29 March 2008
The Award for the Worst Restaurant in Kuala Lumpur...

... goes to Sri Nirwana Maju, Telawi, Bangsar.


LOL.


It's not characteristic of me to put the dump on an establishment, especially one that comes with much endorsement as the abovementioned atrocity. But seriously, I just hate this place now, with a passion. I used to like it, love it, even recommended it to friends... until yesterday, that is.


What happened was this. It was Saturday lunchtime business as usual at the restaurant. As KL residents would know, a lot of people frequent Sri Nirwana because the food is good. I don't deny the food is yummy. Some people argue that there are better banana leaf rice spreads around town but I've always loved the food at Nirwana, although they've gotten a bit dear lately (and once they messed up a simple Maggi goreng). Anyway, there were lots of people there, as usual. I got there at about 1:50pm, looking for a table, waiting for a friend. I got a table outside. Sat down. The previous diners' food scraps were still on the table. This is not shocking because the place was very busy.


5 minutes passed. Didn't see a waiter outside. The table was still not cleared. That was OK. I'm a patient person. Anyway, I was waiting for my friend. I was in no hurry.


10 minutes later. Still nothing. One waiter was serving a table of six diners two tables away. That's OK. They were there first. He saw me. I saw him. I gestured at the foodscraps, assuming that he understood that it should cleared. But he was busy I could see.


But then, I've had the mistfortune of being served by this particular waiter before. Or more like... not being served. The week before at around the same time... I had also waited for quite a bit before getting served. He saw me, ignored me, saw me again and ignored me and then finally told another waiter to serve me... even though he wasn't serving anyone else. Hmm... anyway that was in the past... I'm a forgiving person.


But just to make a point, I stacked the foodscraps in a pile on one end of my table.


15 minutes later. Two couples turned up, waiting around for tables. They got tables next to mine. They sat down. And this was when I completely lost it. Within two minutes of them sitting down, their tables were cleared and their orders were being taken. While two waiters were taking their orders, I tried to get their attention. Both of them looked at me, smiled at me, but completely ignored me nevertheless. One of them tried to get another waiter to serve me... but that other waiter also ignored me.


So, I don't know.


After 20 minutes of waiting... none of the wait staff even came to clear my table, let alone take my order... while other diners were served in less than 3 minutes... I was fuming... I'm still fuming now as I try to recall yesterday's events.


What does it take to get served at Sri Nirwana? Does one need to drive big cars? Or dress fancy? Or have white friends?


I don't know... and my friend being 20 minutes late didn't help at all... I wasn't expecting special treatment... I wasn't making any over-the-top demands. I just wanted to get the same service as everyone else.


I blew up. I yelled at the waiters in disgust and pushed some of the foodscraps off the table, which almost hit another diner's shoe - he got a bit pissed off at me. It was regrettable in hindsight... because I must have looked like some diva throwing a hissy fit. It was really quite humiliating for me... but anyone in the same situation would, I think, get riled up and blow a gasket.


Only then did I get served... but because I'd already lost my temper in public, and because the waiters were still smiling their donkey smiles... I got up and walked towards the counter, complained to the manager who didn't even apologise... and walked over to Devi's Corner and got served in less than a minute. (But please don't mistake me for Devi's Corner supporter... because I still think the food at Nirwana is better... but from now on, when I'm in Telawi area, I'll go to Devi's or Pelita, thanks.)


And there you have it, folks...


Maybe it's just me... maybe the waiters just loathe me... I don't know... maybe they just have some personal vendetta against me. I don't know...


Sigh... so, anyway, here's a huge continent-sized thumbs down for the service at Nirwana. I'm sure they'll continue to prosper without my patronage... but then again, I hope a rat turns up in one of their curries and they get shut down for good.


LOL... but that's just crazy talk.
27 March 2008
The Jakarta Post article about "Songs For A Shadow"
Here's a post about the album written by Paul Agusta for The Jakarta Post last year. It contains outdated info about the release dates but still is a good secondhand source about the album. :-)

The original article can be found here.

****

Jerome Kugan, a poet with a laptop and a guitar

The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Sat, 09/22/2007 3:10 PM | Life

Paul F. Agusta

Welcome to Underground Hum, a new weekly column focusing on ASEAN region independent music with a special emphasis on the growing Indie music scene in Indonesia.

