Hong Kong-based Young trained in music composition before going on to become an artist who pushes and warps the boundaries of melody in his sound-based practice. Here, he shares his studio playlist with us—and tells us about his ideas of “impossible music”, dreaming of technological days gone by. 

 

I remember when the computer didn’t make a sound, when the machine was mute. Back in the day, a computer needed an add-on chip to generate any sound that was richer than a humble system blip. My first soundcard was a Taiwanese clone of the Ad Lib card. Ad Lib was a huge hit to begin with, but when the fancier Sound Blaster came on the market it eventually got squeezed out. I thought my Ad Lib sounded amazing, and stuck with it for years, until compatibility issues left me with no choice but to replace it. According to the copy of a print ad for Sound Blaster, its claims to superiority rests upon its ability to produce a “believable audio landscape” that “blurs the line between gaming and reality”. Subsequent, pricier models of the Sound Blaster banked on ever-more “realistic” sounds. Gamers happily emptied their wallets for a better soundcard every other year.

Samson Young, photo by Dennis Man Wing Leung

Fast forward to the 2000s, and advancements in digital audio synthesis had basically plateaued. There is little evidence to suggest that anything beyond 48k will produce perceptible improvement in quality. The MP3 format even went the opposite direction and trimmed some fat off digital audio’s data structure.

I cradled the word “realistic” with quotes because we are not talking about literal correctness. If you consider the programmer an artist, which, I certainly do, then you can blame him for a commercial flop, but never for being wrong. Correctness, the paltriest of all virtues, is something to demand of students, not artists.

Another case in point: we all know the hardcore musicians who swear by analogue equipment. To the analogue dogmatist, a Roland 808 is only considered an instrument when it’s this chunky, intimidating, physical thing that demands to be shuttled around. When Bob Moog proclaims an analogue synth more “natural”, using the analogy of sunlight versus fluorescent light, he is asserting more than a mere aesthetic preference. What he is really saying is that this is the way things ought to be.

Video stills of Samson Young, Palazzo Gundane (Homage to the Myth-Maker Who Fell to Earth), 2017. Courtesy the artist

 

Samson Young: The Highway Is Like a Lion’s Mouth

From 6 November to 23 December at Edouard Malingue Gallery, Shanghai

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