“Ah no one’s got the time
to stop’n think about gentle things”
_ Gulten Akin, Turkish poet
Even the music with politic or resistence notions is still inevitably a commodity, this does not, or should not, make us forget that we are in need of digging for those stay away from the space of entertainment for the masses. a world wondered full hails from Thailand with its strong politic trouble. Yes, it is dressed as a modern post rock group with mysterious aesthetics to a certain point but as you can read from the answers, they seem to stand just in the middle of solidarity. Take the example of “guerilla performance” in the marketplace below, there is a trying of opening a path from tradition to present there, and for sure, we find them to be careful about not to take the horrendous and pain of the people in struggle for human rights and making it somehow consumable, so as here, as members of a word wondered full underlines, we should hold each other, to see the hope in small things, to share a common history together.
– Baris Yarsel
[Futuristika!] What do you consider the most challenging difficulty for you to create your music? How did you resist those obstacles?
[COREY] Personally the biggest obstacle for me has been my own mental health and my seemingly always-shifting living conditions over the years. I want to believe in what I am doing and do what I love with people that I believe in. And I want to live as honest and gentle a life as possible. I came to the conclusion a long time ago that if something isn’t supporting this aspect of my life, music included, then it probably doesn’t belong in it. If music doesn’t make me healthier and more complete as a human, then I don’t want to take part in music anymore. There are past aspects of my life that I have resigned from for this very reason. I am glad that music and sound are something that is still incredibly supportive aspects of my life.
[THOMAS] Probably the biggest challenge for me is finding the time and getting started. Once I started it’s usually a bigger challenge to stop cause there’s always something else to do – something else to try. I’ll often go most of the day without eating if I’m on a good roll. It’s like a positive feedback loop where the longer I stay in that headspace, the more I feel compelled to stay. There’s also a real balancing act between everyday life responsibilities and creating music that is a challenge to manage. As I’ve taken on more responsibilities in my life, the ability to manage that balance has become harder. Recently, I’ve gone back to school full time and been working a normal job part time and that has been a huge suck on my time to create music. Sometimes I’m not able to resist these obstacles haha. For the most part though, I try to take advantage of the time off from responsibilities that I have. Right now I’m between some classes and so I’m trying to crank out some more work on the record we are working on right now. Those times don’t come often enough, so I make sure I have little else on my plate so I can do a deep dive into the music.
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What kinds of things inspire your works? They are beautifully dark to us. Has your style always been like this, or how did it evolve?
[COREY] I can only really speak towards what I contribute. All the work that I provide for AWWF is directly from my day-to-day life and has always been informed in that way. I have had a habit for a long time of recording sound around me on field recorders and documenting things I see/hear in various forms of media. To understate things, I think we are living through pretty bleak times. Again, I can only speak for my living situation, which here in Thailand we have been living under military dictatorship rule for years now that has been supported by the Thai monarchy royal family. If anyone says anything directly or indirectly against the royal family, then they risk being charged with “Lèse-majesté” law and the military has exploited this for their own gain as well.
Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code states it is illegal to defame, insult, or threaten the king, queen, heir-apparent, heir-presumptive, or regent. The military that overthrew the government most recently on 22 May 2014 and has since joined with the royal family to undermine democracy has been complicit in using this law (and many others that are continuously being drafted and passed by the military appointed government) to form Thailand in their own vision for the elite. So far they have done this through state sponsored assassination, corruption, police brutality against peaceful protestors, breaking human rights violations, censoring of speech and all forms of media, suppressing free and just elections, among countless other acts. Our neighbors in Myanmar are facing similar realities currently with their military overthrowing the government as well. People disappear here and others are rotting in prisons. These are dark times for many people here. But speaking from my own perspective, there is also so much beauty too, beauty in the things that despite so much abuse, still find ways to stand and carry on through it all or even after death. I find hope in that. Hope in the small things. Because that’s all we have now here. Small things. Really, really, really small things to hold on to that we can call our own and share with each other and try to protect, with and through each other. The state can take away a lot, but there are some things that can’t be beaten or shot or strangled out of you. Those are the things that interest me. And those are the things that have informed how I now think about and play music, and more importantly, how I am trying to navigate through my life now.
[THOMAS] Yeah, our style has always been pretty dark I would say. It’s been nothing that we have consciously gone into a project saying, “Yeah lets focus on the darker aspects of life,” but usually it just comes out like that. The themes just seem to come from the world that each of us live in and walk through. At some point once things have become more cohesive regarding the direction of the project, we discuss what’s actually going on with this album and focus it out. Usually it’s just darker stuff. We’re not celebrating the darkness cause I don’t feel that’s something we should really put on a pedestal, but I think it’s just about confronting a lot of difficult themes that people rarely want to think about or acknowledge that are in the world. No one really wants to take that look into the darkness, but it’s necessary to see what’s going on behind the veil. It’s cathartic in a lot of ways. It’s a little like grieving over a loss. Unless you really let it come out, it’ll just eat you from the inside.
