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Chaos Theory: An Interview with Bani Haykal

Collaborations, no matter how good they look on paper, can always be a risky undertaking; one that either results in synergetic beauty or a discordant mess. Perhaps both. Of course, that's only an outsider's evaluation. Artistic collaborations usually end up as a project for the artists to bring what they have to the table and see what they can concoct together, fanbases be damned. It's an internal conversation that people not part of it may get. Lou Reed and Metallica seemed genuinely invested in their record Lulu and stood by it despite the overwhelmingly negative reaction it got. 

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Best known for his bold multidisciplinary solo endeavours along with his stint with local experimental rock band The Observatory, Bani Haykal has a penchant for adventurous projects and his latest is no different. Titled Poems About Chaos, it features an improvisational 'dialogue' between Haykal and Darren Ng, also known as sonicbrat. While Haykal works within themes that lean towards cultural and socio-political content, Darren Ng explores minimalism in an acoustic setting, along with live interpretive playing and a dissection of acousmatic music. 

We had the chance to pick Bani Haykal's brain on the idea behind the collaboration, undertaking the project with Darren Ng, and his favorite word.

Tell us your idea of “chaos”.

It’s only recently that I toy with the idea of creating non-deterministic musical activity; something which I haven’t fully thought about clearly, but it’s the idea that even after setting parameters for musical composition, something’s not going to go right. so this idea that the whole system would be disrupted / interrupted in an unpredictable manner is how I think about chaos within a system. It’s to say that there is order, there is a system that will produce a certain result, but there is a chance that something will go wrong, creating a sense of dissonance in the established harmony.

How did you get the idea for ‘Poems About Chaos’?

Aside from thinking and working with non-musical instruments to create ‘musical’ works of my own, one of the earliest signs of chaos was the fact that Darren and I are bringing our personal practice / vocabularies to the workbench without much hint of what will happen other than an interaction. It seemed like a fitting title for such an encounter.

As a multi-disciplinary artist, did your versatility help you in the development of ‘Poems About Chaos’?

Thinking through several disciplines, much like playing different instruments, is always a helpful thing. The approach to engage a subject takes on both lateral and linear ways. But having said that; my ongoing work, I call Dormant Music, is a means to think about music through non-musical things. Meaning to say, to think about patterns, material or even smell having musical parallels. I take into account that everything I experience is music-centric, which I’ve come to realise is a rather universal thing; dynamics, motifs, colour etc. With Dormant Music I establish a simple framework of thinking about music in everything I experience.

What is your favourite word? And why?

I think I go through phases with this. For now, it’s ‘prefix’. It’s a very interesting thing as it complements, suggests or counters any given thing or word that comes after it. Sonically it’s also rhythmic to me.

What is your least favourite word? And why?

Freedom. Long story short: it’s loaded.

Coming from a musical background, how is it working with music composer and sound artist, Darren Ng? Walk us through the process.

We’ve only had one opportunity where we both did a short improvised set at The Substation a few years ago and it was a pretty intense improv. Darren played a rather rickety upright piano and I played the clarinet and did spoken word. That was the extent of our working together from a practical perspective. But leading to this performance, interestingly enough, we talk and share matters concerning perspectives; social, political, musical etc. and it’s the complexities informing our perspectives that had our conversations moving. For this collaboration, as how Darren puts it, it really is a conversation, a repartee that we’re both engaged in. We talk about things which concern us and things that don’t, and it’s through these dialogues that we hope to weave and share through sound.

Is there a difference between writing song lyrics and poetry? 

I think there’s never one way on doing things, so there can be differences and there can be similarities because we can, for instance, talk about song form and how that informs the lyrics or how the lyrics will inform the song etc. Bjork has a song (if not a few) which she uses poems (the one i’m thinking of specifically is by e.e. cummings). So on that note, it’s really how the songwriter or poet decides to use the written text or song.

What is the one thing that you hope that audiences take away from your performance?

Improvisation as a necessary device to expand creative expression.

Having recently left The Observatory, what is next on the horizon for you?

Among other collaborations, I am presently a resident artist with Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, where i’m doing research on the affects of the cultural cold war and how it relates to creating art in Singapore. I’ll be doing some public programmes from the studio at Gillman Barracks involving music.

What can audiences expect from you in ‘Poems About Chaos’?

Something dynamic.

Poems About Chaos will be performed at the Esplanade Recital Studio as part of the Esplanade's Late Nite series on 31st Oct.

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