Cxemcast 076 – Flora Yin Wong

Can you introduce us to the mix? Any favorites you want to highlight? 

Yeah, the people on it, a lot of them are my friends. A couple of the tracks are from the compilation that my good friends on Circadian Rhythms have just released. There's a track from Ausschuss who you just did a mix with. There's some high energy stuff, some noise, some ambient. 

I like that your mixes seem to have a storyline. There are ups and downs, and they feel coherent, which is quite rare. How do you go about the process?

This one was really fun in terms of the way I saw it coming together. I think of Сxema as a quite techno- and dancefloor-heavy night, but when you are listening to a mix at home it obviously feels different to a club set. I wanted to include both elements. This first track by Sophia Loizou is like Shepard tone — it feels like it's constantly building but it doesn't really end. It was a nice way to go into this harder track, but I warped it quite a lot in terms of BPM, and then it drastically changes. I finished off with a couple of tracks that are suddenly very melancholic, very downtempo. Actually, the “saw u” track is from Guy Ross, who used to work for us at PAN a while ago. 

How involved are you in PAN?

I used to work for them for 3 years. It was just me and Bill Kouligas at the time — a very small operation, we only had an accountant and an assistant/intern. I was helping Bill with everything: label management, the creative side, events. I didn't do so much of physical mailouts, Beatport, and stuff like that, but I handled the press and PR. 

I helped him put together the basis of the Mono No Aware compilation. It was a nice project which came together really quickly. It's not that I'm trying to conceptualize stuff all the time, but do you know this whole thing about “conceptronica?” It's kind of annoying, but at the same time I like having context behind things, it's a nice way to bring stuff together. He basically said to me he wanted to do a compilation that was focusing roughly on this ambient idea. I was trying to think of different ways that we could interpret ambient, and I found this term “mono no aware” during my research. I'm a writer as well, so I'm really interested in words and etymology.

What kind of things do you write?

I'm currently writing fiction, but I used to be a journalist. I worked at Dazed as an editor for about 4 years in digital. 

Do you think it somehow relates to your music?

Yeah, it really does. In the beginning, I was mostly writing interviews and reviews. That is how I got to know Bill, actually, as I was writing about the early releases: Lee Gamble, Heatsick and stuff like that. However, I always wanted to write short fiction, so I published a couple of stories online with Somesuch Stories. I wrote them when I relocated to Hong Kong, and they are based on real events, but in terms of where the story goes they are definitely fiction. 

It does tie into my music. I'm working on an album right now and for that, I've also written a book. Hopefully, they will be released together next year, so the themes across the writing and music are linked. 

Would you say that the instruments you're using in your music are the “real events” on top of which you're then adding fiction? 

I've never really thought about it like that, but that's actually a nice way of conceptualising it. Music, for me, is all fictional, but it does come from the samples that I'm using and the instruments that I'm recording (I do field recording as well), which are real experiences. 

For example, that track that I did for the C.A.N.V.A.S. compilation Murmurs is mostly based around the bells I recorded on a mountain in Japan. There was an installation, but it was closed off, there was nobody there, just hundreds and hundreds of tiny bells. Each of the bells had a note — the visitors were asked to write the name of a loved one. That was a very strong memory for me, it just was so magical. And when I was making that track, the feeling of being in that space was a big part of it. 

I really liked the project you did for Somerset House where you used the recordings on your phone to connect all these different places and sounds that otherwise wouldn’t be connected. 

A lot of musicians and sound artists work with field recordings, but it's not something I saw myself doing. I am not a recordist, I don't go out with tons of equipment to intentionally record. What was nice about the project is that it just consisted of everything that was saved on my iPhone. I wanted to capture memories of things that you might not remember what they are or where they are from. 

Somerset House commissioned me to do that around the theme they had for Wysing Polyphonic, which they co-organized. The basis of that project was around alternate realities and incantations, which is already something that's a big part of my work. I was trying to invent these kinds of alternate worlds — you move between them when you're in these recordings. Some of them are so different: for example, a crow and snow in Japan, and then the rest of it is a garage track in South London, in a car. So it was about blending these disparate things. 

As you’ve just mentioned, you’d lived in Hong Kong for some time, as well as in Japan. You move quite a lot, in general. Do you find that your immediate environment influences you in any way?

It does influence me a lot. I was born and raised in London, so culturally I do feel very English. I don't want to say that it is boring, but, you know, my mum's from Hong Kong and my dad is from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. I've only been to Malaysia once or twice as a kid, I don't really know it very well. I wanted to relocate to Hong Kong to reconnect to the stuff from when I was a girl. However, I felt like a total outsider there. My Chinese isn't very good, the way people are with each other is totally different — I had a culture shock. People see me as Chinese, so I had to learn a lot. I don't want to be an alien in either place. And I wanted to go to Japan because a lot of what I was writing about in the music and in the book relates to Eastern philosophies and mythology. 

In general, it's not only about Eastern Asia. I lived in Berlin for a bit as well, I lived in Paris, and I'm really hoping to move somewhere else next year. I don't like being in one place: if I'm in one location for more than a month, I kind of freak out. I have to be constantly moving. 

Was incorporating Eastern culture in your art intentional? 