This column will alternate biweekly to give you in-depth coverage. The biweekly segments will be: 1. Main Stage: profiles and reviews of currently unsigned/unknown indie music acts that have gathered small followings but remain unnoticed by record executives and the public. 2. Reverb: news and updates from Indie music scenes in Indonesia and around the world; who's got a new album, who is recording, what gigs are coming up, and other buzz.

And now, on to our first installment of Underground Hum:

MAIN STAGE: Jerome Kugan, a poet with a laptop and a guitar

Jerome Kugan, who was born in Kota Kinabalu on Borneo, is a small man who is busy carving himself an ever-growing niche in the arts, not only in his homeland Malaysia, but internationally.

Poet, singer, songwriter, short-story writer, culture columnist and visual artist, Jerome is also cofounder of ""Trobadours KL"", an organization focused on promoting Malaysian singer-songwriters worldwide. In fact, his activities in Troubadours KL, have made him a sort of poster boy for the Malaysian singer/songwriter scene.

The truth is that this bespectacled young man, whose diverse inspirations include Bjork, David Sylvian, Bonnie ""Prince"" Billy, Kate Bush, Suzanne Vega and Tracy Chapman, has become so busy organizing and promoting gigs for other performers that his fans and friends have become worried that he has left his own music on the backburner far too long.

Although Jerome has never stopped performing around the region, including having the honor of opening for renowned Swedish singer/songwriter Jens Lekman in KL early this year, he has never before recorded a full album, always getting stuck in the middle before dropping everything to help other artists. The result of this on-again-off-again approach to recording has been just a smattering of songs found in compilations or online.

Needless to say, fans of this artist, who belts vocals (quickly bringing Jeff Buckley to mind) to the accompaniment of his laptop-produced John Vanderslice-esque mix of acoustic guitar and electronic beeps, blips and beats, have begun putting the pressure on for him to put up or shut up.

Because shutting up is the one thing he could never do, Jerome, who started playing music in 1996 at the age of 20 while he was studying in Australia, is now completing the tentatively titled Songs for a Shadow, an album spotlighting his trademark traditional Malay vibrato combined with strong lyrical content (highly reminiscent of Suzanne Vega in its reflective quality but very much his own). This album, which is due out early next year, will feature songs that examine varied subjects, ranging from a cynic's return to love (This Excellent Love) to the feeling of connectivity one gets when one lives fully in the present (Now I Know How it Feels), and tales of solitude and isolation packed with sociopolitical metaphors (Song for the Service Industry). For now, you can listen to Jerome Kugan on his Myspace page: myspace.com/jkugan or go to jeromekugan.blogspot.com Be sure to give him feedback on his music by leaving comments on his Myspace page.

That about does it for this week's Underground Hum. Don't forget to read next week's edition for the premiere installment of Reverb.

If you have any questions or suggestions for this column please contact JP's newest resident music geek at undergroundhum@yahoo.com

See you!

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25 March 2008
Shadow Sources
I made a mixtape of 11 songs that I was obsessively listening during the recording of my album "Songs For A Shadow". You're most welcomed to listen to it. The songs are not really rare or even truly groundbreaking... but they paved the path so to speak. Features beautiful songs by Devendra Banhart, Nina Simone, Crowded House, Billy Bragg, Arto Lindsay, PJ Harvey, Bebel Gilberto, Jamiroquai, David Sylvian, Elliott Smith, and Suzanne Vega. Enjoy!



23 March 2008
Songs For A Shadow - now available online!






While the physical CD of my album Songs For A Shadow will only be out in April, you can get the digital download of the album or individual tracks through my online store at www.popfolio.net/jeromekugan

Individual tracks sell for USD0.91 (equivalent to RM3) while the whole album sells for USD6 (equivalent to RM18). Payment via PayPal (i.e. credit card, PayPal, etc).

Each download comes with a pdf file of the album cover + lyrics.

At the PopFolio site, you can also stream all the tracks from the album in their entirety, and you can also create your own Poptopus player to put on your Blog or MySpace, or any site that accepts embedded codes.

Oh yeah... the Poptopus player is the online music player you can see on this page next to the post! Click on it lah!

