Interview with Cedrik Fermont – Not your world music: Noise in South East Asia

Published by Alessandro Violante on December 15, 2016

not-your-world-music-noise-in-southeast-easiaWho follows Ant-Zen music will know that Cedrik Fermont, together with Olivier Moreau, makes albums with the moniker Axiome, but maybe doesn’t know that this is just one of his several projects, although maybe that is the most known in the West. In his trips, he visited the countries belonging to ASEAN, an acronym meaning Association of Nations of South-East Asia, collaborating with several projects belonging to the areas of noise, experimental music and sound art (that in those countries are considered part of the same thing), documenting all the things he saw. The result of his experiences, also thanks to the fundamental help of the sociologist – label manager Dimitri Della Faille, is a very interesting book covering a music panorama unknown to the Western countries until now, as we used to think that noise music was mainly a Western affair, with the exception of Japan (Japanoise). Not your world music: Noise in South East Asia proves that’s not true. Lots of projects are covered, enriched by a detailed description of the history of these countries and by interesting discussions on gender, political, censorship and cultural topics, with a sociological approach. We let Cedrik talk about his book.

Hi Cedrik, it’s a great pleasure to talk with you about your book (made together with Dimitri Della Faille). I’ve bought it at Maschinenfest 2k16. First of all, could you explain us the genesis of this project?

It’s been a long process. In June 2004 I performed for the first time in Asia at an event in Bangkok, playing some noise and breakcore. Six months later, I left Europe again for a six months tour across Vietnam, China, South Korea, Singapore, Laos, Malaysia and Thailand. My goal was to perform there but also meet and discover local artists, buy records, attend events and festivals and prove to all those who told me I’d never find anything there that they were completely wrong. After that trip and several others in the Middle East, North Africa and East/South East Asia from 2003 until 2007, I decided to publish a compilation that included as many Asian and African Artists as I could, the CD included 20 artists from about 22 countries such as Algeria, the UAE, Lebanon, China, Taiwan, Indonesia and many more, and then came the idea of writing a book about alternative electronic, noise and experimental music in Asia and Africa. But more I travelled, more I searched the Net, more was the project becoming too ambitious.
After one of my big tours in 2014 where I crossed 19 Asian countries, Dimitri proposed me to collaborate in writing a book about South East Asia. We both had performed in the South East and had been to all the ASEAN countries apart of Brunei for me. I immediately accepted being a sociologist, teacher and musician. I think Dimitri is the right collaborator. We both share similar views on many topics and are concerned about documenting non-Western contemporary music and there is definitely a cruel lack of information around that part of the world and its connections to noise music.

If I’m not wrong, this is the first book covering noise music made in South-East Asia countries. What do you think musicians and listeners of this kind of music can discover reading it?

It is indeed the first book of its kind. The readers can discover the scenes and musicians involved, the variety of genres, the local and international networks, the issues that some may face like lack of infrastructures and budgets or censorship, gender issues as well as a history of experimental music in South East Asia dating back from the late 1950’s, early 1960’s, interviews rebuilt like a conversation, bibliographies of popular music, discographies, etc.

Reading one of the first chapters of this book, I’ve noted that, among noise music genres, rhythmic noise isn’t mentioned. What’s the matter? Do you consider it a genre more connected to noise, techno or industrial music?

I don’t understand why rhythmic noise is called so, in most cases. To me this is very far from noise, this is dance music like techno or drum’n’bass with a lot of distortion. I don’t mean it in a bad way but this is how I feel it. In any case, I never heard anything that sounds like rhythmic noise in South East Asia except in Singapore; you can find some similar artists only in the East (in Japan and China) as far as I know.

Reading your book, it seemed to me that, in particular in the countries belonging to ASEAN, what we, as Western citizens, consider distinct areas such as those of sound art, experimental music, improv, noise and performance art, are considered part of the same area. Do you confirm me this thing?

They are seen as connected. But this is the case as well in the West. In Berlin where I live, you may go to an event that includes electroacoustic music, free improv and noise for example.
I would say that a major difference I see in South East Asia and especially in Indonesia is that many organisers are not afraid to book for the same show a grindcore band, a punk band, a folk singer, a hip hop artist and some harsh noise performers, something you rarely encounter in other parts of the world.

Very often the word “experimental” is used. It can mean much things. Which meaning do you give to it?

When I use it it’s just pure convenience, as many people seem to include free improv, noise, electroacoustic, etc. in the field of experimental, and listeners immediately understand what I mean.
But I usually have a major problem with this term: ninety-nine percent of the time I don’t see where is the experiment in so-called experimental music. So much has been done already and so many people misuse and abuse of the term. To me, when Luigi Russolo, Toru Takemitsu, Daphne Oram, John Cage, Yevgeny Sholpo or Pauline Oliveros composed their first pieces, this was definitely experimental music but how can one still call her or his music experimental after 100 years of “experimental” music ? It’s like making Dada art today and calling it experimental but Dada is 100 years old! There are few exceptions, though. Some would argue that it’s not because the experiment has been done before that it cannot be made again and again. I don’t know.

