To a casual listener, the compositions of Planeswalker might be easily typecasted as “ambient”. Planeswalker is the alias of electronic producer and sound artist Mervin Wong, and he’s set to debut new work in the form of Perihelion, a heavily textured four-track EP. From the plinking abstraction of title track Perihelion to the soaring lyricism of closer Luna, Wong allows that parts of this self-written and produced EP might be classified as what is commonly known as “ambient” but putting labels to things can be limiting, he says. Not to mention outdated.
Formerly trained as a classical violist, he started experimenting with other platforms and instruments out of a desire to form his own identity beyond the boundaries of a specific genre and discipline. Now as Planeswalker, his current body of work intertwines his classical training past with the electronic – ingredients such as the viola, electric violin, recorded sounds are all blended to produce a nebulous sound and approach that creeps closer to genre-trampling polymaths such as FKA Twigs, an artist Wong admires.
Despite having just finished the EP (look out for its release next Friday, April 10), Wong is already hard at work on a full-length electronic album that’s slated to drop in late 2020, as well as a series of live performances executed in collaboration with local and regional visual, sound and design artists. Ahead of the Perihelion EP’s launch, we talk to Wong on what inspires his works and why meaningful collaborations with artists across diverse fields are the future – both to his identity as Planeswalker and music as a whole.
What’s the story behind your alias, Planeswalker?
The story behind Planeswalker begins with my search for meaning in expression and energy. I am drawn to many genres, art forms, and disciplines and currently I’m trying to explore ways of performing music and sound based works in a way that reflect my inspirations from these realities and dimensions.
Could you tell us more about your history as an electronic producer? What brought about the change from your previous works to where you are now?
My history as an electronic producer stems from an interest to explore sounds outside of the realm of classical music – to push the boundaries of sound, genre and the listening experience.
In my previous works, I explored various sounds and textures across different tracks. In the upcoming EP, Perihelion, I’ve been treating the sound as an identity, forming a stronger core to my artistic inclinations. Throughout the process of making the record, I was very fixated on the intention to express and what that meant to me at various points. This meant being intentionally aware of how I was putting together various textures of sounds and samples; there is a thought behind each layering of sounds. I wanted to explore the idea of how I could make the tracks ‘holographic’ in nature, such that on each listen you would hear or notice different elements.
How would you describe your sound to someone who’s never heard it?
An experience in some sort of sensorial world, however you choose to interpret it. I feel that music and sound has the potential to evoke certain memories, imagery and sensation and with my record, I also hope to bring about a sense of experimentation in listeners both in their perception and observation of sound. I feel that my music can come across very abstract and because of that might feel foreign to some – but really it’s about how you feel and interact with your surroundings using these sounds as a backdrop or accompaniment of sorts.
What informs your work as an electronic producer?
Spirituality. The pureness and potential of a work of sound to evoke and create meaningful experience that we then are able to reflect and refract our lives through.
Could you take us through your creative process when coming up with new works?
Yes, it’s all different planes of existence and realities drawn from interpretations of the subconscious. In my mind I always begin with a journey, then try to find out what provokes the inspiration for that, and finally paint it with sound. The process feels like transcribing certain dreams into a sonic expression.
Dreams are stories, images and emotions that our brain conjures during our sleep, they are an amalgamation of our subconscious – what we have experienced in the physical reality. In my process, I tend to imagine different landscapes, narratives and spaces, yet not attaching myself to a particular visualisation. There’s a dimension that I’m allowing myself to wander into each time.
Creating music seems to be a very individualistic process – yet you seem to be moving towards a direction where collaborators across different art fields are required. How do you address that dichotomy?
I am deeply inspired by my contemporaries and collaborators. Even though I am ‘fronting’ Planeswalker, it is through them that I derive a tangible sound and form. I believe that it is through meaningful collaborations that we grow as people. Creating music itself is individualistic, but in presenting an identity as electronic producer Planeswalker, I feel that is totally a collaborative effort. My key collaborators in this effort are my creative producers Racy Lim and Izwan Abdullah from interdisciplinary studio, Such A Mood.
To grow as an artistic identity requires interactions which provokes and inspires my creative process, especially with my visual collaborators – filmmaker Clare Chong, visual designer Clara Lim, photographer/artist Charmaine Poh, writer/artist/filmmaker Sal Seah. My performance collaborators include dancer/movement artist Isabel Phua and dance scholar/choreographer Nirmala Seshadri.
Music is but one of the many lenses through which I create from. I’m informed by various genres, disciplines, and forms, but these individuals have contributed to a sense of who I am as an artist and a performer in a collective manner.
Who would you love to collaborate with?
I would love to collaborate and geek out with Ryuichi Sakamoto. Locally, I would like to work with Kin Leonn as well as Weish. With these sound artists, I’m curious to find out how different and similar we are in terms of creation and tastes.
Would you say combining music with other sensorial artforms is the future going forward?
Yes! I feel music has always existed in some way or another with other art forms, but it’s the re-looking at a perspective that frames these art forms alongside music – almost as if they were to exist on the same pedestal. I envision many potential and possible scenarios with such an approach.
It’s already apparent in the current digital and globalised world, where performers such as FKA twigs consistently contest her artistry on record and stage. I recently watched her performance at the Valentino Fall/Winter Menswear fashion show, and was blown away because of her ability to translate her studio record MAGDALENE in a condensed essence and project a very powerful and inspiring delivery live.
Could you share with us more of your upcoming projects for this year?
They can expect an alternative form of entertainment that highlights the multiplicity of genres and artistic mediums – sonic, visual design, performance art, dance and more alongside the people I’m creating with. We have also been planning a podcast series with fellow creatives and are excited to put the episodes up online.
Performance wise, we are hoping to eventually curate a journey that presents many intersections of artistic output that attract us in one way or another, framing everything into a complete experience that feels slightly different each time.
Towards the end of the year to early next year, I’ll be releasing an electronic album with artist-filmmaker Sal Seah. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy the current EP!