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21 March 2008
Transient Vortex Remix up on MySpace



















Finally uploaded the Transient Vortex remix of "A Shadow" on MySpace page. It's good. Go listen to it now!

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18 March 2008
A Shadow Broke Into Campur Chart
Been wanting to post this but Internet's been down. Sugs SMSed me on Monday saying that Transient Vortex's remix of "A Shadow" debuted at #9 on Fly FM's Campur Chart, a chart show of exclusively local songs.

LOL... I'm very pleased. This marks the first ever time that any song I ever performed on made it into any kind of chart show... ha ha ha...

If you want to keep on seeing it on the Campur Chart, you can go to the website and cast your vote. :-) And listen out for it during the radio show on Fly FM this Sunday 7-8pm.

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14 March 2008
A Shadow
Continuing the series of posts about the songs that appear on the album. This one's about the ninth song, "A Shadow".

















In a way, I guess this song is the title cut of the album. It was the second last song written for the album (the last one being song number seven "Lightfalls"). For that reason, I guess it sums up what the album is. I really like this song for several reasons. It's probably the best effort to meld the two genres of music - electro and folk - that I was trying to go for on the album. There's something strange about it. When I listen to it, it shifts from not really working to working out just fine, goes back and forth, back and forth between those two feelings. I'm not sure why this is. Maybe because it's so skeletal. But it works because of exactly that... hard to explain.

But first, how it got written.

I think it was sometime around April or May last year... could've been earlier, could've been later... I can't really remember the month... but after recording several songs that were written prior to the recording of the album, I wanted to collaborate with Hardesh over a song that was created on the spot in the studio. Somehow the only other time we did this spontaneous collabo, it produced "Song For The Service Industry" which had a very special sound about it. I guess I wanted to see if we could re-create a song that mines a similar vein. By that time, I had decided on the album title Songs For A Shadow (the original working title being the rather wishy washy Warp & Weft). The reference in the title was kind of obvious but I wanted... or more like I knew I had to... write a song called "A Shadow"... ha ha ha... it was kind of deliberate.

The lyrics I wrote a few days before I was supposed to go into the studio to this spontaneous "thing". The original version was more like a poem than a piece of lyric... I cut it down into more manageable chunks during the recording session.

I guess the lyrics concoct a sort of a hazy story about what the album is... this abstract "shadow" addressing its owner... almost as if it were an unchanging thing. While the "shadow" observes the owner changing over the years, referring to the time when the owner was a child, so young, so little, the shadow remains "only a shadow". I leave the true nature of this "shadow" open to interpretation. It could be owner of the shadow looking back over his/her own life. Or it could be a ghost. Or it could be something else entirely. It's a very "open" song. And that's one of the reasons why I like it a lot.

During the recording session, I must admit I was feeling a tad more emotional than usual. I think at the time, Hardesh and I were physically tired from our respective work schedules. We hit a bit of a slump during the recording sessions. It had already by then gone a bit over our expected deadline. The other songs weren't really properly arranged yet and there we were, starting on a new one. All these things in hindsight made for good reasons not to record... but there was something in me that wanted to push on... Hardesh, being the amazingly patient producer he is, obliged... and we spent about two hours laying it down.

Because I deliberately hadn't worked on the melody for the song, obviously I didn't bring any chords to the studio. I picked up Hardesh's nylon string guitar and started experimenting with plucking an ultra simple chord progression. In a way, this is deliberate too. I'm not the greatest guitarist on earth. LOL... and my boyfriend at the time kept telling me that perhaps I should go get some lessons... ha ha ha... But you know, there's something to be said about leaving things "open". A remnant of the lessons I took away from reading Philip Toshio Sudo's book Zen Guitar definitely, which spoke about "finding one's own chord". I really take this way of working to heart still. It's a bit hippie... but, you know, fuck the political implications and just do it, for goodness sake.

So, anyway, out of this simple chord came a little structure. Another thing I wanted for the song was a basic 4/4 tehcno kick. That was something I knew I wanted before I went into the studio. I had this idea of using the simplest structures, the most basic, also most repetitive... ha ha ha... and there it was. Hardesh wrote the beat on his PC, using Reason I think, put it over a measure. And I played the chords. I think it came up to eight (or more) bars of one chord progression and then a change then back to the original progression. It was the simplest thing. The chords are minor... I guess reflecting the mood I was in then. And so the vocal melody, which I improvised on the spot took on a haunting kind of melancholy.

