In Search of Kwan…
A new body of work from Barrionics
Recovery is the key to understanding the experiences from the past and unlocking the mysteries of the future.
The vanguard styling of Barrionics exemplify the latest developments in electronic music, designed environments, and folk traditions. The hybrid name Barrionics combines the words barrio (rural village) and electronic, signifying a blend of musical styles and aesthetics. ‘Barrio’, in this case, connotes not just the locale of the rural village disengaged from the urban centers of high artistic production, but also a musical style that is relegated to the margins of popular music. Physically, socially, and aesthetically ostracized, the notion of the barrio is energized with its hybridization with new digital strategies, synthesizing barrio and electronic into a new art form.
“In Search of Kwan…” is a new body of work exploring the essence of “Kwan”, the great among, the unspeakable, the invisible, the inaudible. “Kwan” is a speech disfluency in Pilipino occurring similarly like “um” or “like” in speaking when there is a break in speech pattern or a-loss-for-words. “Kwan” can also have the meaning of “whatever”, a non-specified object or action, or a seemingly neutral adjective. However, “Kwan” functions differently from the mundane “um” or the banal “like” which are true linguistic breaks and fillers. The occurrence of “Kwan” in spoken Pilipino offers an insight to the way consciousness is negotiated with others.
Kwan might be a simple utterance or a linguistic habit that appears without thought but its significance is much deeper. When a speaker uses “Kwan”, it can be a conscious effort to NOT name or describe what the object of the speech is but still acknowledging its presence or effect. The speaker is consciously negotiating the breadth and depth of information to disclose based on who the listener is. This situation of being acknowledged yet unnamed brings the interaction onto an unstable, transitory level, unsure but understood. “Kwan” is dissimilar to an innuendo or a double-entendre where there is an implied meaning yet coded through word play. “Kwan” is filler for the spaces in between confusion and clarity, between going and coming, between being and becoming.
In Hegel’s dialectic, “kwan” is filler in between the thing and its opposite. The 19th century German philosopher, Hegel, describes the idea of the dialectic, “that categories turn through themselves into their opposites.” By thinking through a thing, one ends up thinking its opposite, or its negation. This begins a cycle of transformation from one category to another to another to another that can only be resolved through synthesis, another mode of transformation. As one is thinking through an object, as that object dissolves and before it is reformulated into its opposite, this in-between space, this no-longer but not-yet, this is “Kwan”.
“In Search of Kwan…” is both futile and productive. Like “Kwan” itself, this project is in-between; it is about recovering the disappearing or producing the immaterial. Barrionics is exploring its being through its actions and systematically going through the dialectical stages of consciousness. The first stage is having an experience, an occurrence in nature faced by animals, plants, earth, water, etc. Humans internalize this experience by thinking about it, undergoing the second stage. By thinking about the experience and thinking through the experience, new forms of knowledge begin to develop. But before it develops into a known being, it is first undergoing Kwan, the state of indeterminacy, the third stage. Finally, the fourth stage, the experience goes though itself to reach its opposite, developing a new level of consciousness. Through various experiments in research and production, Barrionics courageously is thinking through itself to find its opposite in the hopes of understanding past experiences and unlocking the mysteries of the future.
The Sound of Kwan
The first experiment from “In Search of Kwan…” manifests itself in the act of excavating sound. The immaterial yet physical phenomenon of sound allows the explorers of the past to ride a seamless wave back in time while its undulating frequency resists epochal markers that prevent forward progress through backward movement.
Sound is a phenomenon with quantifiable physical qualities in spite of its intangible presence. It can travel great distances and finds appropriate carriage in the elements: water, earth, wind, and fire. The frequencies that humans perceive are a fraction of what sound is capable of being. This notion of the extra-sensory qualities of sound is where this inquiry begins. We ask the questions; can sound be harnessed? How does nature archive the sound of time? Is history aligned with a frequency of universal sound?
Barrionics is a musical group invested in critical and experimental projects to develop its unique sound and image. As archaeologists of sound, Barrionics visited three sites where sounds of Kwan might be trapped. By visiting these sites, the group hopes to uncover new information about Kwan. Kwan is a sound, its an image, its an emotion, lost due to colonization and migration. Barrionics is here to recover Kwan. Kwan, it’s filler for something missing, for something you can’t remember. It’s a substitute – a blank tile in scrabble, the joker card, indeed can be very ambiguous, vague, and mysterious.
Why sound and why now? Barrionics member, Lily-Anne Perez says, “I like the idea of searching, recovering something you can’t even remember or don’t even know. I’m sure marami tayong mahahanap, di lang natin alam kung ito na nga ba yung kwan. Kasi ano ba yung kwan? (We have a lot to uncover, we just do not know what it is even if we find it, because, what is kwan?) It’s like me trying to find my musical roots – I’m not really sure what the pre-colonial music of Samar was dahil maraming patong na mga influences ang naganap, wala namang masyadong (because there are numerous strata of influences, and not many) documents to describe the sound. So marami akong sounds na pwedeng magawa (I can produce a number of sounds) based on my search, the sounds will all be kwan sounds.”
Pandanggo Ng Kwan
Excavating the sounds of our past is a momentous task in all aspects. This task if successfully achieved will be a historical breakthrough in researching history and past events through sound. However, the units that build up this task are miniscule moments of sound, such small frequencies that are undetected by the naked ear.
To bring forth this sound, this sonic energy to a visceral level, Barrionics resorts to indigenous rituals of calling forth spirits and harnessing this psychical energy. The body acts as a divining rod searching for the hidden reservoir of Kwan energy in the environment and revealing its location. Through Pandanggo Ng Kwan, a synthesis of tribal rituals and trance dances that beckon the spirit, the sonic energy comes forth and makes its presence known. Pandanggo Ng Kwan allows the body to be a receptacle for the excavated sounds but also as means to harness and express these sounds as movement. The body’s dual function as storage and processor allows for the sound to remain dynamic and flow continuously.
As an act, a process, a performance, Pandanggo Ng Kwan undergoes several episodic developments. The cleansing of the place is a necessary first step in performing Pandanggo Ng Kwan, as it assures the purity of intention and the sanctity of location. The calling forth of the sound begins with a silent reveille of subtle hand gestures and head movements. These movements produce inaudible sounds that ripple through space tapping the hidden reservoirs of sound. The calling forth of the sonic energy escalates to include bigger gestures and finally expels noise to make room for the new sounds to come into the body. As the new sound enter the body and interacts with a physical form it creates a momentous yet fleeting materiality, sound is embodied, sound is concretized, but soon to dissipate as gestures, as movement, as dance. Like a locomotive powered by steam, the body continues to move as long as there is energy. The body stops moving when the sonic energy is exhausted, with its sole evidence, a residue remain, like soot lining a chimney, the new knowledge of sound lining our consciousness.