Bringing Sound Arts Close to People


Epoch Times, Singapore Edition (Issue 492, August 8 – August 21, 2014)

By Li Yen
Epoch Times Staff

Have you ever experienced entering an exhibition hall, and buzz and sound filled your eardrums before you ever caught a glimpse of the artwork?

This is how you will feel when you visit the exhibition of Zulkifle Mahmod, who is one of Singapore’s foremost sound sculptor and an Associate Artist at The Substation, Singapore.

Graduating in 1997 at Singapore’s LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts with a Diploma in Visual Arts majoring in sculpture, he integrates two of his main inspirations – sculpture and sound – into his works, and create 3D ‘sound constructions’ and ‘soundscapes’ installations, drawings and sculptures.

‘Zul: Sonically Exposed’, one of his latest exhibitions held at The Private Museum from Jan 15 to Mar 9, showcased 14 reliefs, installations and sculptures laid out on wooden boards. These sound artworks are created using delicate electronic components such as capacitors, resistors, photoresistors, integrated circuits and piezo discs. Connected skillfully by metal wires, they produce waves of electronic buzzes.

In fact, these noises are a representation of the noise pollution in Singapore, which has become an integral part of our urban living.

“On the surface, Singapore looks really nice, as it is packaged to please and attract tourists,” Zul said. But when you take a closer look, according to him, you will discover increased intolerance as a result of a growing population and acceleration of construction works.

Having held exhibitions in Singapore, Thailand, Germany, Japan, Vietnam, Moscow, China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Norway and Finland, Zul feels that there is no lack of talent in Singapore. However, Singapore has a lack of appreciation of its own local talents.

“It’s sad to say that most of the creative people from Singapore are [more] appreciated overseas [than] Singapore itself,” he said.

As one of four Singaporean artists who participated in the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007, Zul wants to bring sound arts closer to people. His future project will include a ‘robotic orchestra’ using science lab apparatus.

“That will be early next year,” he revealed.

Why did you choose to major in sculpture at Singapore’s LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts?

It started as an economic reason but then it became something that I love. Back then it was expensive to study in Lasalle. If I were to do painting, I had to spend on paint, acrylic and canvas. In sculpture, basically I can use anything to create and I don’t have to spend money on materials. I can use found objects or ready made objects. It makes me think hard about using different materials to create my sculpture pieces.

How did you get into sound sculpture? Who or what influences you?

I was introduced to computer music software in 2001 by a Dutch artist, Jurr Van Diggele, when I was in Norway during my residency. I learnt from him and when I came back to Singapore, I tried to incorporate sound in my visual installation. I realised that because my visual was very strong, the sound took on a supporting role. So in 2004, I decided to just focus on sound and minimise the visual elements.

Which artists have influenced your work and why?

The artists that influence my work are Joseph Beuys and Matthew Barney. I like how each of them treat materials in their practice. I was fortunate to view their exhibition in 2007 when I was in Venice Biennale.

Can you tell us more about the exhibition ‘Zul: Sonically Exposed’? What are the messages you wish to convey through this exhibition? How did this idea begin?

Sonically Exposed started three years ago. It was about road diversion to give way to new public spaces. I remembered clearly that the bus stop kept changing due to road diversion. In a way, our memories become short. Sometimes it is hard to remember what this spaces used to be.

With urbanisation and globalisation, our population and noise level increases. With that, level of [intolerance] also becomes higher. That’s why in Sonically Exposed, I did not beautify the noise. It remains pure. Noise has become part of us living in the city.

Can you tell us more about your previous art exhibitions or projects prior to the exhibition ‘Zul: Sonically Exposed’?

Before my ‘Sonically Exposed’ exhibition, I was in Bangkok presenting a sound installation titled ‘Sonic Encounter, Bangkok’. It was part of a group show titled ‘We=Me. ASEAN Contemporary Art Exhibition’ organised by Silpakorn University.

What is your favourite art project so far? Why does it stand out for you?

I must say it’s ‘Sonic Dome. An Empire of Thoughts’ at the Venice Biennale in 2007. It stands out because it’s the first time Singapore is sending a sound work to the Venice Biennale. At that time, there were only about 5 sound works at the Biennale.

What’s your personal aesthetic? What excites and inspires you?

My personal aesthetic is clean and minimal. The people and the surroundings always inspire me in my work.

How do you take a concept from an idea to a finished piece of artwork?

My process always begins with an idea which I penned down on my sketchbook. Then I will start with drawings on paper. My drawings are always colourful and chaotic. I guess that’s my thought process. Then I will start doing the finish work and it’s always very minimal and monotone.

What are your preferred tools and materials?
I don’t have any preferred tools or materials. Every materials to me have their own characteristics. It also depends on the concept of the work.

Do you believe artistic creativity is innate?
Yes, but I also believe in learned experience. For me, both need to exist in the creative process.

Singapore has often been criticised for lacking real creativity. Do you agree? Is it tough working as an artist in Singapore?

No I don’t. We have a lot of talented creative people in Singapore. I feel the one thing (that) is lacking here in Singapore is appreciating and believing in your own Singaporean talents. It’s sad to say that most of the creative people from Singapore are much appreciated overseas rather than Singapore itself.
It’s always tough but not only in Singapore. It’s internationally. But having said that, it doesn’t stop us from creating. We will find ways.

As an artist, how do you define success?

For me, success is if my works influence and inspire people.

As a sound-media artist, is there anything special you hope to be able to accomplish? What are your plans for future projects?

I always hope to be able to bring sound arts close to people. My future project will be creating a ‘robotic orchestra’ using science lab apparatus. That will be early next year.

Zulkifle Mahmod’s ‘No Substance, 2014’ Mini Presentation will be held at Aliwal Arts Centre, 28 Aliwal Street #02-10 from August 21-23 at 8pm.

For more information about Zulkifle Mahmod and his sound works, visit or

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