Posts tagged with Bangkok

The sixth and final installment of my podcast series “Bangkok is Ringing” is online now at Triple Canopy. Or, listen to it right here.

This last episode takes us through some of the distinct sonic spaces of the 2010-2011 Red Shirt protests. The diversity of these spaces tells us something important about the movement, namely that it’s heterogeneous. The language of protest movements is often compressed by the media until it fits a single index of complaint – unequal rights, no jobs, censorship – and the Red Shirt movement was no exception. But protests are rarely that simple. People have all kinds of motivations for turning to dissent, and protesters often disagree with each other. Such (very normal) internal difference (see: Wall Street, Occupy) is taken by some as a signal that movements are disorganized, or at the extreme even pointless.

We might have to work a little harder to find patterns, but there are always patterns. History, anyway, will sort things out one way or another. But we can understand a lot in our own time. In the case of the Red Shirt protests, they raged with noise always, and that noise (music, speeches, conversation, etc.) was rich in meaning. The question is, what did we hear?

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The fourth installment of the ongoing podcast series, Bangkok is Ringing, is up now at Triple Canopy.

Or listen to it right here:
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The third installment of the ongoing podcast series, Bangkok is Ringing, is up now at Triple Canopy.

Or listen to it right here:
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Sepak Takraw is a Southeast Asian sport that appears too hard for me to play. A rattan ball is volleyed over a raised net using any part of the body except the hands and arms. The name “Sepak Takraw” splits the difference between how Malaysians and Thais refer to the game.

The recording doesn’t sound like much on computer speakers, but with stereo separation (such as on headphones) the lateral motion of the volley is strongly pronounced. And the ball makes a cool noise when it rolls.

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Last week, PD and I went to a carnival near Din Daeng. The main attraction was an outdoor Lam Sing performance starring จีรพันธ์ แว่นระเว่ and วัชราภรณ์สมสุข, which was just getting good when a heavy rainfall ended the night prematurely. Here is a snippet of the show, complete with a dramatic build-up and some positive mid-song adjustments to the mix:

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Thailand’s rainy season is May to October. During these months, a handful of intense monsoon storms make the rice grow. Then from November to February, farmers reap their crops.

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The (long-delayed; sorry) second episode of “Bangkok is Ringing,” a podcast series about the politics of sound in Bangkok, is now up here at the excellent Triple Canopy. Future episodes will air ~monthly.

Enjoy!

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Isaan is the rural northeast area of Thailand, and is a major source of migrant labor for Bangkok. Transplanted Isaan natives are so numerous in the capital that there are several radio stations dedicated to their music. And more than a few of the songs on those stations are precisely about the difficulties of migration.

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Give it enough time and attention, and anything will become musical.

The same sounds, repeated again and again, compel us to hear melodies and rhythms we usually ignore. Say the same word the same way fifteen times out loud – cookiecookicookiecookiecookiecookiecookicookiecookiecookiecookiecookicookiecookiecookie – and you’ll begin to hear it in new ways. It will seem both more and less familiar, more and less strange. You’ll notice pitch and texture irrespective of meaning.

A visit to the Bangkok Metropolitan Electricity Authority reminded me of this effect two weeks ago. You can usually pay your electric bill at the nearest 7-11, but if you’re delinquent like I was this month, you have to brave the buses on busy Rama IV Road and haul it over to the central office.

When I went, there were at least one hundred people chatting and killing time in the waiting room. I took a number. The process was so efficient that the automated voice was calling numbers in direct, almost uninterrupted succession for minutes at a time. I made this recording while waiting for my number:

For each announcement, the automated female voice began by saying Maai Laehk, which means “number.” Maai has a rising tone; you say it by starting from a low pitch and ending on a higher one. Laehk has a falling pitch; you start with a high pitch and end on a low one. Next, the voice announces the number, and since different Thai numbers have different tones, this introduces some variation. Then she says Deern Tawng, which means (roughly) “walk to.” Deern has a middle tone; you say it without any special inflection. Tawng has a falling tone. Finally, the voice announces the number of the desk that’s just opened up. Then back to the beginning.

The sameness/predictability of the announcement brings out the music in the automated voice, especially if you listen for it. In the middle of a tremendously boring situation, this kind of hearing can be a defense mechanism, a way of stepping away mentally for a moment.

Fashioning political analogies out of allusions to local religion, cycle and repetition have become a trope in recent reports from Bangkok. The reporters ask: is any of this really new? Is this place trapped in a cycle of suffering?

I’ll ask a different question: Are people hearing music here now? And answer it: yes, but music is not always beautiful.

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Wat Dhammakaya, just north of Bangkok, is one of the largest Buddhist temples in the world. Built in 1970, it is the epicenter of Dhammakaya Buddhism, a large, rapidly growing, and at times controversial sect. Architecturally, Wat Dhammakaya is a palace for the age of mass media.


The UFO-like Chedi (inner memorial hall)

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