How 3 young Singaporean creatives realised a Singapore beyond their backyards
Time to think twice about your surroundings.
The emergence of COVID-19 has scaled back travelling worldwide. For Singaporeans, who are among the most frequent travellers in the world, it prompted us to explore our city more.
Singer-songwriter Cheng Jin An, 31, moved back from Taiwan after working there for two years. Away from home for a long time, she was excited to reconnect with old friends when she returned to “join forces and do something together”.
While on a call with her good friends 33-year-old Elisa Liu, a visual artist, and 27-year-old Heng Xiao Min, a director and video colourist, their casual conversation slowly diverged into propositions for a potential collaboration.
As Jin An had been working on improving her music production skills, she came into contact with a lot of sample packs, which includes collections of ambient sounds for music producers and sound designers.
Intrigued by the different qualities and variations of these recordings from around the world, she was inspired to do something similar in Singapore.
“I thought it would be quite a fun idea to just go around Singapore and record things because I already had a Zoom H4n recorder,” said Jin An. She shared this idea with her friends and Xiao Min added that they could build on this by incorporating both video and art.
That suggestion set in motion the conceptualisation and eventual realisation of Wallflowers: Sights and Sounds of Singapore, a multi-disciplinary project which combined their three specialisations – music, video, and visual art.
Showcasing the overlooked sights and sounds of Singapore through a series of dreamy videos, music tracks, sound libraries, and art installations, Wallflowers seeks to encourage Singaporeans to pay greater attention to their daily environments and rediscover the beauty of the little things in life.
“I feel like most Singaporeans always have their heads down, hands and eyes on the phone, with earphones plugged in. If you just unplug and slow down, there’s actually quite a lot of nice things and nice moments to appreciate and capture,” shared Elisa.
So far, Wallflowers has featured iconic neighbourhoods like Tiong Bahru, Toa Payoh, and Geylang.
In retrospect, the pandemic helped all of them think out of the box and pushed them to create a passion project beyond what they’re normally exposed to.
“Before, when I was purely focused on making art, I always saw art as art and music as music. I never really thought of combining the two together. I think pre-COVID-19, I didn’t think much because during that time, we could simply work on making art, conducting workshops and working in the community. I was very into my own specialisation.
“But because COVID-19 happened, it forced us to think of ways to present our works digitally and also how we can pivot and make a bigger project than what we are normally used to,” shared Elisa.
Timely enough, the National Arts Council (NAC) launched a series of grants, including the Digital Presentation Grant for the Arts (DPG), and the trio took the opportunity to send in their proposal.
Under the DPG, they were able to receive funding to kick-start the production process which involved collaborating with other self-employed creatives. They include Alvin Thoo, Jessica Lim, Prue Chew, Evan Chan, Claire Chew, and Huang Peh Linde.
Jin An added: “At the start, we were just trying to combine these three things together. We didn’t know what the final product would be so we were really lost. But after talking to each other, our horizons were broadened. Different creatives think differently and we are all capable of different things.
“It may not have previously occurred to us that this would be possible but after working as a team, we realised how collaboration can make things happen.”
In fact, this collaborative effort extends beyond the team, to other individuals such as people in the community.
When asked to recount some interesting behind-the-scenes stories, Elisa excitedly brought up how the people they met while shooting were really friendly and open to being filmed – a huge surprise for her as she always thought of Singaporeans as sceptical and camera-shy.
One such instance was when they were shooting at Queenstown Stadium, and they asked the footballers from Edge Of The Box who were training there, if they’d like to appear in the video.
“When they asked us what they needed to do, we just told them to run and continue with their drills. And they really did it.
“It was quite funny. They just spontaneously agreed. They even purposely took off their shirts.”
As a matter of fact, this spontaneity appears throughout their videos.
Unlike most production shoots, the Wallflowers team had little to no control over the things they would capture at the various locations. At most, they planned the route to take and the iconic landmarks to film.
The people they met on the shoot were completely unplanned.
“Just going there and experiencing what the place is, and then deciding what you want to document, is actually much more efficient.
“It’s also in line with our motto of paying attention to the present.”
Another heartwarming moment was when they visited Tiong Bahru and ran into an old man with his dog. He enthusiastically shared with them how cute and smart his dog is.
“I think the uncles and aunties we met really inspired us. When I meet them, they make me remember why I like Singapore,” said Elisa.
Listening to their stories has also helped the Wallflowers team with the music-making and sound recording.
“We’re all living in Singapore but there are different vibes in different neighbourhoods and it’s quite interesting to observe that.
“(The people living there) will give you a feeling of that place and through that, you’ll begin to imagine how the music should sound like,” shared Jin An.
If you listen to the soundtracks closely, you’ll realise how accurately the team has captured the essence of the places.
For example, for Tiong Bahru, there’s a strong sense of community and warmth, acutely accentuated by the familiar “kling-kling-kling” sounds of teaspoons in a kopi cup.
It’s been a little over a year since their first video and the team has since embarked on a second season which has two more features – Katong and Queenstown.
On top of this, they’ve decided to do a community initiative titled ‘#WallflowersAtHome’ in hopes that it will inspire more people to pay attention to their surroundings, and get inspired by their daily lives. Participants were asked to create either a music track, video montage or art piece inspired by your neighbourhood or a location in Singapore and upload their creation onto social media, as well as share what inspired their creations in their captions.
The team had an advice to share as well: “A lot of times, we live in the past or plan for the future. I think it’s good to just be present. Just try to be in the moment, notice things, listen to sounds, and open your Wallflowers eyes.”