Com­fort of noise

Fugu the band: one man’s poi­son is an­other man’s meat.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ARTS - By QISHIN TARIQ star2@ thes­tar. com. my

IN cen­sor­ship happy Malaysia, words have a ten­dency to spell trou­ble.

With this in mind, com­poser duo Fung Chern Kwei, 34, and Ng Chor Guan, 35, fig­ured that the eas­i­est way to chan­nel their cre­ative out­put – mi­nus the re­stric­tions – would be to pro­duce in­stru­men­tal mu­sic.

“Since it’s ab­stract sound, what you think of our mu­sic is en­tirely from your own per­spec­tive,” says Fung in an in­ter­view in Pe­tal­ing Jaya.

Even their band name Fugu car­ries mul­ti­ple mean­ings. It’s the Ja­panese name for blow­fish, which also forms the band’s logo. In Man­darin it means “retro”, and on a more per­sonal level it com­bines the “Fu” from Fung’s sur­name and “Gu” from Ng’s last name.

The avant garde elec­tron­ica duo were re­cently in town, back from a year- long hia­tus with a new al­bum.

Ear­lier this month, Fugu made a short visit to Bei­jing for a hand­ful of gigs.

Fung ex­plains it was only a hia­tus in the sense they have been phys­i­cally apart. Fung is based in New York and Ng in Pe­tal­ing Jaya. When not to­gether, Fung is a mem­ber of US- based im­pro­vi­sa­tional string quar­tet Sir­ius, while Ng is the artis­tic di­rec­tor of Toc­cata Stu­dio art space in Pe­tal­ing Jaya.

For the Fugu back­story, Fung says they were old enough to have first met on Mys­pace, when “Mys­pace was still a thing”.

They fi­nally met in per­son in 2009 dur­ing a gig in KL that both were per­form­ing at.

Fugu the band came to­gether in 2013. The duo’s first al­bum was self- ti­tled Fugu, re­leased in Aug, 2014. It fea­tured only two songs, Fugu # 1 and Fugu # 2, both more than 23 min­utes long.

Last year, Fugu re­leased the It’s You We Care About al­bum, which re­flects where the band is at the mo­ment.

Their packed sched­ules last year did not stop them from record­ing two al­bums and play­ing sev­eral shows – in New York, Taipei, Tai­wan and Malaysia.

“We felt it was the right time to re­lease It’s You We Care About. With the world in tur­moil, we want to com­fort peo­ple through some melo­di­ous noise,” says Fung, who plays the vi­o­lin, re­fer­ring to the re­cent string of ter­ror at­tacks around the world and the refugee cri­sis.

“The hearts of peo­ple are chang­ing, they need art in their lives,” he adds with a grin, self- aware of how cheesy he sounds.

Utopian dreams and themes aside, the duo ap­proached the record­ing process with mil­i­tary pre­ci­sion and a one- take phi­los­o­phy.

“There’s no way to do re­takes, ei­ther we like it or we toss it,” says Fung, sound­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously proud and dep­re­cat­ing.

It’s You We Care About was recorded at stu­dio of ex­per­i­men­tal jazz mu­sic leg­end Karl Berger in Wood­stock, New York.

It’s You We Care About, which cap­tures Fugu in di­verse and twisted move­ments, was wrapped up in just three hours.

“The al­bum was done closer to two ( hours), if you dis­count the time it took to set up,” says Ng, who plays the theremin.

The trick, Ng ex­plains, was com­ing into the stu­dio with a set of ideas.

The sound mix­ing and mas­ter­ing, he says, was the dif­fi­cult part of com­plet­ing the al­bum, some­thing the duo worked on when they were apart.

Sound files were ex­changed reg­u­larly through email, bridg­ing the dis­tance be­tween New York and Pe­tal­ing Jaya.

It’s You We Care About was done in four takes. The 72- minute long al­bum fea­tures the slow- burn­ing ti­tle track It’s You We Care About, the noise piece Equi­lib­rium, an up­beat cut Un­der The Sea’ ( no re­la­tion to The Lit­tle Mer­maid song jokes Ng), and the fi­nal track Nec­tar, an acous­tic piece.

Well, Nec­tar is as close as Fugu comes to be­ing an acous­tic act.

Fung says his vi­o­lin – run­ning through a chain of ef­fect ped­als – acted as a bridge be­tween Berger on pi­ano and Ng on theremin.

The theremin is a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment played by wav­ing one’s hands at a pair of an­tenna to pro­duce a wail­ing sound once de­scribed as “a cello lost in a dense fog, cry­ing be­cause it does not know how to get home”.

“I was at­tracted to the theremin due to it’s lack of touch. It’s a zero- g in­stru­ment that doesn’t need touch or grav­ity, which re­minds me of my child­hood dream,” says Ng, be­fore adding, “I wanted to be an as­tro­naut.”

If you re­mem­ber, Ng also pro­duced the multi- me­dia vis­ual show Ex­pe­ri­ence Space Age: Phan­tom Power in KL in 2013.

Fugu, on stage or on record, isn’t a dif­fi­cult lis­ten as you might ex­pect it to be these days. Fung ad­mits Fugu has made some changes like so­lid­i­fy­ing its themes and short­en­ing tracks.

“We worry peo­ple will lose in­ter­est in a long song. We’re a fast food cul­ture, we can’t con­sume slow things now,” he says with a sigh.

Ng is more pos­i­tive. He says mu­sic like food is a treat to the senses and lis­ten­ers are more open- minded now.

For 2016, Fung re­veals that Fugu is look­ing at be­ing more pro­duc­tive in the stu­dio. The duo is cur­rently mas­ter­ing an­other al­bum that it re­cently fin­ished record­ing, ten­ta­tively ti­tled Fugu Ev­ery­where.

For more info on Fugu, go to Face­book: “whatisFUGU”. tracks can be pur­chased on the group’s Band­camp (­ releases).

Fugu’s Fung chern Kwei ( left) and ng chor Guan plan to make 2016 a pro­lific year. Apart from core in­stru­ments like the vi­o­lin and theremin, the avant garde duo use ev­ery­thing from sound ped­als to hair dry­ers to cre­ate a unique sound. — Fugu

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