comforting sounds

This is one of the rare occasions in which I feel the cover goes beyond the original song, giving it a whole new dimension and interpretation.

The harmonisation of piano keys and various strings, together with Birdy’s vocals at her best and most haunting, results in what I consider to be her best, although not most well-known cover performance. I’m not the biggest fan of Birdy, although I think she has a pretty decent and impressive voice. But this choice of song completely takes her vocals to a new level.

And that’s really saying a lot, considering how this original song by Danish band Mew is a composition I really revere and enjoy.

This particular song called Comforting Sounds, while not entirely accurate to simply label as my favourite song of all time, holds a very special meaning in my heart. It has been with me through a lot of key moments in my life. I believe we all have that one song in our lives.

Which is why this OOH campaign by Spotify (“Thanks 2016, it’s been weird.”) is one of my favourite examples of advertising. It is also a exemplary case of how useful insights can be extracted from numbers and data to create meaningful messages to connect with people:

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See the rest of the brilliant campaign here

The song Comforting Sounds begins with the lyrics “I don’t feel alright…despite all the comforting sounds that you make.” 

That’s the opening line that gives the title its name, but truth is, the entire track is an amazing hypnotic mixture of comforting sounds – both the original version and Birdy’s strings rendition.

This is my go-to therapy song whenever I need to feel that it’s ok not to be okay, just like last night when I was sitting at the bay of the Singapore River, staring at the golden glitter of light reflections in the rippling waters, until my vision became a blur of starlight.

Often it’s the moments we share with a song that gives it meaning, as though it were a person by our side, from which we gain solace and calm amidst anxiety, sorrow, and many other emotions language cannot find names for.

The most amazing thing about this song is how it’s a full nine-minute track, of which the later two-thirds have no vocals, only pure instrumental beauty. Yet it doesn’t feel that long, in fact, not long enough maybe, for I always get this feeling of lingering yearning at the end, as the cymbals come to a crash. It’s a feeling of knowing something inevitably has to end, and accepting and anticipating it, yet not without a wishful thinking for the moment to go on forever.

It’s also the song that first got me to encounter and fall in love with the genre of post-rock, because of the layers upon layers of instruments and sounds that build up gradually in a canon, as though painting on a canvas. Listening to songs like these feels like walking through a journey.

Leaving this post with a beautifully shot black and white film of their live performance in Beijing 2015, as I look forward to their concert in Singapore on Sunday. Thank you for coming to Singapore it is really an unexpected and joyful surprise :,)

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and these are some of my favourite things

Here are some of the best reads among all books i’ve read, for different reasons:

The Lover’s Dictionary for its creative concept and bittersweet honesty about love, which is actually not cliched for once

Nocturnes for the imagery and melancholic atmosphere woven magically by words about the night

Frank Sinatra Has a Cold for the witty prose by a journalist, and his candid observations and interesting encounters with people from all walks of life

The Great Gatsby for Fitzgerald’s powerful writing, building up to that famous last line

A House in the Sky for its social importance, truths about human morality and the workings of fundamentalism that is so relevant and vital to understand, from a first person perspective of a survivor

The Kite Runner for similar reasons, and also class division in a society and how it impacts individuals from young. And also its sharp examination of how good and evil, kindness and cruelty are often filled with ambivalence

Sightseeing for a local understanding of Thai society, and the social and cultural issues entrenched in not just Thailand, but also other Asian cultures, as well as more deep-rooted human dilemmas we can all relate to

Never Let Me Go for its startling yet humanising portrayal of a very controversial ethical topic even till today, and even more shocking if you read the book without having watched the movie (no spoilers here)

The Little Prince because…I don’t even want to say anything because this is THE book everyone should read, especially adults, although it seems like a children’s picture book. No book has ever hit me so hard with such abstract simplicity about human nature and the workings of society. And the fact that the writer wrote it at his most jaded…having been through war as a fighter pilot. And also the fact that he wrote it as a children’s book with deceptive simplicity……….