One can say Godspeed You! Black Emperor is an obvious influence. Can you name some non-obvious influences on your music?
[COREY] All the current and past members of AWWF have influenced and taught me a lot about music and living, particularly Thomas. Classical music and film (and film score) are probably the most influential for me on a creative level. “Arvo Pärt – Tabula rasa” is the one work I return to over and over, which never ceases to impress and amaze me in ways that I don’t really know how to put into words without feeling strange or disappointed.
For film, “Last Life In the Universe” is very much like putting a mirror to my life.
For current influence, my friend Olin’s project “Bare Wire Son” is releasing a new album called “Off Black”. Olin’s way of working with sound and thoughts about it has grown to influence a lot of how I am working with things in my own ways as well. He comes from things at a very different angle than I do a lot of the time and being able to discuss deeply about his process through things has helped me a lot. He is a solid guy.
[THOMAS] Honestly, for someone who makes music that isn’t immediately satisfying – in a traditional manner at least, I really listen to a lot of immediately satisfying music and pull from those as influences. A lot of Father John Misty, Bonobo, a lot of Lofi beat tapes, Boards of Canada. So much down-tempo and beat focused music for someone who mainly writes post rock haha. I’ll hear little things here and there in the music I listen to and try to keep those things in my brain to try and modify them into our style of music. On the album we are currently working, I’ve been trying to pull a lot more influence from doom jazz artists like Bohren & der Club of Gore, and The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble. Just trying to create atmosphere and moods rather than builds on builds that have become our typical flow. There’re parts where I tried to channel Oneohtrix Point Never’s track “Love in the Time of Lexapro”. That’s been on repeat for a long time for me. I’m always trying to chase down Grails’ feel on “Burden of Hope” and condense that into our music. It’s something I probably won’t ever get right though, haha.
How has reaction been to your music outside of Thailand (and in there maybe)?
[COREY] For the most part, it has seemed pretty positive about what little we have heard. We are not very popular inside or outside of Thailand, and we have pretty much just focused since the beginning on just making things we are interested in to the best of our abilities with whatever little resources or support we have, regardless of who takes notice or how it is received to other people. We have made it a point to continue to try to improve and slowly invest in things that would help us attain this vision of higher quality results as resources allowed too. But regardless of what equipment or reception we have for the things made, we will always just figure out how to make the best of whatever situation we are all dealt in life at that moment. If we want to all play together, we will find a way to do it, and we will do so in a way that makes sense to us all regardless of what the outside expectation is for what we are doing. We have operated in this mindset since day one and continue to today.
[THOMAS] For the most part, it seems like the people who will give us a listen generally enjoy it. We definitely don’t make music for a wide swathe of people. So the people who find us are usually looking for something like us. We’ve found several Russian people torrenting our music, so I guess Russians dig it enough to try and give it out for free haha. From the reactions I’ve gotten, the music really is a love it or hate it kind of thing. Many people have this notion that music has to be pleasant on the ears and are pretty turned off when they hear some noisier sounds we put on the records. Overall, I’ve never heard too many complaints about it, so I think we are doing something right.
We have seen you played saw (need to say, there is “Kemenche” in Turkey so familiar folk instrument but with a bit softer sound) in a marketplace. This brings a question: In the countries that have military occupation like Turkey, Thailand or others, it is observed that folk music has always been an instrument to resistance. What do you say on this from your experience? Thinking all oppressive politics take their credits or rights from “people”, how do you see the relation/or support of people to revolutionary music?
[COREY] I am the one who plays Saw U. I think Thailand is interesting in that the relationship with traditional Thai instruments with the younger Thai generation now clearly reflects a deep point in a lot of aspects of society here on a lot of levels. Most Thai people look at a Saw U and think that it is not cool at all, almost even embarrassing antiquated way or as an object that isn’t of any modern relevance. And this perspective is for good reason. In Thai traditional music, deviation from traditional norms, modification to instruments expected construction/design, etc. are not really allowed or tolerated by most traditionally trained Thai musicians. Even something as simple as using it to play in other genre of music, it is extremely rare. This ‘gatekeeping’ mentality of the old generation has been the bullet to the brain of traditional Thai instruments for younger people here. Older Thais utterly and completely refuse to allow the younger generation to explore for themselves what value something like Saw U can have for themselves and if that value is worth protecting and thus then passing on to future generations. If the younger generation could indeed find their own worth and value that was relevant to their own lives, then there would be a vibrant culture of that continuing and growing tradition. But instead it has been beaten into everyone’s flesh here that these instruments are meant to be played very precisely for a very specific function with little to no room for any removal of rigidity.