I’ve found very interesting when, in the interviews to musicians, some say that noise music belongs to the area of “extreme music” but I think it is not, considering its origins (the Futurist Luigi Russolo and his Intonarumori and, later, Edgar Varèse’s Musique Concrete and so on). I would simply call it “dissonant”, in a wider sense. What do you think about it?

I don’t find noise dissonant. I think it’s an extreme way of producing sound. Extreme in a good way. But it’s not new, indeed. Russolo was perceived as an outsider and not accepted in all circles, in that sense he was extreme or radical if one prefers to say.

On the other hand, I doubt that most composers who started to experiment with noise such as Pauline Oliveros, (CD bought in Italy) or Masami Akita had heard of Russolo’s music when they started, I think that there is a gap between what happened in the 1910s – 1930’s and the 1950’s, this partly due to the Second World War.

One of the main topics faced on this book is the relation between noise and gender. It seems to me that, in Western societies, there aren’t a lot of women musicians who play noise music if compared to men, but I don’t think this is a form of discrimination in itself. What do you think about it?

This gender gap also appears in the Western world, indeed, particularly in the field of noise music and above all power electronics. Regarding so-called experimental and electroacoustic music, the situation has improved.
I cannot talk further about the situation in the West, I still haven’t taken time to read any relevant documents about it. As for the East, not only South East Asia, it is obvious to me that it is the result of a discrimination. As mentioned in the book, the narrowest gender gap is to be found only in Vietnam and Singapore for some reasons, possibly to the fact that Vietnam is still connected to socialism and many women are active in various levels of the society (the gender gap in many socialist countries like the DDR in the past was narrower than in most capitalist countries) and Singapore is at some point westernised. In more conservative societies, where gender roles may be very split and defined by the society and / or religion(s) such as Indonesia, the lack of women in the scene is definitely due to sexism or at least partly due to it and assigned / imposed gender roles.

In the interviews, it’s claimed that noise music origins should be found in Western countries and North America. There’s no doubt that Luigi Russolo, with his experiments, was a forerunner of noise music as we know it, but listening to the song of Kyaw Zin Htet, it could be said that its origins should be searched before those experiments, maybe to the origin of sound itself. What do you think about it?

I believe that it is not because noises and dissonances (according to western ears) have been included or accepted in some (often traditional) music forms before noise music that there is a connection between them. Whether we speak about the dadaists, Russolo, Schaeffer, Cage or Walter Ruttmann and many more, those composers’ goal was either to create something completely new or to distance themselves from the static past to enter modernity if not the future. Of course, one is always influenced by their environment, nothing comes from scratch, but I hardly believe that we can make such assumption regarding a hypothetical connection between noise and music that precedes it. The connection I see is above all the sonic environment (factories, urban areas, machines such as locomotives, planes and cars), the conservatism in art, religion, politics and society in general that some could not stand anymore, science was also a key element. WW2 certainly played a role too in the development of new music and new forms of expressions and art in general.
Burmese composer Kyaw Zin Htet is influenced by what he experienced and heard while studying in Singapore, more than anything else, I think.


The compilation is very interesting, presenting various approaches, and reflects what said above in one of the first questions of the interview, that in these countries there’s a strong connection between experimental music, noise, electroacoustic music, field recordings and so on. Were the songs contained there made for the book or not?

The tracks are exclusive, yes, we mostly tried to select noise artists from different backgrounds, some coming from rock music, others from academic music or straight from noise. Hence, a few of the pieces are not purely in the field of noise. We made the connection, not all those musicians knew each others before the project was published. I think that one of the reasons why there seem to be more connections there is the fact that in many of those countries, the scenes (when there are some) are small compared to what happens in Europe for example), so people tend to work a lot together.

If I’m not wrong, you’re born in Africa, although you could be considered a citizen of the world. After a book covering noise in South-East Asia, it would be beautiful to read a book covering noise music in Africa. Is there a scene there? Could we expect this in the future?

I was born in Zaire, indeed, and I’m partly of Congolese descent. I still think of writing a book about Africa but not about noise; there are too few artists operating in this field over there and it is especially limited to some regions. I would include electronica, electroacoustic, ambient, darkwave and perhaps some other more popular genres such as disco, Shangaan electro, kwaito, kuduro, electro chaabi, but I’m still not sure about it. the African context is very different, it is also a vast continent with a lot of cultures that I physically didn’t explore so much yet.
I’m also working on an essay about the scene in Iran, and wrote a few essays in the past few years, which include both continents: Asia and Africa.

Thanks to you and Dimitri for your research and your very beautiful book! If you want to, greet the readers and explain them where to buy your book!

The book is available through our websites, the easiest is but you can find it in several bookstores in Berlin (Praxis, Staalplaat) and soon in Hong Kong (ACO Book), sooner or later in more countries too (Indonesia, Switzerland, China). Unfortunately, the compilation is already sold out and I’m not sure yet that we will re-publish it, a digital version is nevertheless available.

Thanks for your interest!