Plains by Alistair Sung marries technology with classical technique to create a unique cinematic sound.

Plains is about hybridizing Alistair Sung’s nonclassical interests with his classical ones. He uses a palette of cello and electronics with influences of dance music and Punk Rock. Punk Rock is found in the straightforward quality of his composition. His effects are direct and reductive. Dance music manifests in the way Sung uses two or three rhythmic sound vectors and explores the relationship between. Additionally, Alistair Sung’s music embraces the interaction between synthetic and acoustic sounds. By curating the software-driven components of his compositions, looping, repetition, and layering he augments the sound of the cello’s acoustic character.

I’m fascinated by your use of an electronic sound palette. Why are you interested in mixing the electronic with the acoustic?

I’ve always been really interested in finding the shared ground between different kinds of music. Growing up as a classically trained cellist, I was constantly reminded that what I did was out of touch with the present. At the same time, and like a lot of musicians these days, I didn’t grow up in a bubble. I was searching for a way of connecting to more contemporary forms of music-making while maintaining a connection to my roots of playing the cello. For me, I love the fact that electronic music can occupy so many different worlds and that it continues on from the same musical tradition that I was brought up in. It’s really exciting to read certain current-day electronic musicians listing composers like Xenakis, Varese and Stockhausen as influences. When I learned about these connections, it changed the way I listened to a lot of music. From there, it seemed like a logical move to explore electro-acoustic music further.

Plains is the product of Alistair Sung’s decade long career as a classically trained cellist and freelance musician. He’s contributed to a variety of exceptional solo and collaborative projects across a spectrum of genres. For example, he contributed to the stunning Always by Phillip Daniel and Handles by Drexler. He is a member of the Amsterdam Cello Octet and  s t a r g a z e. He’s toured with Chad Lawson, Mumford and Sons and Poliça. Until recently, Alistair Sung did not consider himself a Composer. To develop the skills and confidence to craft original music of his own, he embarked on a year-long collaboration with four different composers, Aart Strootman, Molly Joyce, Morris Kliphuis and Qasim Naqvi.

Tell me about your collaboration with Aart Strootman, Molly Joyce, Morris Kliphuis, and Qasim Naqvi. What did you take away from that experience?

These collaborations were the result of a project in which I wanted to combine my skills as a classically trained cellist with different types of music and music-making. It was also an opportunity to learn from some really incredible artists and to force myself to learn the basics of Ableton. The idea was to collaborate in different ways to observe and learn from these experts as a means of slowly trying to make my own music. It was a great process and each collaboration varied depending on different factors like geographical location, personality, and work process.

That project was quite experimental in nature and I’m really proud of the final results (which I’m planning to record next year). At the same time, I also work with a lot of film composers and more mainstream artists so ‘Plains’ was my attempt at drawing on some of the ideas and skills I’d picked up from the process and applying them to a more cinematic context. Most of the tracks on ‘Plains’ evolved out of little experiments and ideas that I’d picked up along the way.

I’d say the biggest take away from the whole experience was learning about making choices. It felt like the whole process of making my own music involved a constant process of choosing in which direction to take things (which is quite a difficult thing for someone who is incredibly indecisive!).

In your interview with Gaudeamus you said that you didn’t consider yourself a composer. After releasing an album of original music has that changed?

I think I still feel the same way, to be honest. For me, composers have such an impressive set of skills that they work on and study for such a long time to refine. While I think that the traditional idea of the tortured isolated composer is pretty much a thing of the past now, I’d say that composers are incredibly knowledgeable. They possess a set of skills that enable them to make clear choices at a much faster pace than someone in my position. Whereas a lot of what I do is improvising, experimenting, and revising, when I observe how composers work, I see a much faster, precise way of working with a more distinct creative goal.

Alistair’s Sung’s debut of original compositions was planned as a live performance in the museum quarter of Utrecht, Netherlands. The performance was canceled due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. Live performances have been postponed until January and February 2021. Fortunately, Alistair Sung’s album Plains is now available on all the major streaming platforms.

Music – Alistair Sung

Photography – Pim Leenen