A Passion Deep and Wide

Interview by Tay Huizhen
Images courtesy of The Observatory

Change as fuel. Collaboration. Experimentation. These are three key things that local band The Observatory—or The Obs as they are affectionately known—emphasise in their philosophy and music. As self-proclaimed music fans, their unbridled tastes have taken them far and wide, across vast musical terrains; dabbling in genres as varied as traditional, classical and electronic. They recently completed the first draft of Continuum, a 50-minute long work inspired by Balinese gamelan, which resulted in a new tonal scale and self-designed bronze instruments. We catch up with the band on their 12th anniversary, discuss their new projects and the climate for experimental musicians here.

The Observatory a passion deep and wide

Hard as it may be, can you please describe the band’s sound?

Vivian (V): The band has always been keen on exploring a darker terrain. In temperament, we often come across as melancholic, but sometimes the darkness recedes and a comfortable languidness creeps in. In the last few years, we’ve ventured into more sinister territory, which likely alienates fans of older albums.

With our latest release, Catacombs, we took it to the furthest, expressing extreme melancholia leading to madness. But our music isn’t always heavy and epic-oriented. We love intricacy and often favour impressionistic, evocative strokes. In music, we like aggression but also beauty and fragility, and there’s all these in Catacombs.

Leslie (L): We change the rules with each new album. Not just in musical direction, but also in the way we work and organise ourselves. Our sound changes from album to album quite drastically.

How does your music evolve?

V: We ditched normal songwriting processes after the first two albums. In the last five years or so, we’ve submerged ourselves a fair bit into improvisation, which taps into a more visceral side of our creative energies. The freedom we enjoy during our improvisational sets creates quite a ruckus at times, but it’s also deeply cathartic.

No script, no score, no formula—just being on the edge and thinking on your toes sharpen your connection to your mates in the room and encourage you to think about each sound you’re producing every minute in a very lively way. When we experiment and toy around, we discover new ideas about sounds. Doing this everyday for two months fed the themes of insanity and civilised madness of Catacombs.

Read more in The U Press Nº2 (Singapore edition).