I remembered not wanting to be bothered so much by the simple structures... wanting to use it as a carpet to carry this mood and the lyrics... I can't really remember now the singing. I think we did about two or three takes. I was figuring out the song there and then, trying to get inside it, and I guess I did. I remembered the first mix. It was so skeletal and spare. So haunting. The guitar line, which I did in one go, is like a synth loop. And the vocal melody just floated over it, building in intensity but pulled back into the sadness of the refrain "only a shadow". It really fit what I wanted.

Of course, being pushy, I ended up wanting the song to be more. I listened to this one much more than the rest, thinking about how to fill up the empty spaces with synth lines or acid washes... LOL... I recorded the extra vocal bits. But that was it really. When Hardesh said that he didn't really know what to do with it... I asked Ariff if he would like to have a go at it. He did. And his version took it to... what I'd like to think was one type of extreme... it was good and creative, with extra synth stabs... a vampish bassline to underscore it... but in the end I thought the song didn't really need all the extra padding. After leaving it alone for a long time, Hardesh and I decided to work on it again. Hardesh really took it to the finishing stage, adding just little accents here and there, mixing it so its main qualities really stood out.

In a way, the song, the way it came about, what it stands for and what it is now is really a metaphor for the whole album. It's so simple. It's kinda straightforward. It is what it is. A kind of ode to stoicism.

I'm quite proud of it. It's my favourite song on the album.


*


A Shadow


When you were a child, you used to know me
You used to hold me with the edge of your teeth
It was a rainy day but you didn’t let me in
You said I didn’t belong here
I didn’t belong here

But I had to prove that I wasn’t moved
I’m only a shadow

When you were so little
You used to think of me all the time
But you pretended that I couldn’t have existed
Just a speck of light
You just brushed me off, off your shoulders
Cause it felt like too much light

But I had to prove that I wasn’t moved
I’m only a shadow

When you were so young
You thought that I could change your world
You danced around me in circles
You burnt really bright

But I had to prove that I wasn’t moved
I’m only a shadow

I burnt really bright just to change your mind
Until you grew up and took my hand
And led me across the flame

But I had to prove that I wasn’t moved
I’m only a shadow

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11 March 2008
Election Elation






















Now that things have quietened down a bit, I have to admit that I'm quite surprised how swept up I was on election day last Saturday.

It all happened when Pang called me up on Thursday asking me if I could help as a PACA (Polling Agent cum Counting Agent) for PKR's Subang Parliamentary candidate R Sivarasa (who is also husband to the highly talented stage actress and former schoolteacher Anne James, who I had the honour of working with on Ops Ophelia). I had no idea what a PACA's duties were, but I guess to allay my guilt for not registering in time to vote (and for losing faith in the electoral process and moaning about it), I said yes. I had nothing planned for Saturday anyway and I wanted to be part of the process just to see for myself what it's like.

Pang was quite pleased to hear that. Apparently, Siva didn't have enough PACA volunteers. So, on Friday night, Pang and I rocked up to the very chaotic bilik gerakan for PKR Subang somewhere in Kota Damansara. You know, PJ for me is like another universe. I had no idea these places existed. Anyway, I walked up to the makeshift "reception" desk which was manned by Chee Seong of Five Arts. (As it turned out, I think that half the KL theatre/arts community had turned up to show support for Siva and PKR's Bukit Lanjan state assembly candidate Elizabeth Wong's campaign who shared the same bilik gerakan space.) As it was merely hours away from polling, it was hectic. Chee Seong took one look at me, smiled weakly and scrambled among his papers trying to look for a space to put me. They needed people for sure but I was a bit problematic since I didn't have a car. LOL. He tried to put me in SMK Kota Damansara first. I went into the office to look at a map of Subang to see where it was. OK. But then there came the problem of me having missed the PACA briefing sessions. Jeez, Jerome, what kind of a volunteer are you?

