Recorded live at the Playfreely Festival in Singapore, November 2019, Authority is Alive is a potent performance mixed from an intoxicating brew of poetry, philosophy and sonic alchemy. Bearing the theme “The Transparency of Turbulence”, the festival featured a strong line-up of East Asian and Southeast Asian artists and bore the ambition to be “an alternative to how we coalesce and navigate a region that is continuously torn apart by words, egos, greed and ideologies.”
“Everything... living... breathe...”
In an unannounced coupling, Japan’s psychedelic and avant-garde legend Haino Keiji teamed up with Singapore’s art rock veterans The Observatory to deliver a visceral performance. Both have a history of using collaboration as method and it is evident that this meeting pushed all musicians to their creative and emotional limits. Haino, alternating between voice and guitar, was sonic shaman, channelling the raw forces of nature through his entire body. Ad libbing from a self-penned poem, his expressionistic vocals spanned tortured shrieks and falsetto whispers on ideas such as the nature of power, the dissolution of the self and the notion of mu-i 無為 (wu wei, or effortless action). Elsewhere, his guitar workouts were wild and unhinged, pure propulsions of energy.
“Do not find...”
The Observatory, pared down to a three-piece since 2019, showed off their new predilection for thrilling improvisation influenced by their Southeast Asian roots. Dharma’s use of a mallet to strike his guitar, prepared with metallic sheets and rods between its strings, created moving, gamelan-like melodies. At certain points, in call-and-response fashion, percussive polyrhythms would be exchanged with Cheryl Ong on drum kit; Ong’s background in traditional Chinese percussion brings a fresh take to an instrument typically employed in western rock and jazz idioms. Meanwhile, Yuen Chee Wai sat his guitar on a knife’s edge between control and excess, introducing beautifully resonant tone clusters and harsh, crunchy noise.
Under the dim lights of the mid-size black box venue, with audience members sitting cosily at their feet, Haino and The Observatory led an ecstatic communion. Mixed and mastered by Lasse Marhaug, the chance to lose – and find – ourselves in this otherworldly performance is now here.