Musician and sound artist based in Antwerp, raised in Bangkok.
Who has previously lived and worked in North America and Western Europe
Photo by Suphakorn Buayangtoom
5 July 2019
Text by Thanart Rasanon
Edited by Dhyan Ho
'The Secret of Mountains and Tropical Fruits' begins with a synth pad and arpeggiator running a smooth sine wave tone with a beautiful oriental melody in the first track named “Below 1000m” after listening to the entire album I felt melody and chords were used in this album more than her previous ones. With inspiration from the Chinese book, The Classic of Mountains and Seas, made this album easily carry the listener to somewhere amongst the East Asian mountains and infinite universe hidden in the tropical jungles.
Liew Niyomkarn, sound artist and musician who also working with drawings, found objects, essays, video and clay. Currently based in Antwerp, Belgium. She was born and raised in Thailand, an ex-member of Thai electronic bands such as “Mahajamreon” and the “Gene Kasidit” band.
From the late 2000s, she relocated to New York then moved to Los Angeles to participated in the California Institute of the Arts for Experimental Sound Practices program where she met many important mentors and friends. Then she moved to Europe and continued her art practice and also worked as a freelance sound designer, foley artist and music composer for film, advertising and events.
Her recorded works mostly play with field recordings and SuperCollider as tools for creating sound art and music. Recent artworks include: “Object-theater performance” at Samenchool, Antwerp; “Groenfeest & Oparatie Steenbreek”, Moerwijk Festival at Helicopter, Den Haag, Netherlands; “Puffy Jellyfish”; “Medicine For a Nightmare”, group show, Kunstkring, Den Haag; and “Life/from”. Her performances often express a sense of flexibility and impermanent behavior. Liew has performed in notable places like High Zero festival (Baltimore), BetaLevel (Los Angeles), Studio Loos (Den Haag), WORM (Rotterdam), Het Bos (Belgium), DAAD (Berlin), The Wulf (Los Angeles). She has also collaborated with artists such as Mint Park, Tsubasa Hori and Inne Eysermans.
Sound Walk at Bang Kra Chao
I recently participated in The Forest Curriculum, soundwalk workshop that you hosted, can you tell me how you get involved with this project, and what we were doing?
My latest project was a soundwalk and listening practice that took place in Bang Kachao. I led about 20 participants to walk through the botanical garden park and did an ecological listening practice. I was invited by Palin Asusinha, a co-founder of Moom Mong collective, to join The Forest Curriculum which is curated by Pujita Guha and Abhijan Toto. It was an enjoyable experience to do collective walking and listening with a group of people. Bang Kachao has a unique, authentic sense of life. It's not far away from Bangkok, but it feels contrasting.
Most people have never been to the area, including me, so it was a little adventurous trip for me also.
I really enjoyed your latest album, 'The Secret of Mountains and Tropical Fruits', it was smooth and relaxed but still had an experimental sense to it. Can you tell me about the background of this album? You were inspired by a novel, The Classic of Mountains and Seas, why did you choose this novel? Can you also explain the process and equipment that you used to record it? Were you using SuperCollider? Also, interesting your voice in this album.
I was inspired by the classic Chinese book, The Classic of Mountains and Seas. It was given to me as a birthday gift, and I was hooked by it because the text is blatantly repetitive. Each chapter talks about the cardinal direction of mountains and element in each hill, like geological creature, food, and medicine. The more I went through the book I got lost in geological fantasy. It’s amazing!
About gears and sound sources, I used sounds from SuperCollider, field recording, electric guitar, Alesis Ion, Alesis Micron, Access Virus TI2, and TC-Helicon vocoder for voice.
Where did the idea of album cover come from?
I didn’t have any ballgame. I wanted the cover to project a smooth, bright tone. Those two blue 3d printing objects I made when I was in a residency at Overtoon.
This album has an easier listening element than your previous albums. How come?
