Breaking new ground with Chinese instruments

SA comprises (from far left) guzheng player Natalie Alexandra Tse, 30; percussion player Cheryl Ong, 31; and Andy Chia, 35, who plays the dizi or Chinese flute.
SA comprises (from far left) guzheng player Natalie Alexandra Tse, 30; percussion player Cheryl Ong, 31; and Andy Chia, 35, who plays the dizi or Chinese flute.PHOTO: REBECCA TOH

SA is a trio made up of Andy Chia, 35, who plays the dizi or Chinese flute; Natalie Alexandra Tse, 30, on the guzheng; and Cheryl Ong, 31, on percussion.

All three are trained in Chinese instruments, but would rather be known as contemporary sonic musicians.

Tse says that while an "unsaid goal" for the group is to "explore new grounds for Chinese music", there is more to what SA can offer.

"We can't run away from the fact that we are Chinese. But having embraced that, we need to move on. We can't keep wondering what our traditional music was like back then," she says.

SA ("three of us" in a Chinese dialect) is known for weaving the sounds of the traditional instruments with modern techniques such as live looping.

Besides playing original compositions, the group favours sonic improvisations, where the members respond in real time to what one another is doing onstage.

On July 16, SA will be joined by audio and visual duo Nada for the Esplanade's Baybeats festival. Nada, which is known for its samplings of old-school Malay and South-east Asian sounds, will interact with the improvisations of SA's Chinese instruments.

The group also recently introduced a new education and community outreach initiative called exp., which stands for words such as experimental and exploration.

In particular, Tse is interested in reaching out to children.

"I do understand that our music may not be the most audience-friendly or palatable for the average audience," says Tse. "It's sometimes difficult to try to convince adults because they have fixed mindsets.

"But if we start exposing children from a really young age - and I think that exposure should be highly diversified; listening to experimental or noise music doesn't mean you can't listen to classical music - then maybe we can have more educated audiences for the arts."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2017, with the headline 'Breaking new ground with Chinese instruments'. Print Edition | Subscribe