So when we come back to your initial question about the ‘voice’ of the people reflected through music, ‘folk’ here is directly borrowed from the USA protest movements and consists most often of acoustic guitars being played or the like. Rap and Hip Hop is another form that has really clicked with younger Thais as well because they look at it as liberating compared to the rigid expression impressed on them from older generations and tradition. Myanmar youth has embraced this form of music as well. You can see this song which has become the anthem of their fight against their military now to understand the type of style I am talking about:
When I learned Saw U, I learned alone, by myself in my tiny room at nights after long hours of work, on my own time. If anyone knew what my intention was to play the type of music, I now play with it, I would not have been met with any support from anyone in my community. I would have had to pretend that I wanted to follow strictly the Thai tradition and pay my respects to that tradition, so much of which is centered on the royal family and nationalism or hyper conservatism and/or religion here. So I taught myself. On my own terms. And just like every other ‘traditional’ art in Thailand, there is little to no information about how to learn it yourself due to common practice of refusing to share knowledge openly and constantly try to guard it from being stolen or used by people that are deemed as not deserving it (often people of lower class /low morals or in some cases women for some areas of Thai culture).
I could have easily played violin or another classical instrument, but I deliberately have made a point of becoming as proficient as possible in playing traditional Thai instruments in direct opposition to this. I see this as a symbol for a lot of feelings I have in relation to a lot of levels of culture here. It is also startling for Thai people to see me play live and play/record the music I do with it. I could talk about this topic for a long time, as it is really important to me and critical in a lot of ways, so I’m sorry if I am taking up too much space in text for this. It’s for this reason that nearly nothing new is coming out of anything related to traditional Thai instruments here that are really pushing boundaries, politics included or aside, for an extremely long time. The only exception I can think of to this is with Isaan music, as they are very proud and open of their instruments (Phin, Khan, etc.) that they often use in protest openly but they are also the victims of very vicious racism from the rest of Thailand as often being labeled lower-class citizens.
Can you elaborate Isaan people’s struggle and music?
[COREY] The struggle of the Isaan people in Thailand has been one that has spanned over many years. Foremost, I would like to make a point to state that I am not an Isaan person, and thus I cannot and do not want to speak for their struggle. But I can share my opinions on the history of their people from my perspective. I just want to clarify that due to the fact that the Isaan people have been silenced and ‘spoken for’ for so many years, I do not at all want to disrespect or be disingenuous towards their culture or tradition. I don’t think you can really talk about music from Isaan, or any art without really understanding their history.
In the past, the area that is now labeled as ‘Isaan’ was often a zone that was very unstable during many periods, being conquered or ravaged through almost everyone surrounding it. During the period of history where the Thai monarchy was attempting to unify Thailand into one people, Isaan was treated horribly. To understand the struggle of the Isaan people, you also have to understand that a lot of the land is not fertile, and contains high levels of salt in the soil, rendering it useless for most agricultural processes. From the very start, their amount of resources that were available to allow them to develop and even negotiate for better privilege within their own country was at an extreme disadvantage. To add to this, the royal family sought to keep them poor and dependent on them through refusing to develop better living conditions, public transport, welfare programs, etc. which further crippled them as history crawled on. It wasn’t until the Vietnam War when the USA troops built military bases in Isaan, that the royal family and government finally caved and had to build highways and develop the area so that the USA military could move supplies, ammunition, and other military needs for their troops. Had the Vietnam War not happened, and the USA not demanded the need to have modern standards of transport to the area, Isaan most likely would be in an even less developed state than it is now. They have always been left behind.
Another critical point to note in Isaan’s history is the relationship between communism and the Isaan people. There was one serious point in Thailand’s history where the king and royal family waged full out war against the spread of communism across the country, most of its efforts focused in the North (where I live) and also in Isaan. This period is absolutely horrifying in Thai history. The royal family, military, and government labeled communists as creatures that were less than animals and slaughtered anyone who refused to renounce their ideals. This is a very little-known fact, but so many of the modern road systems and highways that were developed in the North of Thailand around my home and other provinces into the mountains were done to track and reach communist communities and destroy them. The military and royal family also did this to flush out minority groups and indigenous peoples as well. I have one friend who over the past few years has traveled to many of these communities and interviewed the few remaining people that have survived from that era. Some of them still live alone in the mountains, afraid to come back into society or simply because they have given up on the world. For the Isaan people, this was also true. Many people were killed, put in prison to rot, beaten, raped, etc. for simply being suspected of being communists. Because of this period and the generational trauma it inflicted, the people of Isaan have also forever carried this dark history of persecution from the royal family that many elders have passed on to younger generations today. Most of Thailand has this false ideology that the royal family are divine figures that are free of sin and absolutely pure. But the people of Isaan know first hand how this propaganda is absurd after losing so many lives over so many generations at the violent hands of the royal family.