I think it goes back in time. It’s like a retrograde forward step. I started with making pop music, then noise music, I wrote texts, graphic scores for people to play in my piece and electroacoustic music and now the whole thing is looping back but with a different approach and expression.
Liew Niyomkarn - Nº 3 [tonestrukt] (2017)
You studied at the California Institute of the Arts in Experimental Sound Practices. Why did you choose this place to study? And why do you choose to stay abroad long term?
At that time, I was in NYC working as a freelance composer and in a restaurant. After working with commercial music for years back. I was ready to invest my time and energy to making art and expand my practice.
I applied for CalArts because the ESP program was open for interdisciplinary study looked like fun to me. And also, I liked their website haha. I found out that Stephanie Cheng Smith, an ex-ESP folk, made the website. She also makes incredible music. After I graduated, I stayed in L.A. for a few years before moving to Europe. It’s the community and friends that keeps the ball rolling everywhere I go. I left L.A for three years now, but I still have a tight connection with friends and the city. Most of my favorite people still live there.
Now, I live in Antwerp. I started a collective with another three artists. Our brand-new space is called Drome Collective. Sound artist and musician, Inne Eysermans and I also have a music/radio project called Velma Spell.
What’s special about the city is that it is ethnically diverse, especially in Borgerhout where I live. People live together, help each other. They don’t have to be friends, but they can live together. I find that disarming. Oh, and the music scene in Belgium is pretty good too.
Photo by Suphakorn Buayangtoom
Having extensively performed live and exhibited in Asia, North America and Europe over many years, can you talk about your first gig or exhibition in your life? And also a recent gig or exhibition? How was it in comparison, how have you developed?
My first gig was in L.A and the latest was at Jam cafe in Bangkok. I feel more at ease now when I perform, but always nervous and excited every time.
Which teachers, professors or friends have been really important and motivated you?
I was lucky and definitely feel grateful to have studied with Mark Trayle. Trayle was also my mentor and opened me up to new compositional techniques and inspirations in life in general. The label 'a wave press' just released Trayle’s beautiful album. Everybody should check it out. I have had awesome people who have helped me pave the way to what I do now, like Sara Roberts, Clay Chaplin, Justin Bennett, Scott Cazan, and my friends who I keep in touch with these days.
Besides music and sound, you are also interested in sculpting, how did you start an interest in this?
I wanted to do either sculpting or music but I ended choosing a musical path. So now I’m learning new skills along the way. It’ll come together one day. I hope. I think there's no walk in the park to understand why you do what you do.
Groenfeest & Operatie Steenbreek // Moerwijk festival at Helicopter, Den Haag, NL
How did you start your interest in outdoor survival and global warming?
I always liked outdoor activities. I thought it would be hands-on and useful to know when bad things happen, so I took WFR ( Wilderness First Response) with Wildmed in 2015, and I loved it. It strengthened my confidence being out there and boosted up my skills. I started to visit outdoor gear shops when I traveled and fascinated by the functionality of our door gears. This course encouraged me to do more filed recording in remote places or deep in the wood. Engaging with nature makes me aware of what is happening on our planet, human, and earth history. It’s unfortunate that ocean animal species are extinct, and industries have been excessively utilizing energy sources like fossil fuels. I’m curious to see a new mode of living in the post-capitalism period.
Can you tell me about your future plan for your life and work?
I want to play more music, record nature sounds and perform in other artists’ works, do more collaborative work, and play more sports. I’m also making an installation about water right now. Yes, life is good.
Courtesy of Liew Niyomkarn
Follow Liew Niyomkarn
Favorite Music Artists
Anna Luisa Petrisko
Favorite Music Albums
Maggi Payne – Ahh-Ahh (Music For Ed Tannenbaum's Technological Feets 1984-1987)
Plantasia - Mort Garson
Civilian - Wye Oak
De Natura Sonorum - Bernard Parmegiani (Singles)
Early tape Works - Kuniyuki Takahashi
Wild Wild Country
Angel of Bar 21
Shooting Location : Bang Ka Chao, Bangkok & Tentacles Art Gallery