Samson Young Creates Art With the Sounds of Hong Kong
This year at Art Basel, he designed a multimedia walk around the city, titled “So You Are Old by the Time You Reach the Island.”
Tell us about your multimedia walk for Art Basel. It’s based on this fictional secret organization called the “Ministry of Gentlemanly Warfare,” which is similar to a real organization that was founded by Winston Churchill during the Second World War. It’s basically an organization that conducts various forms of sabotage and espionage. So there’s this secret organization, which is fictional, and there’s a character in this secret organization called Lok: He’s a senior engineer. He goes along the coastlines of Hong Kong to install pirate radio broadcasts as forms of sonic sabotage. When you go along this path on the multimedia walk, you’re hearing the story of how he did it, or why he did.
How did you first get into sound art? It was pretty organic. In my undergraduate years, I was basically a composer and nothing else. I came back to Hong Kong [after university] and I met a bunch of new media artists. From collaborations, I slowly learned how to do the things these other people were doing. When I went to graduate school, it was much easier for me to make my video, or build circuits, or learn programming to do the things that I wanted to do. And after that my palate expanded. It was never a conscious effort of, “I want to break boundaries.” It was like, “I have this work I want to make.”
Are creating sound art and composing music getting more similar, given how technology is making it easier for sound and visuals to mix? Music has always been very fluid, in terms of its representation across mediums. Dance is a perfect example of music crossing into another media. I think it’s actually quite natural to us to have these sorts of senses crossing. But what has become easier is learning new tools. So now, if I want to program for an interactive element of a piece or build a circuit for a musical installation, it’s much easier for me to go on the Internet and try to learn it myself with tutorial videos. That would not have been possible two decades ago. Now there are expectations for artists to be dabbling into these different things.
What is your favorite place, sonically? I love how video arcades sound.
Really? Isn’t it so chaotic? Yeah! It’s a cacophony of sound! Everyone is screaming on top of each other, it’s so loud. But I like how when you’re walking, you get a little lost, and for the first half minute you’re not sure if the sound is coming from the machine right next to you or somewhere else, and it takes a moment for you to figure out where that soundtrack is. You’re trying to lock into that sound and once you’re locked in, you can’t hear anything else but that.
What can we expect from you in the coming months? I am doing a new work with Para Site, which is also a piece about sound: That’s happening in May.