1Q84 because of its crazy mind-bending plot across multiple genres that somehow all weaves together in the end, and also because it doesn’t have a depressing ending for once in a Murakami novel (lol)

Lastly Nineteen Eighty-four because of how insanely accurate and relevant it still is today, and because it examines the nature, purpose and power of language and writing itself, as a tool for constructing knowledge and living a meaningful life. As well as one million other social and political issues – definitely not just another dystopian novel.

Also including the clever cover design update from Penguin Books – a perfect example of how the medium can be the message.

Happy reading everyone!

Black, white & everything in between

“We are shaped by our past, but not defined by it.”

My close friends have told me that what they appreciate most about me is my empathy, combined with my uncanny ability to articulate very precisely what they are feeling or going through in different situations or moments in time. As such, they also mention how they are amazed at the way I somehow naturally get people to open up to me very easily and early on in a friendship, themselves included.

In the past few months, I’ve gotten close to a colleague at my workplace, and gained a precious friendship – precious because it is not always easy to make friends in a work setting.

It has been my personal wish to make one good friend that goes beyond working relations at every place I work, which I have succeeded at it twice, both of them designers. It’s strange how copywriters and designers always seem to attract each other, and with these two designers, I share a very satisfying and productive creative chemistry.

This new friend I have made at my workplace was initially someone I perceived as completely different in personality and nature. And I guess in a way, she still is. Where I am empathetic and forgiving, she imposes high expectations on herself, and as a result, others around her. Where she is methodical, efficient and super organised, I am laid back and less meticulous.

People around us were quite intimidated by her, for she was often very direct and straightforward, and was perceived as no-nonsense and quite unapproachable. But I went ahead and talked to her anyway – and I don’t always do this, because I am an introvert. It takes a lot to approach someone I don’t know.

I never imagined I would be able to connect with someone so different from myself, but somehow, she shared some personal stuff with me within weeks of knowing me, and both of us were equally surprised – for she told me I was the only person she shared those things with.

And then I realised both of us actually shared similar experiences in our families, and went through rough childhoods and family problems, although our upbringing was totally different – she spent her childhood and adolescent years in the States, and I grew up in a traditional Chinese family in Singapore.

As I knew her better over time, I realised that the family situations she went through from young, the racism and discrimination she faced as a young Asian in American high school, as well as the toxic environment of aristocratic, pretentious and manipulative “friends” she encountered during her days at a local art college – all led her to put up a self-preservation mechanism of distrust.

Because others judged her easily, she was quick to judge and less able to empathise. Because she was often criticised, she was also critical of others.

There was this conversation we had during lunch which left her in tears. I told her about the financial hardships I went through, and how it made me more sensitive to poverty, social homelessness, and inequality in societies. I told her about the hurt I received from the ones I considered closest to me, and my resolve to be completely different from them. I told her about the time I realised the people we loved or held in high regard were also very fallible, and their actions had the power to leave us jaded and disappointed.

I told her about how all this made me realise that there was no black and white division between good and evil, and a good person may sometimes also commit bad actions and hurt people. 

She admitted that she was very black and white in her judgements of morality. But I told her, this was because of what she went through. We are all shaped by our experiences, which can sometimes be pretty bad. Our experiences have the ability to make us into people we are not proud of, and it is often very difficult to fight against that, the instinct to protect ourselves from being hurt again.

But we have to try. Our experiences explain why we act, think or behave in a certain way today, or respond to certain situations. But it doesn’t define us as a person. Similarly, the people around us may have hurt us with their actions, but it also does not define them as a whole, and does not take away their ability to change in the future. Accepting that is crucial, although it doesn’t justify their wrongs. The process of acceptance within ourselves is the first step to healing ourselves.

Same for ourselves too – we are currently who we are, but we can change. We can decide to be better. We can decide to not be like the people who hurt us, and choose to believe in good, and be part of that good.

We cannot complete deny or disregard the impact of the past on a person’s present self, but what matters most is how we use our present to become who we want to be in the future.

So as she was listening to this sudden flow of thoughts from me through her tears, she said she felt as though she was listening to a TED talk. That is actually a pretty big compliment to me lol (and very funny too).