Meekly, after dodging the other volunteers who seemed like they were preparing for battle, I asked one of the Ketua PACA to give me an informal briefing. He looked at me, asked me if I've been given "the folder". What folder? He shook his head... anyway, he explained it to me. (Actually while they were using the term PACA, I was trying to figure out what it actually stood for. I didn't figure it out until much later. Jeez, jerome, what kind of an airhead are you?). As PACA, we were supposed to monitor the polling process, watch out for any irregularities in regard to the voters, so that the proceedings were in line with the Election Commission rules. Basically, we were there to make sure no hanky panky went on. Usually Polling Agents and Counting Agents were carried out by two different people, but since Siva didn't have enough people, we did both.

Ah... I began to understand it more. But it was still hazy what I was supposed to do. Out of nowhere, an Indian woman came looking for me. Her name was Bhawani and she asked me if I could be one of her PACA underlings at this polling centre at some godforsaken place in Sg Buloh. In my mind, I was thinking... oh dear... but since I was already committed to do the job, I said yes. Bhawani seemed so relieved. So my name was moved from being PACA at Kota Damansara to Dewan MBSA in Sg Buloh. And I was given my folder! I would be monitoring and counting Saluran 2 for that centre. Hurray! Although initially beaming, Bhawani's happiness was soon exasperated by my admission that I didn't know anything about being a PACA. LOL. She then sat me down for twenty minutes taking me at lightning speed through my duties. Thank God someone blessed me with a quick mind to absorb all these things. By the end of her quick briefing sesh, I got a rough idea what I had to do. At the time, all I needed was to actually do it to understand what it was that I would be doing at the polling centre... at the time, it felt like I was going to sit for an exam... there was even a checklist of what we were supposed to bring... passport photo for the PACA ID card, flashlight for unexpected blackouts, etc...

Set. I returned home that night feeling mighty anxious... I found a photo of myself, cut it out as a makeshift passport-sized photo for the ID card... which explains why I'm smirking in the photo... I think it came from one of those photos I'd taken to put on a gay chat site... LOL...

I woke up early the next day. 9:30am. I had to meet Pang, Hazri and Zedeck in Brickfields cause I needed a ride to the bilik gerakan where I would be getting a ride from Bhawani to get to that "godforsaken place in Sg Buloh". LOL...

Anyway, after meeting up with Bhawani and the other PACA who would be monitoring Saluran 3 (oh I forgot her name...), we set out for this godforsaken place, which Bhawani informed me was a BN stronghold... where us PKR people would not be so welcomed...

It was, I must admit, in the middle of nowhere. A kind of a Chinese village situated in the shadow of a half-dead industrial area. It reminded me of places like Tuaran or Tamparuli back in Sabah... which is kampung territory. The area bustled with life, however. And it wasn't too backwards... or too undeveloped... but it definitely felt removed from the urban polish of places like 1-Utama. Even Brickfields seemed cosmopolitan by comparison. We reached there at about 12pm, after some deft manouevring by Bhawani in her car... it was a miracle we didn't get lost. (Bhawani had actually scouted the area the day before). We found the Dewan MBSA, which was a multipurpose hall. It was different from the usual polling station, which is usually held in school classrooms, where the different saluran would've been separated. Here, all three saluran voted in the same hall, albeit separated by Election Commission ticker tape.

There was a bit of a problem when Bhawani and I tried to enter the hall at 1pm, because apparently we had to wait for the current PKR Polling Agents to retire their shifts before we could take over. We tried to explain to the Election Commission people that we were there to monitor for Sivarasa, the parliamentary candidate, while the PKR Polling Agents who were already there were doing it for the State candidate Nasir (of Parti Sosialis Malaysia, who eventually won the seat! It's the first time we have socialists in government!). The Election Commission people were adamant in saying No. So Bhawani and I had to wait a full hour until our shift were up. The PKR-PSM guy from the nearby pondok panas was none too happy about this. But we had to respect the Election Commission's authority.

While waiting for our shift change, Bhawani and I sat outside the hall in the shade near the table where voters were greeted by Election Commission people who directed them to their respective Saluran, according to their age and number on the voter gazette. A cop came up to us and chatted a bit.

