The WSK festival opens a world of possibilities for unpopular music

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A segment from the Kampung Lab rehearsal of HERESY, an art platform for women working with sound and interdisciplinary media, co-organizer of last year's WSK festival. Photo from WSK/FACEBOOK

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — “New” media takes on yet another meaning in the seventh edition of WSK, The Festival of the Recently Possible, a semi-annual gathering of local and international sound and visual artists mostly engaging in digital arts collaborations, analog workshops, and other electroacoustic festivities. Starting around 2008, WSK has been one of the few local purveyors of unpopular music tastes and unorthodox sensibilities, and is continuously growing into a community of artists, researchers, curators, hackers, technologists, and organizers looking for avenues where their works and ideas are warmly welcomed.

Sound and video are often shelved into the “unstable media” category due to their temporal nature, giving them little to no space in the market. But such challenges only inspire the festival’s growth. The spontaneity brought about by the nature of music reveals the brighter side of taking risks, as put by WSK’s festival director, Tengal Drilon. With their staple subplatform of an open-studio residency called Kampung Lab, where artists enjoy a week of freely circulating ideas, and teaching and collaborating with each other, Tengal takes advantage of probabilities. “It’s always a big risk because we don’t know what will happen, more or less, but that’s also the beauty of it,” he says.

More than an audiovisual spectacle, the festival ultimately celebrates the camaraderie of humans and machines. In its last edition, WSK gathered several artists for a human-robot orchestra called “Relay,” showcasing homemade instruments and kinetic contraptions integrated with visual performances, as a culmination of that year’s Kampung Lab. This year, Tengal has brought together the Gangan Series, an agenda built on a laptop orchestra, where participants build and explore new ways of using “digital networked performance tools to create a structured improvisational event.” This and the open studio will take place amid other subevents involving workshops, exhibits, and musical performances held at Pineapple Lab in Makati, and 98B Collaboratory in Escolta, Manila.

WSK_tugtug_ni_Tita.jpg In a celebration of the camaraderie of humans and machines, WSK 2015 gathered several artists for a human-robot orchestra called “Relay." Photo courtesy of TENGAL DRILON  

Asked about what’s different this year for WSK compared to the previous ones, “we basically don’t have money,” says Tengal. “[But] it’s also a way to prove to not just the institutions that support us but also to the communities and the other artist groups that are not afraid to do something big or at [a grand] scale — thinking that they would need a lot of money to move forward. But the idea here is that we also want to engage with more communities. Maybe to help strengthen ties or to create new ties and strengthen the community. Last year, it was more of creating giant works or the spectacle of a big festival or all of that. [But] we’re really not interested in that anymore. We’ve got nothing to prove anymore.”

In this interview, Tengal opens up about the history of WSK as well as the insights that paved the festival’s path to incorporating new breeds of young thinkers and artists along with new electronic discoveries to create that which can only be “recently possible.” Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

WSK_silhouettes.jpg "It’s the only festival that does this crazy set-up where strangers gather in a room and are forced to collaborate. That idea of not knowing what’s going to happen." Photo courtesy of TENGAL DRILON  

Why is it the “Festival of the Recently Possible?"

That’s an impossible question. Before we started with sound art and expanded to so-called media arts and new media, we didn’t [want] to call it a “new media art festival” because the term itself is problematic. How new can new media be, right? Until when is it going to be new? I think the easiest all-encompassing ambiguous tagline would be things that weren’t possible before but are now possible and kind of recent. That’s pretty much it.

It’s not a technology art festival but it’s basically also a combination of other media. It could be poets suddenly getting into generative writing aided with some technology. Things that weren’t possible, maybe in the context of the Philippines. For sure, globally, it’s always recently possible.

How was the WSK festival conceptualized?

I would say, all good things start with a joke. The playfulness of not being so serious. Sometimes, it ends up having a life of its own. [WSK] started out as a sort of mockery of Fete De La Musique. Back then, we used to call it Fete De La Wasaque in 2008. It was the time when the funds from the French embassy for Fete De La Musique [stopped coming]. Back then, it was a major festival. I think, now it’s [being] operated differently ... People were frustrated, musicians started organizing their own Fete De La Musique-inspired festivals. [So] we decided to take the opportunity and do a two-day festival of unpopular music. It kind of rebranded three times. We changed “Wasaque” to “WSK” — the only reason is just because it looks good on print, it’s not an abbreviation or anything — but we don’t really put so much thought into some of these things.

