speedy re-imagination of this by TPO immediately turns an itch into a scintillation:

Suddenly the line blends and the emphatics become the line, pushing the buzzing motif into a harmonic bed. Perhaps one of the few ways either rendition could have been further flavoured would be to emphasise the “fate” rhythm against the dotted rhythm, recalling the 5th symphony.


Onto the 5th symphony, there’s an infamously inane but unplayable part here, but you would have to be either a bad violinist or a worse violinist to know first hand:


Should have learnt ricochet…

Basically in the middle of a repeated chord progression in the Presto coda, the violin 2s and violas get this unplayable motif reminiscent of this (out of tune, overplayed) overture (comments on this video are gold).

Mathematically though, the quaver-quaver-crotchet makes perfect textural sense – a written stretto or piu mosso, and that it was embedded in the inner strings makes it no less important than several offbeat turns of harmony and phrases throughout the 4th movement.

What’s most annoying about it being nigh unplayable is that it is simultaneously nigh unnoticeable…

That the quaver-quaver-crotchet comes back prominently and juxtaposed against the “fate” motif in the last movement of the 8th seems too uncanny to be a coincidence, just as the multitude of composers suddenly realising that a bunch of notes and harmonies could be so much – much, much more.


Read This Really Rapidly

Do AIs Dream Of Deletion

A is for Asymptote
I is an only opponent that is worthy of me
Z is for Zenith

I Remembre Decembre

I remember December – sombre slumber, amber thunder, limber Sarabande timbre
solemn, an omen, a moratorium, in memoriam, si vis pacem, para bellum,
silence, an abscence, scents of incense, pretense of license, reminiscence – but extravagance immense,
feminism, fanatical schism, imperial dogmatism, solipsism, prism metaphysical, procreationism, blind criticism
the mind rescinds, rewinds, per truisms unwind, resigns over procrastination, chance opportunism,
swim, pine, dance
spin, turn, remind, sigh, play, push, tinker, cheer, joy, sheer, fall and call,
storm and dry, cats and drang, hung out to dream, gone to the disco,

a dog’s deluge, death’s demise – December’s door

A Little Night Magic /or/ A Midwinter’s Night Dream



I had just barely gotten this earworm out of my head, only to be struck by a sudden realisation a week into the post-concert high of my first serious chamber performance in years – the hall was much bigger (and novel to myself) than I had cared to anticipate.

Backtracking 7(!) years, I was reminded of one of the few lines that struck me when the Australian(?) String Quartet took their precious time out to review and comment on my first NUSSO Miniatures performance, the first movement of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden string quartet. Basically, the 2nd violin and viola, being both “a good metre or so” behind the first and cello, had to play out that extra much.

This time round, the 4th violin and 1st viola (yours truly) had the unceremonious task of taking the sonic nadir, and in the (to me) strange and expansive setting we were fortunate enough to have our CFA coordinator listening and soundchecking. For that I am greatly thankful.

Given the circumstances, I would have been pleased simply by not screwing up. Given barely 10 minutes to warm up before the soundcheck proper, a little food time and warm-up time before backstage silence kicked in, and the rest was firmly in the hands of the fates and muses. The octet’s 1st and 4th were involved in the first (Mendelssohn) item of the night, and I was concerned about nerves and performance rhythm, even as they pulled off a muscular rendition of the allegro energico (e con fuoco) of the C minor Trio.

Ticking off seconds before going onstage, utterly convinced and unfazed given the setting and the preparation, I was dumbstruck by the sudden butterflies that materialised as the octet tuned up and agreed on an entirely fresh tempo.

Clutching the pencil-and-red-ink-riddled sheets, unnervingly flimsy to my cupped hand, bow threatening to slip out on the first bow, checking our tuning in a professional manner just to buy time; the upbreath took on a life of its own. Left hand refusing to shake in concert with the mind, dynamics breaking the dams of well-intentioned piani (heaven forbid pianissimi), rubati dictating the musicians rather than the other way around; it was later implied that the item was on the verge of breaking down.

Held together by sheer force of will, or perhaps by dumb luck, and sometimes riddled with things in a class of dark spots on the carpet and cobwebs in the closet, each passage’s completion bringing out the beginnings of comfort that continuity spared no time for appreciation, only the “bravo” from our mentor in the audience marked the first and only rest point the octet had in that harrowing quarter-hour or so.

Although I knew some very important people were in the audience (both to me and objectively), it later transpired that a certain writer had heard and was moved by our performance. That in itself would have made the hours of score study and group rehearsal worth it.