Settling down, it was really interesting to see the voters streaming in past the gate. This was not a posh community. A lot of them came in simple clothes, some even in dusty, shabby workclothes, obviously fresh from some construction site. Since it was also quite a heavily Chinese and Indian community, some had trouble communicating with the Election Commission people who were mostly Malay. One elderly Indian woman was wheeled in by her husband on a makeshift wheelchair... that was very touching. My mind drifted in parts as I observed these voters filing in, trying to imagine what it means to vote, especially if one's station in life is not up there... these were truly working class voters... I wondered if they understood what they were doing... of course, they did. I was checking out how much they resembled what my family used to be (my family back home is a working class family that over the years became a lower middle class family). As all these things ran through my head, I cried a bit... feeling a bit emotional. It was an amazing feeling though. I knew then I was glad I volunteered... it was worth it.

In between all this, I even managed to check out a cute Election Commission personnel. I smiled. He smiled back. Nothing happened...

At long last, we entered the hall. I took my seat on a desk in the middle of the hall next to the BN Polling Agent. A few feet away was another desk of Election Commission people reading out the names of the voters who came through our saluran. As they read out each person's gazette number, name and IC number, us PACA (representing our respective parties) crossed out their names on our copy of the gazette. This is so we can keep track of how many people and who had passed through, keeping an eye out for anyone who doesn't fit the age or race description, or voting twice, basically checking for phantom voters. It's a bit of a mundane task, I must say. And the hall is poorly ventilated. It was a hot, humid afternoon.

After three hours... I even took pity at the Election Commission people who had been there all day - they had to take their lunch while working... us three PKR PACA took a little break for coffee (we were relieved by our PKR-PSM counterparts)... and then returned before 5pm when the voting stopped and the hall closed for the all-important vote counting. This was when it got really interesting.

First, the hall was secured. I was a bit surprised that the hall doors were not fully closed... but then again the ventilation was poor. If the doors had been shut completely, we would have suffocated. The tables and chairs were rearranged so that each ballot box were placed in front of the Counting Agents, with the respective boxes for untallied votes, BN votes, PKR votes, Undi Ragu and Undi Ditolak in plain view. The Ketua Tempat Mengundi of each saluran first counted the number of ballots that were given out by referencing the ballot books which had the controversial serial numbers on them... that way they can total how many voters had turned up. My saluran had 518 voters. Then the ballot boxes were opened, the seals broken, and the ballots poured into the untallied votes box. The counting began with the Election Commission personnel diving the ballots into stacks of ten, to confirm the number of ballots cast. After this, one of them held up each ballot, announced the party which got voted and placed it in their respective boxes.

I was very surprised by how many PKR votes there were. Eventually, it was 292 PKR, 214 BN and 12 spoilt votes. Bhawani who monitored Saluran 1 tallied 121 PKR and 121 BN. Saluran 3 totaled even more votes for PKR. In the end, at our polling centre, PKR got most of the votes - this in a traditionally BN area! We were happy, of course. But even happier that we managed to get our copy of Borang 14. The Borang 14, Bhawani couldn't stress more sternly, was our safeguard against any funny business that Election Commission were capable of doing. On the Borang 14 were details of the vote tallies from the preliminary count done at the polling centre. When all the tallies from all the polling stations are taken into account, they should add up to the same results as what the official results announced at the main counting centres. Borang 14 is the key to guarantee that the election results are clean.

There was a "technicality" at some of the polling centres in the Lembah Pantai constituency where 14 of our PACAs refused to release the ballot boxes to the main counting centres when the Ketua Tempat Mengundi of those centres refused to give out the Borang 14. Good on those guys for keeping the election results clean!

So, after we got our Borang 14, we got the hell out of there as fast as we could! And back to the bilik gerakan in Kota Damansara where we caught up with the rest of the PKR supporters and got news of the opposition swing! It was an amazing sight. People were smiling, laughing, uproarious as each new SMS and phone call came in telling everyone of the good news, announced on the loud hailer (aka megaphone) by Fahmi, alongwith his gentle humour and witticisms... ah... afterwards we went to Dewan MPPJ near Puay Chai school to hear the official announcements that Siva, Elizabeth and Nasir have won their respective seats. I had another emotional moment there... LOL... but it was quite moving, to be among such a mixed race throng... people of all races and ages and class huddling in a quiet neighbourhood just waiting for a change to come.

I even wrote a poem about it... LOL... how predictable...

Here it is unedited...