WSK_Tengal Portrait.JPG Tengal Drilon, the festival director of WSK, has travelled all over the world to collaborate with international artists and encourage them to bring their own brand of "recently possible" to our country's shores. Photo courtesy of TENGAL DRILON  

For every year of the festival, what do you always hope to achieve? What is your goal?

Well, basically Fete De La Wasaque became WSK, and then it became the Festival of the Recently Possible. It kind of changed direction in a sense where it’s no longer a prolonged joke. It’s become an important platform in the context of Manila, wherein it’s the only festival that does this crazy set-up where strangers gather in a room and are forced to collaborate — kind of like a sprinting session. That idea of not knowing what’s going to happen — the spontaneity of that environment and also the process of how these things and these people interact. Maybe they can start becoming good friends or they fall in love or whatever. That happened many times in the previous festivals.

Do you feel that responsibility to bring unpopular music to the limelight or is it more like having an avenue for unpopular music to thrive?

Initially, we just wanted to play [because] back then there were no venues for what we do. So we said “Let’s just organize our own shit.” [So when we started playing] our own gigs, eventually it kind of expanded; it became, from exclusive, to tapping to other people, organizations, or art collectives. Suddenly a lot of people in the community have something at stake now at this platform, so in a sense it’s no longer just something where we can just play.

WSK_schedule.jpg The Gangan Series and Kampung Lab will take place amid other subevents involving workshops, exhibits, and musical performances held at Pineapple Lab, Makati, and 98B Collaboratory in Escolta, Manila. Image from WSK/FACEBOOK  

What do you think the country needs now musically? Do you think there is a gap in our musical culture that can be addressed by unpopular music avenues such as WSK?

I would say that it’s the lack of exposure to the general public, or at least to the people who usually go to music gigs. After working many years in the scene, my realization is that the public has bad taste basically. They can absorb anything. Let’s say there would be 20 different sort of musical acts that come from WSK, or whatever, there would be more of that happening and the general landscape of how people view or listen to all forms of music will be more rounded.

I guess the intention at least for WSK is to just open it to a larger audience. Just to expose them, and educate them because there’s no really “scene” here. There are small scenes or a bunch of scenes, but since the beginning, our goal is to create the scene from ground up, more or less. Let’s see what will happen. Maybe the public will change the way they listen to music. Maybe some of the more popular musicians won’t be afraid to do something the public that won’t like — to take risks or to play whatever music they want. I’m sure there’s a lot of them. But some of them are kind of trapped into that system — in their success. You know who you are.

A diversity exists but people need to realize it. Is it like that?

Yeah … If there would be more exhibitions, if there would be more arts that would challenge the norms or the way people view and consume and listen to art and music, film or whatever, things would be a little bit different. People would be more susceptive and open to other forms. The artists would be able to expand and express themselves differently rather than the usual way that they know how. Experimenting — I think that’s the intention. I don’t think there is an underground. Maybe before there was. Back then when things were being run by [celebrity-based things]. Right? So I think it would be nice if you get rid of the idea of a “celebrity” or known person and then following them. More of like, it can be just anybody that you like — from some kid studying in Ateneo High School doing interesting or challenging music in his bedroom. Parang there’s “overground” na 'ata.

 

If you think about WSK, it’s not just a music festival. You don’t call it “music festival” or an “art festival,” or anything. It’s more of like the marriage of sound and visuals.

Well, that’s the initial part. The past few editions of the festival kind of attempted to open it up to people who are not even in the art scene particularly scientists, or engineers. [They] could be thinkers or whoever. So far, we’ve been working with a bunch of engineers in creating that path, to meld the crevice or the space in between art and science, and how these two communities work together or can work in similar ways.

Based on your experience, is our conception locally of unpopular music similar or different with that of other countries?

Well I guess their audiences are more mature. The tradition is longer. Specifically if we’re talking about noise music they practically invented it back in the '80s and '90s with like Merzbow and all of these guys. At least a lot of Japanese people attend like there are salary men or businessmen who watch this stuff, not specifically artists. I guess their audiences are more mature. But it’s still unpopular all over the world. Especially [since] sound is the most challenging medium for a non-art goer to appreciate. It has to grow on you, on you, and all sorts of things. I guess in one sense we share the same idea of what is unpopular and popular. Maybe for Japan the popular is Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, and the unpopular ones are Merzbow, or whatever. But at the end of the day it’s just music. It all depends on the audience that considers it. Maybe for them, that’s the popular music.

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The 2016 edition of WSK, The Festival of the Recently Possible is ongoing until Nov. 13 at Pineapple Lab, Makati. Visit the event's Facebook page for a full schedule of happenings and activities.