One important point to note about the Isaan people is also their identity. I have spoken already about how this identity has been informed by history, geography, and also communism, but one thing that non-Thai speaking people won’t immediately understand is that the Isaan people have their own dialect that is nearly impossible for any other area of Thailand to understand. A tiny amount of vocabulary can be picked out, but the overwhelming majority of it is not understood by the central dialect speakers (the general Bangkok area, which is the dialect of what the government considers ‘real Thais’ and is the official dialect broadcast on the radio, tv, print publications, etc.). Their dialect shares more similarity with Laos than it does with Thai in a lot of ways. When Isaan people speak their local dialect, other Thai people immediately know where they are from. Out of all the dialects in Thai language, Isaan is by far probably the most looked down on. Not only for the dialect itself but also many Thai people look down on Isaan people’s jobs/class and also their skin color. By this I mean that due to the poor living conditions in a lot of rural Isaan, many people move out of Isaan into larger cities to find work and send money home to their families. The work they find is everything from prostitution, cleaning, manual labor, and just about any other job that other Thai people would label as ‘disgusting’ or ‘beneath them’. Because of how Isaan people look physically and their darker skin color, other Thai people also discriminate and are racist against them as well. Even without speaking, many people can immediately guess that you are Isaan simply from your facial features or darker skin tone.
So as you can see, the identity of Isaan people is much different from the central area of Bangkok. But the royal family and government have done everything in their power to erase their history and culture from them without success (including their music). This is very similar to other areas of Thailand too, including the North and also the South (which is majority Muslim and has tried for many years to secede from Thailand after being dominated by the royal family for their natural resources). It wasn’t until maybe 10 or so years ago that the Northern Thai Dialect was allowed taught in schools. Not only has the royal family starved Isaan of their own language, but also the opportunities for higher education for people in areas like Isaan have also been abysmal as well. Even the tax system was set up to feed only the central Thais (Bangkok). I guess you could translate it as a sort of ‘State Tax’ here, Thai people all pay money to their province, their province sends that money to Bangkok, and then Bangkok decides how much to send back to each state after keeping a lot of the money for themselves. All the provinces basically do not get equal rewards for their own tax revenue. Bangkok government, and thus the military and royal family, reap the largest benefit at the expense of the poor provinces like Isaan (and also my province Chiang Rai in the North).
So now, after talking about these basic points, I think you can see more clearly how the people of Isaan have such a deep history and culture within themselves to draw music from. And just like their culture, their music is not respected as being culturally valuable or important by people from Bangkok (aka high culture). But local Isaan people love and celebrate their own instruments and music. Their own ‘folk’ music is very much alive and vibrant, and has welcomed in the younger generation to participate and help move their cultural heritage forward. The two most popular instruments used in Isaan music are Phin and also Khan. I own and play Phin myself too.
I would recommend you to see the film of the Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, ‘Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives’. Apichatpong has always been fascinated with Isaan culture, and in this film he uses the Isaan dialect for the entire thing. When it was first released, it was given many international awards, but in Thailand it was looked at like it was trash by normal Thai people. Apichatpong is one of the most important directors in Thailand, in my opinion for many reasons. His movies deal with so many issues and layers of Thai society so beautifully. He is also a very lonely, because his own nation has never accepted him for his work even though internationally he is respected as being one of the most talented directors of his generation. Thai people have always abandoned him, and I guess that he will never see acceptance in his lifetime by the general public. His films are still censored here as well.
“We all can hold hope so long as we are willing to take moments to embrace each other with open hands, open hearts, and open minds while we are all doing and going through that honest work. The pause and the evaluation can be as important as the actual work itself.”
After the new reality of Web 2.0 and handy cams, do you think we can talk about an “Audio-activism” that follows the paths of well observed “video-activism”? Would you agree your unique narrative comes from this point? Reference “Instrument as a tool for digging…”
[COREY] I think I care more about what happens in real life. By this I mean that if something aids real world change, then I am most likely for it. Anything can be postulated, theorized, etc. but until it is taken and made into a real world action, it doesn’t amount to anything outside of that artificial bubble that the marathon of words it is happening in.
