X Factor

June 17, 2014

My mother bought an electronic organ for me when I was young, and sent me twice a week to a nice Christian lady for piano lessons. I preferred cycling around Johor Bahru with reckless abandon, and playing video games with equal recklessness, and so it transpired that I wasn’t paying much attention in piano class, nor did I practise a lot at home.

But I did come away classically trained, interspersed with Christian hymns and melodies, and the occasional choral performances from my yet unbroken voice.

By the beginning of secondary school, I had already pledged my soul to Simon le Bon, Boy George and David Bowie, but then I began to start to practise some form of musical elitism. I would be discovering relatively unknown bands (at least to my schoolmates), and discarding them as soon as they became more popular. Nothing was more grating than to have some uncool kid coming up to me saying, “have you heard the new single by Depeche Mode? It’s awesome!”. Yikes!

As with all teenagers, this desire to set yourself apart only lasted through some of those formative years. By the time I reached university, I had taken with me to the states the stalwarts of my music collection; David Sylvian and Sakamoto Ryuichi, The Cure, and the Smiths. By then, I believed that the music helped shaped the man I would become, in the way I thought, the way I expressed myself, from words of the heroes I aspired to and emulated.

But much more than this was the music itself. If the literature of a particularly precocious childhood were works from Paz, Mishima, Marquez, Kundera, Rilke, Kafka and Calvino, then I was already in the hands of great masters and poets. But music was more liberating, and certainly its limits were only constrained by my imagination.

And with Jazz, in particular when you hear it live, with its improvisations and different interpretations, is an art form that is attractive beguilingly because, and at once in spite of, its flaws. There is a moment of inflection when momentum builds up, and at its zenith; perfection is reached. One could not simply bottle up this singular moment, with its limitless contributing factors – and then in an instant it vanishes.

Now, as an avowed anti-theist, I see deep spirituality in the natural world; the beauty & awe of the night skies through the telescopes, the realisation that we began as stardust; the marvel and wonder of our physical world, of biological evolution, of mathematical truths & constants, of symmetry & chaos. Of boundless knowledge, of serendipitous discoveries, the human inventions, and the human spirit.

And the validation of our ingenuity and imagination that we are capable of producing such works of art, such beautiful music.

Perfection, however fleeting.