*

As we wait in such light
drizzle it feels like angel kisses
on this night in front of
the MPPJ multipurpose hall,
the crowd who have come
to hear the official announcements
are talking, peacefully,
talking across their barriers,
in front of the fence
keeping us out
of the results we are waiting for,
the people are talking,
laughing, in awe, in shock,
in their uncontainable surprise,
the people are talking
families, the elderly, their young,
wives and husbands,
daughter and sons,
the common and the uncommon,
fathers and mothers,
the colour of their skin
indistinguishable in the low
orange light of the streetlamps,
each face beaming,
each voice wanting to voice out
just so the voice is heard
because that is why they're
talking, discussing, conversing,
sighing,
whispering, crying out in fits of joy,
because what is a voice
good for if it cannot
scream, shout, sing, explode
with the anticipation
that it deserves.
The people are talking.
The people are talking.

8 March 2008

*

Told ya it was a bit silly.

That goes out to all the people who worked so hard before and during the campaign period. They deserved the victory much more than this last minute volunteer who was just there for the final stretch.

Anyway, it remains to be seen if these elections, the second most historic in Malaysia, will really make a difference. I hope so. I hope that people won't forget that it was them who made it happen. That it was their decision to want change. And I hope the opposition parties do not forget. I guess it's up to the people now. People like you and me to make that change means something. The people have spoken indeed.

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04 March 2008
Joni Mitchell singing "California"
I've never been to California. But I imagine it'd be a nice place to go to one day because Joni wrote this song about it. :-)

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02 March 2008
Mother

















Song number nine on the album is a song called "Mother". (This post is part of a series of posts on the songs on the album. For the other posts, check out the archives. Or click the lyrics tag.)

:-)

Personally it's one of my favourite songs. The lyrics were written quite early. Sometime in 1998 or maybe even earlier. It was originally written as a poem which I sribbled in my notebook one stormy afternoon at the family home in Kepayan, in KK. I was, as usual, sitting at a table surrounded by drafts of poems, doodling, making revisions, and I could see my mum rushing out to the yard to take in the laundry as the sky grew moldy overhead. Anyone who lives in Malaysia would know about these torrential afternoon storms that often appear at the end of long balmy days.

Anyway, so there was mum retrieving the clothes. Usually I would rush out to help. But that day I was just observing her, and looking at her, as clouds gathered overhead. Thoughts rushed into my head. Feelings of sadness, a kind of existential wistfulness, crept up inside me and I saw her as a normal everyday woman saving her bit of symbolic laundry from the rain. The rain meanwhile took on ominous meanings, which is a bit common I guess, but still, if you've ever been given a chance to experience these equatorial downpours, you'd know how electric they are, how breathtaking the wall of white water that just gushes down with amazing force. When it rains like that, everything stops. You can't go out. You switch off electrical appliances. It's too noisy to watch TV or listen to the stereo. (We lived in a wooden house with steel roofing so it got pretty loud.) You just wait for it to end.

The poem came together like that. There are references to a mob of people gathering and the unknown future too. I'm not really sure what that's supposed to mean. It's a bit mysterious to me. I guess that's the part of the poem that allowed a bit of intrusion from the subconscious. Maybe one day I'll see it more clearly.

The song itself came together a couple of years later. I think I was in a songwriting mood, which happens from time to time. I had come up with the very basic chord progression and I was looking in my notebook for inspiration on what to write about and came across the poem (which I thought never really worked as a poem anyway). I started just improvising a vocal melody with the words on top of the chords and, voila, it just came together. Mind you, this doesn't happen very often. Most songs I write tend to be slightly less synergistic. But this one was a bit of a magical thing. And I'm very proud of it. I really wanted this to be on the album, even though I don't really perform it live very often. I think I've only sung it in KL about five times in the past seven years. Not that I don't like playing it live, but there's a feeling that I should respect the space in which the song happened, and that space doesn't come along very often, especially when faced by rowdy bored talkative crowds. Not to drop names, but, I remember one time I played it live at the old No Black Tie, Rafique Rashid remarked afterwards that it was a beautiful haunting song. Saidah Rastam said that she got weepy while listening to it. Those were really quite touching compliments, and coming from such amazing musicians, I felt... you know... honoured.

Well, it doesn't happen very often... ha ha ha...