“Die Leute beklagen sich gewöhnlich, die Musik sei so vieldeutig; es sei so zweifelhaft, was sie sich dabei zu denken hätten, und die Worte verstände doch ein Jeder. Mir geht es aber gerade umgekehrt. Und nicht blos mit ganzen Reden, auch mit einzelnen Worten, auch die scheinen mir so vieldeutig, so unbestimmt, so mißverständlich im Vergleich zu einer rechten Musik, die einem die Seele erfüllt mit tausend besseren Dingen als Worten. Das, was mir eine Musik ausspricht, die ich liebe, sind mir nicht zuunbestimmte Gedanken, um sie in Worte zu fassen, sondern zu bestimmte.

People often complain that music is too ambiguous, that what they should think when they hear it is so unclear, whereas everyone understands words. With me, it is exactly the opposite, and not only with regard to an entire speech but also with individual words. These, too, seem to me so ambiguous, so vague, so easily misunderstood in comparison to genuine music, which fills the soul with a thousand things better than words. The thoughts which are expressed to me by music that I love are not too indefiniteto be put into words, but on the contrary, too definite.”

Felix Mendelssohn (1842)


I Remember 2015

A poem a month I strive
to as little from others, derive –
to piece word by word
most not too absurd
a legible mess, contrive

Taut phrases, rather trite,
won’t live to see the light
like sweet silence, golden,
the author, emboldened,
thinks what we might – makes write.

In time this little game
for money, or for fame,
for followers rabid
or comments insipid
or fans that appear all the same.

It thus goes, any bloke,
in any tongue wrote or spoke,
might make up a scene
of what-may-have-been,
or maybe, a wannabe joke…

A poem a month I strive,
towards something realised, I drive –
a stanza right here,
a line for my dear,
in 2016, we arrive.

Novemremember: I Remember November

To force a child to sit and writ
Is in itself no easy feat
What one would yield a manuscript,
Drives foolish youths to lie, to cheat

Speak cacophony of uncouth –
Cross the line and you’re in shit
A sweet word here would calm and sooth
Admission of defeat, acquit

To err is man, forgive divine,
Good artists forge, great artists steal
Yet striking keys of ivory fine
Hails hammer fall with no appeal

The artisan in cloak of pure
Inside a product borne of swill –
This mind, no reason sound could cure,
perceived only others’ ills

As catching wild thoughts in a gale
Which leafs through indexes unseen
My choice it seems has faded pale
A generation washed and clean

Thirty days hath November
But not one dedicate to thus
My choice I’m scant to remember
A rabble’s head, a fulsome fuss

Crimson Sunbird is now the official National Bird of Singapore.

Singapore Bird Group


Crimson Sunbird. This was the photo used for the voting of the National Bird in 2002.

It is official, the Crimson Sunbird,Aethopyga siparaja has been declared the National Bird of Singapore by Dr. Shawn Lum, President of the Nature Society (Singapore) at the 6th Asian Bird Fair Fellowship Dinner at the Quality Hotel Marlow on the 31st October 2015. He also declared the Common Rose as the National Butterfly of Singapore.

On 25th May 2002, the public was invited to vote for the National Bird of Singapore at the Nature Society (Singapore) 1st Nature Day at Parco Bugis Junction. Out of a total of 1,038 persons who voted at the 3 days event, the Crimson Sunbird came up tops with 400 votes ( 38%). The White-bellied Sea-eagle was second with 236 votes, Black-naped Oriole with 200 , Olive-backed Sunbird with 157 and the Greater-Racket-tailed Drongo with 45 votes. 



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The Bareable Lightness of Bathing

Wah, half-centennial, got nice nice
upgrading this year. Old mosaic
toilet change for shiny new tiles.
Early in the morning bing bing bong bong,
contractor ahbang and unker come in hack hack hack.

Never mind the dust, it’ll settle someday, I
remind myself and I wipe my finger across the
off-white corner of the fridge – after all the
dust is of the same off-whiteness.

My nasal passages beg to differ.
In other words, phee phee feh feh.

Night falls, the bareable lightness of bathing,
once again, like in camp or in school, with
nice cool water in a plastic cubicle.
Tahan a few more days; meanwhile enjoy the
refreshing joy before the thirty-five degree

A second republic

Yawning Bread


Right up to the last moment, I wasn’t sure if I should use the preamble I had prepared. The point I wanted to make in the preamble was that I believed Singaporeans were going to be instinctively resistant to the idea of constitutional redrafting. Our aversion to taking risks, our long indoctrination in the idea that political experimentation would be extremely dangerous for a small, vulnerable city-state with no natural resources or strategic depth to rely on (yes, a habit of mind formulated by the ruling People’s Action Party, but today espoused by many as almost biblical truth), would likely mean that the idea I was about to float would be dismissed as a foolish, hazardous pipe-dream.

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juxtaposition, and a brief look in the mirror

Clarification: The comments were left on the TNP article from an event that occurred on Jan 12 2015, the photos from an entirely separate and discrete event that occurred on Dec 8 2013.

No attempts to conflate or politicise any issues are being made; just a moment for self-reflection.





The New Paper


The Straits Times