Despite, or because of the extraordinary turmoils I have gone through, I believe that the purpose of my life is to accept with grace everything that happens or has happened, and use the wisdom I have gained from it to uplift people, create good, and make meaningful and precious connections with people, throughout humanity.

 

What the payphone taught me

surreal

A public telephone in Kuching, Sarawak

Today, not for the first time, my phone died on me – not surprising, considering that I’m using an iPhone 4…I know. Probably an antique by today’s standards – where were we, iPhone 8S or something?

Technology and I are not the best of friends, and I definitely consider myself more of an old school person who would rather live in the 80s or relive the 90s of my childhood. Definitely not the typical millennial you can think of.

Tonight, I was supposed to meet my boyfriend after work and after his night class, and we hadn’t arranged a meeting point or time. So when my phone died on me, I resorted to…the good old payphone. And guess what I hadn’t even realised (and probably very few people know) that every MRT station in Singapore has a payphone (I think)!

So I was at the MRT station near my workplace, clumsily trying to put a 20 cent coin through the coin slot, all while attracting curious (mortifying) stares from the security guard and the staff at the control station. My boyfriend, who was still in class, did not pick up the call.

You see, unlike the mobile phone, the person who received a missed call from you can’t just call you back. There’s also no caller ID. You can’t text the person to tell them you called either.

So I took the train in the direction of home, hoping that he won’t end up blindly waiting for me somewhere, only to receive a text from me when I got home and managed to revive my phone with the charger.

When I arrived at my stop around 40 minutes later, I located another payphone and called again. This time, my call got through. I was so happy and relieved. Suddenly, it seemed like he was so far away. Someone whom I’d held close every day, reached easily and effortlessly with a text or a sticker on Telegram, was suddenly so unreachable.

Tonight I learned for the first time (or maybe remembered what I’d forgotten from my childhood), that every 10 cents gave you 2 minutes of call time. Because I had 20 cents, I could speak with him for 4 minutes.

Suddenly, those four minutes, usually so easily passed and idled away with a few mindless scrolls on Facebook, watching Insta-stories, and refreshing my Inbox, became so precious and so genuinely felt. I literally saw the passing of time on the payphone timer, and hours and minutes, taken for granted as part of each day, became reduced to the split second. Suddenly, I recognised time again, like an old friend I’d long forgotten.

In this digital age where technology and smartphones reduce everything to mindless routines and effortless endeavours, we take time for granted. Everything is sped up, passing by, convenient and half-hearted at the same time – you could be talking to someone while dealing with a few other screens, or checking your social media feed.

We’ve managed to speed life up, do more things with less time. But are we really making the most out of the time we have now?

What advertising could be

Seriously. I was browsing through advertising work from different agencies, and this one really takes the cake. So much love and charm and heart oozing out of every frame.

And then you watch the Behind the Scenes video and be like -I CAN’T EVEN-

Seriously.

This just made my day and makes me so happy because it shows me what advertising is capable of doing, and being. :,)

Creative concept by TBWA\Singapore

Cinema & consciousness

In the science fiction anime film Paprika (2006) by Satoshi Kon, Paprika is Doctor Chiba’s alter-ego which she uses to treat her psychiatric patients by entering their dreams. They are polar opposites in personality. This alter-ego is a symbol of Chiba’s subconscious.

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“Have you ever thought you were a part of me, instead?”

When Paprika says that to Chiba, it is a sign of the subconscious mind expressing its repressed emotions and desires and gaining control over the rational self. and in the larger world of the film, of dreams and reality merging.

The world of dreams is portrayed as dangerous because it is a place of great instability and chaos. Nothing is certain, even the most rational and cool-headed of people are destabilised.

Who knows? Maybe we are all part of our subconscious – instead of the other way round – falsely thinking that our conscious minds are agents of free will. Sigmund Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis left a great impact on psychology.

The amazing thing is how film and cinema could be linked so closely to the study of the human mind – this connection fascinated me endlessly when I was learning about film theories in college.

Which is why films like Paprika were made. Or maybe even the Matrix series.