Kin Leonn portrait by Christopher Sim

Sometime this past August, I became aware of a gig many of my friends were looking forward to: a solo set by local ambient musician and composer Kin Leonn, held at The Projector.

I kicked myself for missing out on his sold out debut solo gig — I was out of town — but made up for it by listening to his SoundCloud, and I loved what I discovered there.

Kin Leonn Ho’s work is hard to encapsulate but briefly, it makes for a soothing, dream-like experience. With tracks named Shinrin-yoku (the Japanese belief in the meditative, restorative power of “forest bathing”), it ought to paint a picture — even if incomplete. I’m reminded of various things when I listen to his music: Spirited Away‘s OST, Sigur Ros, a vast body of water… Though deftly spliced with veins of futurism that make me think of Blade Runner.

Ahead of the launch of Ho’s debut album Commune on December 21, we speak to the talented multi-instrumentalist on why films matter to him, and how he translates personal experiences into his work:

Kin Leonn Ho: In a nutshell

“I’ve just turned 23 on December 1, a quiet affair spent celebrating alone in my little room in London. I’m here doing a degree in Music Mixing & Mastering, amongst other matters of self-initiated artistic and spiritual growth. By the time I’m done, I’d ideally have released a couple more albums too.”

How would you describe your music to the uninitiated?

“Perhaps the easiest way would be to say that it’s a film soundtrack. The scenes are up to their own imagination. I guess the hope is that they would approach it with more intentionality, more willingness to associate each track with something personal to them”

What got you started as a composer?

“When I realised just how tangible the textures and harmonies melding in my head were. Maybe I felt like they were too real to ignore and not actualise into something others could hear.”

Walk us through Commune — what’s the story behind the album?

“It’s the idea that everyone can share into certain emotions, and not just the broad ones like excitement or melancholy or joy. We can delve deeper into specific types of melancholy. A particular nostalgia. Strange but definitive dreams. Certain epiphanies. These seem to be such distinct feelings that might feel inherent to your unique childhood or formative years. But the more we build a sort of language for it, the more we realise that all of us are so much more connected than we care to believe.

Photo courtesy of Luke Beh

Therefore, there was obviously a certain degree of personal contemplation involved in translating these introspections into music. The album is essentially my own experience on certain things: strange dreams, echoes of childhood emotion, intense revelations, etc. The first demo tape I sent to  KITCHEN. LABEL (his record label) was the culmination of a few months of building this somewhat-random material. The actual album writing and producing took about six to eight months.

The interesting thing is that I produced more than half the album with no real album concept in mind. But when I actually started penning down Commune’s overarching concept halfway through and began consciously writing the rest of the tracks with it in mind, I realised that all the previous songs were already aligned anyway. It was just a case of actualising what my subconscious was already doing.”

What was the inspiration for the album and what are your favourite tracks?

“I think, in my gap year, I just hung out so much with friends. It was inspiring in the sense that we were essentially helping each other realise things about ourselves through our conversations.

My personal favourite off the album is Desire #9. Funnily enough, it’s a track that initially didn’t even make it to the demo tape, let alone be part of the final album. But when I let a few friends listen to it later on, they had a connection to the piece, and it made me realise my own subconscious intentions in writing it in the first place. And over the months it completely grew on me, so I had to include it.”

How does your obsession with film manifest in your tracks, and what are some films that have influenced you most?

“Perhaps the way that tracks are generally unstructured and seem to shift in and out of different settings at times. That freedom is so important in allowing me to experiment and fuse different parts together, much like some of my favourite films do. The Tree of Life is one film that perfectly demonstrates this, connecting diverse scenes in a seemingly abstract manner, but with such intentionality at the end of it.

Here are some other films I adore (and you might hear a couple of them sampled in the album): The Taste of Tea, Her, Coherence, Drive, Lost in Translation, In the Mood for Love, Blade Runner, A Ghost Story, Interstellar.”

You’ve enlisted local artist Jon Lim to do the album’s cover art — what does the painting depict?

“He’s a great guy with this amazing genuineness concerning his art and it helped that we were on the same page on many levels. One of the descriptions I gave this album was ‘…a place we are drawn to share with others, like nightly companions lying silently together as the stars flicker before them.’ I guess the artwork was kind of intended to express this idea.”

How have you evolved as a musician since being part of acclaimed electronic band midst?

“Oh, musically, I’m never not evolving. Even right after I finished Commune, a part of me felt like ‘okay, I’ve learnt so much through that album writing process, [now it’s] time to rewrite the whole thing.’ I think it’s totally fine if my first and second album don’t sound the same. Musically, I’m discovering new textures and new melodies all the time — usually faster than I can master the previous few. Also, I’ve been listening to way more new music than ever before, mostly in the avant-garde ambient and electronica territory. I suppose that has increased my empathy and understanding for these kinds of sounds; the ability to attach emotional significance and re-express it in my own music.”

How did your solo gig at The Projector come about, and what was the reception like?

“Ricks (from Ho’s record label KITCHEN. LABEL) and I felt that we needed to have at least one good local show for this album. Since it was highly unlikely that I would return to Singapore before the next summer, we decided to go for it just before I left for London. There wasn’t much time to prep, so I guess it wasn’t a perfect set. But I was so madly heartened by the amount of faith people had in me — all the support I received from friends, family, and fellow creatives in the scene. Also, big sentimental value in having it at The Projector; the place holds a ton of good memories for my friends and I.”

Who would you love to collaborate with?

“I’d love to work with an artist like Grouper. Or Julianna Barwick. Choral music has always been something that I’ve wanted to fuse with my own instrumental experiments, and these two artists have such exceptionally angelic voices. Oh, and I dream of Kiasmos or Jon Hopkins remixing one of my tracks into their brand of electronica. Just putting it out there, I’m definitely doing a dance album at some point in my life.”

What’s on your mind going into 2019?

“I’m working on a couple of new things at the moment. The second midst EP has been a long time coming, and we’re e-mailing each other from three different countries to make it happen. I’m also working on some music for a visual art installation happening in February at the Singapore Art Museum. There are no plans to tour currently, but it’s a definite possibility too. Either way, there’ll be new music in 2019 for sure.”