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​Yum Cha Chats: Phondupe travels the world through his ears

His latest single ‘Silo’ is a deep and evocative work of art

  • Phondupe
  • 9 May 2021

Phondupe is our latest guest to sit down with for Yum Cha Chats. His recent single ‘Silo’ is surreal to the point that it evokes the beauty of a broken soul. Teaming up with Director Alexander Leeway and contemporary dance artists Thuba Nbidali and Allie Graham proved to be a great alignment of creative thought and execution, as you can see in the video here.

His latest video is a luscious work of art — it portrays the creator as someone who is deeply human, raw and fuelled by connections that are greater than emotions.

But behind the visual, Phondupe’s audio process is highly driven by his natural surroundings, whether they be urban or rural. He explains it best.

“While most people frame their travelling world through a camera lens, I prefer to frame mine through my ears. This has really helped me shape my own sound, by bringing field recordings of my travels into my production - sliced into percussion, one shots and effects. By sampling your lived experience, you’re creating something entirely unique to you - all you need to do is pay attention. I weave these samples into my tracks - they’re usually a nightmare to mix and the audio is rough - but for me it allows each track to be connected to a moment in my life, while transporting it to an entirely new ecosystem, like a parallel plane. A single moment never repeats itself, so every waking moment (with a charged phone) is a unique chance to catch another piece of the sonic puzzle.”

For this week’s edition of Yum Cha Chats, Australian producer Phondupe takes us around the world to his favourite locations for field recordings that have influenced him as an artist over the years. Check out his audio map below.

Havana, Cuba

When I was twelve I almost gave up playing the piano. I was tired and uninspired by the beige classical music I was being taught. My teacher was determined to keep me going, so she introduced me to Ruben Gonzalez and the world of Cuban piano. Overnight, it won me back. I was totally blown away.

15 years later I decided I had to get to this mythical place. When I did finally arrive, Cuba was everything I’d dreamed of and more. Havana is a city so colourful you can taste it. There’s a vibration to the streets - street vendors, music, the roar of 1950’s cars, singers, people passionately arguing, hawkers… It’s stimulation overload.

I was meant to stay in Havana for weeks, but stayed for months, collaborating with local musicians and playing clubs. I’d go out with no plan and always stumble onto something. With every step, I’d have my field recorded running, capturing all the colour of the streets. These samples have become real staples for my sound. The Cuban influence is more obvious on tracks like 'Neptuno', which samples Rumba vocalists. But I also use a bunch of non-musical vocal samples in more subtle ways to give my beats a little more grit and colour. There’s a spirit in these samples that I could never recreate myself, weathered voices that seem to tell a life story in a split second, despite the fact that they’re probably yelling about bananas or tomatoes. 'Grain', 'Silo' and 'Eel City' all weave those samples into their backings

Teshima, Japan

In so many ways Japan is the polar opposite of Cuba - restrained and meticulous vs. colourful and chaotic. Even the busiest train stations in Tokyo have this gentle hum about them.

The best sounds always seem to make me fight for them. I was on Teshima island, waiting in the cold for the last bus of the night. From a shrine nearby I heard the most angelic female voice singing in Japanese, sounding like a treasured relic. I hit record on my phone and ran as close as I could to the shrine - but as I took off to find it, the bus headlights appeared. I froze; if I called out for the bus to stop, I would’ve ruined the recording, and if I kept running I’d ruin the sample with my footsteps. So I’m standing in the dark, 50 metres from this shrine, waving like mad at this bus while trying not to make a sound...

I made it into the bus to swathes of scorn. I had to swallow the guilt of holding up these people for my own self indulgence. That sample found its way onto Ama. To everyone on that bus…. Look, I’m sorry. But it was worth it.

​ Uluru, Australia

The first time I saw Uluru, I was driving towards it at 5:30 in the morning listening to Gurrumul, and I became completely overcome with tears. It’s a hard thing to explain until you witness it in real life. I stayed in the area for 3 days and went back twice a day, just to be with there - yes, to be with a rock, and soak it up. You’ve never heard silence like the sound of the Australian desert. And yet the sound of that silence mirrors the visual - at face value, vast and baron, and yet so rich with depth and culture, not to mention the song lines and dreaming (Indigenous Australian spirituality) that most of us will never know. I spent an afternoon lying at the base of Uluru staring up at the sky, recording the sounds - the insects, birds, and bushland. Sonically sparse yet teaming with magic.

​Brooklyn, New York

I lived in New York City for two years on the perimeter of a Dominican neighbourhood. Australians love to rouse on Americans for being loud, but on the flip side, I find the general public in Australia pretty boring - maybe people care too much about what others think. There's a beauty to giving zero fucks about what people think about you. It’s honestly not uncommon to hear people walking around New York City by themselves singing at the top of their lungs, like that’s a totally normal thing to do.

Waking up in my neighbourhood meant hearing five clashing car stereos, hip hop, salsa music, dancehall… Locals hanging outside the barbershops, yelling digs at each other from across the way, playing baseball on the street… And the sound of fire hydrants exploding into the air in the summer. (I honestly thought this was just something that happened in movies).

When I listen back to my street samples of New York, there’s always some golden one liners hidden in there. My favourite is a sample of a guy saying “Yo so she was fucking Ja Rule this whole time…” - still need to find a place for that one.

​Dharug Country / The Blue Mountains, Australia

I spent a lot of time growing up in Dharug Country (The Blue Mountains), west of Sydney. Field recording in this area is a meditation in itself, with waterfalls, streams and some unbelievable birdlife (the Black Cockatoo is my pick) — I guess the sort of sounds that typically form field samples.

The site my family lives on was owned by a guy who was in demolition and he’d use the site as a bit of a dumping ground. While they’ve cleaned it up, there’s still a bunch of industrial junk on the property; old oil drums and giant rusted pipes and metal sheets - they make for the best percussion and I like the idea that this waste is going to some sort of use.

There’s something grounding about sampling air and water sounds, taken from a place that feels like home, into your own music - that was the case with 'Abyssal -4400'.

​Hotel Room, Tokyo

I had a layover in Tokyo once and the only room I could get was this smoke-filled business hotel that hadn’t changed since 1971. Think brown everything, faun carpet, wood panels… I turned on the TV and there was some kind of 70’s Japanese B-Movie marathon - the sort of stuff Tarantino probably gets all his inspiration from. I literally felt like I was in a film noir scene, watching film noir. I recorded a few moments from different films and they found their way into 'Oxpecker', years later. I can still smell the stale smoke when I hear the track and in my head it plays in black and white.

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