In the first EP I did on PTP, it was intentional. The series was called CELL, so I wanted it to be about something biological, genetic in a literal sense. I collected quite specific recordings from temples and things like that, which were Asian. After that, I did not want to incorporate Eastern culture anymore. But I think people still see it in lots of other tracks I put out that don't relate to it at all. Zuli and I were doing a talk at Wysing about this problem, actually, and he was also saying how people seem to pigeonhole him into something related to certain sounds when he doesn't actually use them or when they are not intentional. 

I think I got this impression from the way you are often described online: “London-born Chinese-Malaysian.” It appeared to be something definitive.

It's funny. A lot of people have used those words — that's what I wrote for my bio ages ago. Sure, it's important for people to contextualize or frame. My real name, my age and where I'm from, just basic stuff. None of those things are really that important, but it's easier for people to get a quick idea of who this person is. 

I wouldn't want to be like Zomby or other people who are trying to be anonymous on purpose. Making a big deal out of your identity, concealing your identity — it doesn't matter, because hiding who you are makes a bigger deal out of it. It's not that mysterious. I probably shouldn't have written that short bio, though, because you can't say “just listen to the music” — it isn't only about that.

You did a project for the Friday Lates at the Victoria & Albert Museum that had a theme of audio archiving. What did you want people to take away from it? 

To be honest, it wasn't that specific when they asked me to do it. They just said it had to be around sound. There's obviously a lot of people who operate within music crossing over with sound art (I don't really know what the boundaries of that are), but I just thought that the museum space is really amazing, I was trying to envision what would be a good fit there. 

I asked Tomoko Sauvage to do a live performance. She uses all water and there was only one room in the building where you're allowed to have it — everything is so delicate around there. And then Mark Fell did the sound installation in the room with all these textiles. It was cool seeing the juxtaposition with the artwork that was there, which was very organic — animals, farm pictures, but the music was very machine-based and quite minimal. It was very nice to experience it in that space. 

Working with context seems to be really important for you indeed. 

Yeah, for sure. The stuff just gets lost if you go “here's a club track” or “here's an ambient track”. For me, it's really important to have meaning behind everything, both in terms of what you do and your life in general. It's an overarching thing: I feel like if I don't have a reason to do something and if there's no meaning in doing it, I won't do it. Maybe it's imposter syndrome when you think “I'm not good enough to just make stuff.” But if someone tells me to do something, I have a purpose then — it's not self-indulgent, it feels like a project. That's why I really like commissions where I'm like “this is the idea,” where you have a brief to work around. 

The only reason I worked on an album is because Bill asked me to. The only reason I made that EP is because PTP asked me to, and the only reason I wrote a book is because the publisher asked me to. I know that sounds a bit lazy, but it's not about laziness. Obviously, I make music just for fun and I write just for fun, I have a huge archive, but I never really know what to do with it until something comes along. That's why I need context — to make me feel like there's a reason.

Do you think there are any similarities between the way you approach music and your mother’s opera work?

Not particularly. All my family had really crazy lives, including my mum. She moved to England by herself when she was quite young. She didn’t really speak English and opera was her whole life. She sings every day, she practices every day, she writes opera. I only grew up with her and I didn't like the sound of it. I still think it sounds horrible, I hate watching it, and I always hated it. The sound reminds me of my mum, which really stresses me out. 

I don't have a really good relationship with her. It's hilarious that I've ended up doing music, but she obviously doesn't think it's a good thing. I studied law, she wanted me to be a lawyer, and when I started DJing, she was a bit like “what are you doing?” But, in theory, I'm kind of following her footsteps. In theory, that's what she did.

It's quite funny, there’s this weird prophecy, how you end up doing these things you thought you were against. I never looked up to my mum, I never thought: “Oh, she's a singer, I want to be a singer.” I was like “I hate this stuff,” but I ended up doing my own version of it. I don't know if it influences my work but, obviously, I do reference her now because it's just ironic. When I did a show at Cafe OTO last year, I used a bunch of her instruments. She has all these really amazing bells, singing bowls, and string instruments. 

Do you have a day job outside of music?

Yeah, I guess — this is where I'm talking from now. I'm working at this really boujee five-star hotel. I do events programming: everything from talks to film screenings to music. We had Tanasha (she's a big R'n'B singer), Travis Scott, Skepta, Charli XCX, so it's very different from what I'm personally interested in. This is what I did in Hong Kong as well. I always like having a separation between my creative output and work. 

Basically, I left PAN at some point and used to work at Mixcloud. Then I left as well so that I could pursue creative projects, and I went mental, totally crazy. There was too much pressure on the art, like, “this is everything” and “that is your whole life,” so I got super depressed. In a similar way that I feel like I have to travel and move all the time, I have to be always doing a million things, so I prefer having my job and then work on stuff that I want separately. 

You’ve mentioned there's an album coming, is there anything else you're working on right now?

I have a couple of collaborations currently. I'm working with Ausschuss for a fashion label. Also, I'm working with a jewelry designer and another friend who's a graphic designer. The jewelry designer works at Margiela in Paris, the graphic designer does lots of artwork for Hyperdub, and together we work on the project where I create sound and they interpret a physical version of it. I'm really excited about these projects that are not just music, but an interpretation of music. 

Cxemcast 076 – Flora Yin Wong
Interviewed by Maria Ustimenko.
11.12.2019
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