Replicas of the World: An Interview With Liew Niyomkarn

Photo by Michael Devijver

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Liew Niyomkarn’s new album, I Think of Another Time When You Heard It, has stuck with me ever since I listened to it for the first time a few months ago. Days after listening to it, I’d find myself staring into space, thinking about the world of sound she creates. Niyomkarn describes it as “a reconstruction of memories in my childhood home, a place I grew up in, and conversations I had with people I met during the time I made this album.” It comes through in each detail, immersing listeners in this vulnerable space.

I Think of Another Time When You Heard It is out now on Chinabot. Order it HERE. Niyomkarn can be reached via her website.

I like to start interviews by talking about memories, which is especially applicable to your creative practice. So to start, what are some of your earliest memories related to music and sound? Are there particular songs or experiences that have stayed with you from early on?

I grew up with a massive family, and we loved organizing parties. We’d host someone’s birthday party every month or have a get-together on holidays. I distinctly remember my birthdays and major holidays like new year’s eve — to get a birthday gift or whatever, we ( my sister, cousins, and I ) needed to make a show. I’d end up playing whatever I could bang on, and my sister would sing. it was liberating and goofy. 

I also listened to the radio a lot and recorded radio programs I liked. I recorded myself playing guitar and singing, and I would swap a recording I put on a cassette with a friend. I unabashedly had fun, and this wasn’t embarrassing…

 I pretty much listened to pop-rock at that point. There was no Ultimate Guitar Tab or something like that back in the day, so I figured it out by ear and read music books. Not until I received proper music lessons was I gradually aware of the sonic environment. 

How did those early experiences and memories impact your creative practice?

I guess it opens me up and shows me not to restrain myself in one narrow road. 

I’m really interested in your ideas about conveying memories through sound, as it’s something I think about often. When composing a piece, what parts of a memory (a specific place, an idea, etc.) do you generally start with or even use when translating it into sound?

I moved to Antwerp a few years ago. I noticed that my sound had reshaped from when I lived in L. A. and Bangkok retrospectively; something is interesting about the vibe in the air of a specific place that subconsciously influences my work and conversation with people. As I’ve lived in different places, it becomes an amalgamation of commotion, and that’s refreshing because it’s continuously registered in my DNA. It’s an involvement that I don’t want to differentiate but rather have them living in me. 

Building from that, I think so much about how music has this incredible ability to take a listener and transport them to almost anywhere – a new world, a different time, etc. – and so this approach of conveying memories through sound really speaks to me. What is it about sound that makes it possible to take us into these different worlds?

KMRU’s manifesto says beautifully that sounds transcend boundaries, and time is not outside of sound’s archive; it’s in it. 

I love this reflection of thought because, literally, how sound brings you to a physical or ethereal plane. I can pick a field recording I made, which transports me to that time. It’s also about listening through sound. When your listening perception changes, you listen more profoundly, longer, etc. You open up the possibility of understanding the world and people around you. 

Why is field recording so crucial to your work?

Using field recording religiously makes you remember events, situations, and places before and after the recording is made. I have vivid memories of just doing that.

Your new album, I Think of Another Time When You Heard It, is remarkable. What made you decide to make an album built around memories of your childhood home and where you grew up?

Memories are malleable and stretchy. It adds up unfamiliar curiosities, and I perceive and receive a sense of places and people in a different way when I’m there. This album, in particular, happened to be made there, in that old but somewhat new environment for me. I was making up new experiences in the old atmosphere with familiar people. I think about places I used to go to and people I have met. It could be for memory in general, not primarily for mine. 

What was the most challenging part of making this record?

Actually, making this recording was straightforward, spontaneous, and unbounded. 

In December, I started recording this album in Antwerp when a music studio was given to me for a few months. I visited my childhood home, and I had my own room to branch out, and we were pretty much on the road every week. It was perfect timing for me to produce and home in on this project. 

One thing that struck me as I listened to the album is that there’s a tension woven throughout – almost this push/pull feeling of longing for home while simultaneously wanting distance from it. How can music help convey these memories and also process and transmit your underlying emotions about these memories?

You record memories through a device in the present time, so field recordings in this album somehow bring me back to specific events. The album is nonrepresentational of and doesn’t evoke any particular emotion, at least not that I intend to. Still, I think there are so many subjective emotions you can go through with a single memory, and that depends on the time you’re encountering. 

Photo by Michael Devijver

I really love the title, too, I Think of Another Time When You Heard It. Is there a story or meaning behind it?

A short film, Le Jetée by Chris Marker, is one of the influences on me. I also talked to a wonderful Astrophysicist for a previous sound walk project. 

She pointed out so many captivating points about time, and one of them said, When looking up at the sky is always in the past. The sun we see was 8 mins ago, and only the presence that’s infinite. I like that it reflects our memories because we quintessentially think about memories in the present time most of the time. So the title speaks about a parallel timeline, the curve of time, and absorbing this feeling of buoyancy. 

What are some of your favorite sounds in the world?

I’d say the sound of rivers and streams and peeling a banana skin are pretty satisfying. 

What else is coming up for you in 2022 and beyond?

I have a few gigs this Summer and a mini-tour in the UK and US. I’m very excited to meet old friends while on the road. It’s best to catch up with friends and hang out. I will be doing a group performance with a fantastic musician group called A.Hop later in October. Overall I look forward to playing MORE music, and I can’t wait for whatever is coming for me. All is good. 

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