Singapore and Malaysia – 4

Singapore was designed by an employee of the East India Trading Company, Sir Stamford Raffles, in the 1800’s, and the section is still fairly divided by the cultural differences it originally had. In the area more populated by Malay Singaporeans, we found a shop that sold a few gamelan instruments. My interest was piqued thanks to the Acadia University’s gamelan ensemble, and I asked the young shopkeepers about the instruments there. In response, he pulled his friend into the shop, sat down and played us a song on the ‘sarod’ and ‘vendag’! The clip below is quite long..

Close to the instrument shop, we came across an amazing performance of the Kuda Kepang, a traditional dance of the Malay people, but it also exists in Indonesia as I found out. Young men were ‘riding’ colourful plywood horses and moving about a courtyard doing slow, individual dancing motions. Other young men were walking amongst them and would isolate one horseman and after each prepared himself, he would whip the horseman! (see picture above) The dancer was apparently in a trance (induced by what, I’m not sure) and felt no pain from the stroke, which was not gentle by any means. The horsemen would also rip hunks of coconut husks off the coconut with their teeth, and one even fell to the ground in his trance. There were bowls of cloudy incense around the edges and the horsemen would sweep the smoke over themselves. The entire scene was surrounded by adults and children of mainly Malay heritage quietly watching the display.

As we approached the dance, we could hear the golden sounds of a gamelan. On one side of the dance, a full gamelan was being played at an amazing volume and speed by young children, they looked like they were between 8 and 18. The players would switch instruments as they became tired. The music shifted from blazing choruses at full volume where everyone was sweating, and then it would thin down to simple melodies on one or two instruments. It was not a concert, however: the musicians never stopped playing, there was no applause from the audience or acknowledgment by the players or dancers. The only time the horsemen ever moved together was when the musicians thrust their song into a fast section and the dancers raced around the courtyard in a line, falling to a stop in front of the musicians and shaking their ‘horse’s heads at them. According to my Malay-Singaporean friend, this dance is quite rare and not entirely endorsed by the Muslim community as can have links to shamanism and be considered un-Islamic. It was definitely a powerful experience to watch. Below is a brief clip of the music; if you would like to hear a more extensive clip, please contact me directly at (Brief description of a gamelan: a group of instruments including metal and wooden keyboards hit with mallets, gongs, bowls, and drums. There are various styles of gamelan depending on where they are from, i.e. from Java or Bali.)

Near the dancing was a small mosque and below you can hear a clip of an imram speaking on, or reading from the Koran in bahasa melayu.

In another area closeby, the call to prayer sails over the streets. It is captured in full below and I found it one of the most beautiful sounds in Singapore.

Here is an example of the crosswalk audio signal at the Bukit Batok subway station.

Inside the subway station, the turnstile goes thunk-thund.

The subways were the most quiet form of mass transportation I have ever heard. Many of the stations are sealed from the train until it pulls to a stop, then doors in the barricade slide open in perfect alignment with the subway doors. You can see where the doors open every time in the photo above, marked with yellow lines on the ground. The clip below is of a subway train pulling into the station, the doors open and close, and it pulls away. I am approxiately 2 feet from the doors in the barricade.

Another example of how physical space affects Singapore, and this time the soundscape: low old buildings are constantly being torn down, like those in the first picture above – with air con units everywhere – and tall new ones built up to make more space. The sights and sounds of cranes, trucks, machines and equipment was common anywhere in the city-state. See the horizon of the skyline in the photo – cranes look like blades of grass. Here is some construction sound.

A bird! Species unknown, and no picture available, but it sounds excellent.