Anyway, when I brought the song to Hardesh, he liked it just the way it was, just me and guitar. But I thought it sounded too spare, and a bit repetitive because I repeat the lyrics twice. We had several tries with it. First try was me playing it live in the studio. But I didn't really like it cause my tempo sped up towards the end and it sounded as though I was rushing it. It didn't have the languid feeling that I wanted. Second try we did it with a really subtle beat track, me playing the guitar part first, then overdubbing the vox afterwards, and then taking the beat out. I still felt it was too spare. So we put the beat back in (which ended up on the album version). But then I got picky over my vocals which sounded a bit strained. It wasn't the right approach. LOL... I think Hardesh at one point got quite sick of my pickiness... ha ha ha... sorry again Hardesh... let it be known that JK can pull off the studio diva shtick too... LOL... so I asked to re-record the vocal and so we did it... and it kind of languished for a while as Hardesh did a few mixes to get the balance right. I think he added a slight reverb.

Still, I felt it needed something else... Cello part? Accordion? Guitar lead? God knows...

Then, just as we were finishing the remaining tracks end of last year, I thought of programming some simple bass and synth parts to the second half of the song, just to build the momentum towards the final refrain. I wrote very simple parts over several nights on Nuendo with some Korg synth patches on my newly beefed up PC (which I had to get fixed after the chip in the old one exploded) and voila it came together! LOL... it was a relief when it was finally done... after months of listening to the track over and over thinking "What's missing, goddarnit?"

In hindsight, I think I was just itching to contribute to the arrangement of it. Working with Hardesh has been a very rewarding collaboration. He's super patient and always telling me not to overdo it, which was what I needed. But I think there was a part of me that was scared too that it wouldn't sound like how I imagined it. That push and pull dynamic I think resulted in a very peculiar sounding album. I've gotten mixed reactions to it so far. It's a bit of a grower. I think it came out a bit more provocative, sensual and austere than I initially thought it would be. "Mother" really epitomises that. It's definitely been a surprise of a track: full of hidden secrets that unfold over time.

*

Mother

Mother, the clouds are watching you
Tempting you to take your washing off the line
They grow dark, so dark
Like skin under too much sun

Heavy with the future
So heavy with the future

And look, mother
Can you hear the rumble
The crowd has gathered at the edge of the storm
Looking for something or other, mother
Perhaps the storm is staring right back

Can you see it, mother
Can you

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New song on JK's MySpace + Remixes
Yesterday, I put up a new song on MySpace. It's my remix of "A Shadow". The original version arranged and produced by Hardesh Singh appears on the album. :-) The remix has a bit of a dubby drum n' bass trip hoppy kind of feel. I felt it suited the vocal part. Go and listen to it!

More news on remixes of "A Shadow".

Ergo Phizmiz, a most prolific remixer/producer/experimental sonic shaman from the UK (if you haven't checked out his stuff yet, please do!), emailed me yesterday saying he's finished with his remix of the song. I haven't heard it yet but he described it as "kind of like a couple of percussionists dying, with two aged analogue synth players with one finger each, a thundersheet, a bunch of wailing women, then Jerome Kugan over the top." LOL. Sounds like my cup of tea... yes sir. Can't wait!

Meanwhile, on the local front, Transient Vortex will be pushing their remix of "A Shadow (Transient Vortex vs. Jerome Kugan)" to local radio stations. Hopefully that will get some radio play. I've mentioned on this blog previously that the Vortex version has a 2-step beat, with that special '80s synth pop vibe. I really liked it when Sugs and Sam played it to me. Those guys are great.

There are more remixes on the way: two from Goh Lee Kwang and one from Elias Rose. I've heard them - sonic gold, sonic gold... :-)

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01 March 2008
Poem translated
I was pleasantly surprised yesterday when I discovered that one of my poems had been translated by a guy named Omar Feliciano, who was until recently studying in Japan and had visited Singapore where he met with Singaporean poets Ng Yi-Sheng, Cyril Wong, Alvin Pang and Alfian Sa'at. According to an email, he said that Cyril showed him a copy of "Imaginary Poems" the chapbook I made last year and that he "fell in love with it." And so translated one of them. I wrote to him asking if he wouldn't mind me posting it on the Imaginary Poem blog. He replied, "Why do you have to ask?"

LOL... indeed.

Here is the translated and original English versions of "Salt".

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