An Agaration of Empathy

Agaration 1

Agaration of Empathy
On Spoken Word, Music, Technology and the Self

Recently, our prime minister reiterated that the arts and culture are an integral part of Singapore which the country must continue to nurture. He went on to say that we must continue ‘to make connections between knowledge and real-world application.’ Typically, I don’t expect anything else of our leaders. They always have to figure out a way to find economic value from our art. Therefore, art must become translatable… today’s painters must become tomorrow’s animators in the service of an MNC, or some other faceless corporation. The bottomline is that all art must become monetised otherwise it is stigmatised.

We are particularly susceptible as a country to believing that progress is couched only in terms of a monetary imperative, and that art and culture are options that we can ‘explore’ once we are comfortable in our ensconced wireless bubbles. We cleave to technology as a byword for capable communication,we drive the creation of endless apps and push for green technology in buildings, flooding our homes with screens, consuming our spare hours with a banality that demarcates the narrow fields of thought circulating on the interwebs.

Apparently, our PM also quoted the Bible, since he offered that ‘Man does not live by bread alone’ in relation to arts and culture moving us beyond subsisting on basic needs. But, since he took the verse out of its original context, I shall take the liberty to finish it up, ‘but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of those who minister to us.’



Somewhat related to this, for the last six months, I have been working on a show called ‘Agaration of Empathy’ with four fellow artists; Bani Haykal, Weish, Isa Ong and Suhaili. They are all maestros in their own right, each fronting a band or bands or just performing and creating solo work both locally and overseas. It has been humbling and enlightening, a tumble into the possibilities of sound art as espoused through the vagaries of voice.

We started tentatively though, and it took us a while to figure out, like any devised/built work, what exactly we wanted to say. Eventually it felt that there was an artistic discourse waiting to be birthed in regard to the function of the self in the age of technology and how it affects conversation, interaction and emotion.

This lead us to our title, which combines a Singlish word, agaration – from the Malay word, agak, or agak-agak, to guess or estimate something. We coupled this with the often unquantifiable notion of empathy to attempt to do three things: Create, conceive and concatenate.


Here is a piece that I wrote for the show, which we performed as a group. It encapsulates a certain absorption of post-human impulses for modification through technology onto the fundamental limitations of the self.

Directions for the attenuation of desire as a function of electrical providence

(slow to fast)

  Tch tch tch

  Tch tch tch

  Tch tch tch

  Tch tch tch

  Tch tch tch


 schism chasm orgasm schism chasm orgasm schism.  (loop)

(throat whistling)

(to sing in numbers)


silence for ten seconds


The body as destruction, turns upon itself, the pivot points, pointing out the point where pointilism appoints some point of inquiry

The body as design,

Slick wetness of wire and desire to lengthen, straighten, shorten, fatten, unshape, unmend,

Pretension is only pre-tension, before tenses present, continuous, this is the best present we can give to ourselves, always becoming past, never future, never perfect.

screen screams (in various forms and modes, for 20 seconds)

Consider the possibility that the screen is the only means we know how to communicate.

Does this mean any other means will be subject to means testing?


Tch tch tch

Tch tch tch

Tch tch tch

Plate glass cheekbones, magnetized to draw kisses from the ether, the cognizance of like-minded thoughts hurtling together.

A ridged skull honed from concrete, weatherproofed against the cost of living and other forms of terror

Shaved feet, bone and sinew unburden to mould into luxury shoes, or the compact between those who foreshorten toes like unwieldy pencils

The image of a skull in the retina, the eye looks upon another eye without the clarity of the soul; a cloud of burnt grass is in the way

When Judy ignited, it was from the subdermal weight of all the mods they had implanted in her, beauty was a fiefdom of wetware, ideas running like teflon armies under her skin, ocular desires of dream merchants spat on the face of an unassuming proletariat.

Her skull shaven of popular culture, she inserted triceratop spikes in thin metal revolutions, daring anyone to challenge her head-on.

Her feet shod with titanium, she was no longer an elephant on an ocean floor.

Under the ruin of her eyelids, they embroidered a Persian patchwork of binary runes.

When she spoke you controlled her volume through an app.

A grounding wire ran from her heart out through her fingertips.

(not in unison) Make the sound of greatness Judy

Make the sound of greatness

We are finite loops, memory is only marrow

The rainbows stop when they hit concrete

but her tongue,

her tongue is the same

her tongue is the same (echoes)

Ah, but don’t you see it has been weaponized, circa 2000, the one fallout from the millennium bug we never caught, here is her last recording, listen…


Author: Marc

Creative educator. Sometime photographer. Fiddler of words.

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