I had a professor that used a phrase that has stuck with me. He said while discussing philosophy that ‘eventually, at some point, it has to leave the armchair’. By this he meant that no matter how great the gymnastics you could do in your mind sitting alone in your armchair with your own thoughts, eventually you had to get up, leave your chair, and exit your home into the real world to see if your armchair experiment held any real world truth. Everything has its place, and things relating to the internet fit into that, but at the end of the day despite whatever music I play or how I present myself online or otherwise, or even how other people label that, I still need to be there for the people and things I love in real life. I need to invest time. I need to invest effort, real sweat and tears and love and labor. I need to invest actions. Or I need to invest in refusing my action towards something. It doesn’t matter how much money or influence I have, if I can’t invest something that requires me to take part in the here and now, then I don’t see how I can expect any real world change towards the things I desire to change.
If more online means of action (or in your question, activism) served first and foremost the purpose of actual real life action, labor, and consequence, I think that the world would be a vastly different place than what it currently is today. Art, and by extension music, doesn’t and hasn’t ever changed anything in the world in and of itself. I would be kidding myself to think anything otherwise or put such weight or ego on any of it.
[THOMAS] I think our music is partially used as an instrument for activism as well as just exploring darker themes like we touched on before. We often use samples of protests and events that are currently happening in the world to shed some light on the situations of the people who would listen. All of our records have seemed to have some kind of political swing to them in some shape or form. More so in recent albums, as things have heated around the globe. In the grand scheme of audio activism inside web 2.0/social media, I think audio will always take a back seat to visuals just because people are such visual creatures and I think respond better to visuals. That being said, I think it’s becoming more of a vital part inside any activism going on inside social media. Especially as artists branch out and become more than just a visual or musical artist and start making the entire package themselves. Most people who come in contact with our music and dig around a little can come to see what we stand for, whether it be through the liner notes of our albums or just through our album or track titles.
Can you tell about the band members’ any other side projects to create inner depths for the readers?
[THOMAS] Arthur Hatteras:
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[AKITSU] Solo Jazz performances:
[OLIN] Bare Wire Son:
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[YUI] Yui Cello:
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What do you expect as a next step? Musically, personally and for people. What should be done?
[COREY] Music, we are almost finished tracking our next album that we started last year. Personally, I have a list of things I am working on and am slowly seeing improvements, though slowly is the key word. Mainly just trying not to fall off the deep end and keep my hands steady at the wheel, like most people I know currently. For People, I am trying to invest in the people around me that I love and believe in and give them the time they deserve in the ways I can find that work mutually. I want to see their success and help them with their failures too. I want to share a common history together and know that we now share those intersections together forever. I also want to take better care of myself in the process too. This isn’t so much a ‘next step’ as it is a series of continuous steps that I seem to always be falling through and trying to maintain and monitor.
[THOMAS] Just to grow really – not growth for growth’s sake, but to grow with a purpose and turn oneself and the world into something they’re proud to be a part of.
Last question was a reference to the book of Lenin, “What is it to be done?” apart from politics meaning, this is a question airing in our heads all the time.
[COREY] This is something I think about a lot . And it is utterly overwhelming at times. But there are a lot of small steps that I have taken that I feel have allowed me to slowly grasp better in what ways I should approach such a question. I think it was Albert Camus that said “Seeking what is true is not seeking what is desirable.” I find this very fitting because a lot of the things I have come to realize that “should be done” are not at all deemed as desirable, or by extension, easy. But in the end, they need to be done. One such thing for example is my realizing a while ago that apathy has no room in my life. An old friend of mine who is a very talented artist that I respect and look up to a lot named Pat Perry, wrote a small statement for one of his exhibitions called ‘National Lily Pond Songs’. This was his statement that I think of often lately that resonates with me. Maybe it will speak to you as well:
Pat Berry – CYNICISM IS A WEAK CONVENTION THAT LACKS IMAGINATION.
I think one of the most important parts of this question of what is to be done is the fact that however you choose to answer it for yourself, we all can hold hope so long as we are willing to take moments to embrace each other with open hands, open hearts, and open minds while we are all doing and going through that honest work. The pause and the evaluation can be as important as the actual work itself. That to me is one of the most beautiful parts of Gulten Akin’s poem you introduced me. The last line that in english reads:
"From across the stream over yonder Some will whistle, we’ll sound it back."
There is tremendous hope and beauty in that expression. The calling out and returning that call.
The work done alone is not done for us alone. ✪