Apakah komputer sebuah alat musik? Jawabannya boleh bervariasi, tapi faktanya tidak sedikit seniman musik di sekeliling memanfaatkan komputer sebagai instrumen seni utama. Salah satunya I Am Robot And Proud (selanjutnya IARAP). IARAP adalah nama unit musik indie-pop electronic dari musisi asal Kanada namun keturunan Indonesia, Shaw-Han Liem. Ia sedikitnya sudah menelurkan 10 rilisan album dan EP sejak debut tahun 2001, membuat musik untuk game Playstation dan proyek soundtrack film pendek. Di bawah nama IARAP, Shaw-Han boleh dibilang sosok yang sudah mendapatkan tempat istimewa, baik di scene maupun di industri digital music.
KANALTIGAPULUH pun tertarik untuk menyimak seperti apa perjalanan dari pria yang memegang dua gelar ‘ijazah’, yakni musik piano klasik dan ilmu komputer ini. Kebetulan, dalam waktu dekat ini IARAP segera merilis album baru bertitel Light and Waves yang juga dirilis oleh respected indie label sekaliber Darla Records. Jadi, ini adalah pengantar yang spesial bagi khalayak yang belum berkenalan dengan I am Robot And Proud.
Let’s talk about your background first. Do you feel that what you learned at Royal Conservatory classical piano program and computer science prepared you for the real world of working as digital music artist?
I think you’re right about this – I always had an interest in music and computers from a young age. It was good to “study” these things in a formal way, but I also think it’s not necessary these days. There is so much information available on the internet, and great communities of artists and creators – you just need to spend time and meet the right people.
Is IARAP your first music project? How did initially you get into electronic music?
I actually started by playing in rock bands around age 11 or 12, and then started making music with my home computer a few years later. I was interested in the BBS and demoscene (before the internet, using telephone to call individual computers).. and I found a piece of software called “Modedit” at first, which was a very simple sampler/sequencer.
Your music can also be suitable to game and movie soundtrack. Do you take the inspiration to design sound from those stuff?
I played video games as a child, and a lot of the sounds that I use I think are nostalgic from that area (8bit sound chips from 80s game systems or low-bitrate samples form 90s computer games). But it wasn’t a conscious choice – I think it’s just a consequence of the fact that the tools I was using were not very sophisticated (my first 3 albums were all made with free software on a home desktop PC).
Were there any particular digital artists whose work inspired you as well?
I would say Toshio Iwai (Tenori-On, Electroplankton) and Daito Manabe (Rhizomatics. Perfume) are both artists that work with technology that I admire. I’ve had the privilege of being able to work briefly with both of them – with Toshio Iwai we did some performances around Europe for Tenori-On and i made a collaboration performance with Daito Manabe in Japan. Really inspired by their explorations of technology and connections with music.
The latest album ‘People Music’ has showed your exciting dream to record the full band version of IARAP music. What was the process like?
Aside from my electronic music, I have always played live music in other projects with other musicians in my city Toronto. I really love the experience of composing and playing live with a group of musicians, and I always wanted to try to have this experience with my “electronic music”. In 2008, I started putting together ensembles of my friends to play my songs, especially when going on tour in Japan. Over the years, we tried many different combinations of instruments and players… in 2013 we did a band tour in Japan for the album “Touch/Tone”. We thought it went really well and the audience response was very positive, so my friend and label manager in Japan suggested we try to make a recording of the band versions.
The tracks were recorded over a few days at a studio in Toronto with my live band (Robin Buckley on drums, Mike Smith on bass and analog synth, and Jordan Howard on guitar). The recording engineer is Leon Taheny who is an old friend of mine and has also worked with bands like Fucked Up and Owen Pallett.
You’ve collaborated with a lot of artist who are not only multi-instrumentalis but also multi-dimensional. How does it greatly enhance your artistic experience?
Lately I have become very interested in creating new tools for making my own music. So for example, I have made custom sound processing software, or iPad apps that I use when I’m composing. The video game I helped design “Sound Shapes” (for Playstation) was also part of this exploration. I’m really inspired by the idea of an “engineer/artist” who can use technology to create new tools, and then use those tools to express something artistically (whether that be musical, visual or interactive).
How do you usually interpret every track into live set? Do you think visualization might help the audience to follow your performance?
I do two different kinds of live sets – one is solo, and the other with a band. For the band sets, we generally listen to the songs and pull out parts for each person to play, and sometimes adapt the arrangements so that they “flow” better in a live setting.
For the solo set, I do more live manipulation of the recorded tracks and live-looping (building up each instrument piece by piece). My visuals are powered by a computer program that I wrote myself, which receives musical note data from the computer and interprets it into shapes and animations. I really like playing with these visuals live because they react to everything I play – it helps the audience understand what is happening and also creates an interesting situation for myself to improvise.
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
To be honest, even though I have been doing this work for some time (my first album was in 2001) – I still feel like I’m just beginning and that I have so much more to learn and explore!
In your career, what is your biggest ambition for the next five years?
I have a lot of projects that I’ll be working on over the next little while… collaborating with game makers in game audio, creating new tools for musical creation and making new visual ideas for my live performance. I want to continue to explore technology and how it can be used to create new, crazy, interesting, fun, important art.
We are a digital native now. How do you see the gap between people who passively spent a lot time in computer and people who think that computer can also make us productive in terms of artistic expression?
A computer is a wonderful tool for creating art, and it’s amazing that it’s so accessible now that so many people in the world can use it. It used to be that you needed to be a computer programmer or technical person to make art with a computer, but I think that is changing now. The tools are becoming cheaper and easier to use. The resources and communities are online and you can find information more easily. Many people, visual artists, musicians, sculptures, designers are using the computer as their main tool for creating work. I think we’re very early in the age of “computer art” and I’m excited for the next 50 years will bring!
At the first time, I thought you’re from Japan. I think it is because you have received very well response in Japan. What do you think was the reason behind that?
My first tour in Japan was 2006 – I knew a few musicians there and organized a few shows – since then I’ve been lucky enough to tour Japan many times, and to have collaborated and befriended many musicians in the Japanese music scene.
As a Canada-based artist, how do see electronic music scene flourishes there? In your opinion, what are the significant differences between playing music in Canada and Japan?
I have played music in Canada since I was a teenager, and I love the music community here. I would say it tends to be more “rock” focussed and people don’t have much of an interest in “weird” electronic music. In Europe and Japan there is more of a history of various types of electronic music (Kraftwerk, Yellow Magic Orchestra) – so I think that’s why music fans there are more receptive to it.
Do you know any electronic musicians from Indonesia by any chance?
I follow a few musicians through Instagram like “Bottlesmoker“, who I’ve listened to their music for a while. But in general, I don’t know much about the Indonesian music scene – I would like to tour in Indonesia one day and learn more!
Can you tell us what we can expect for the new IARAP release? any changes or fancy experiment so far?
With my new album “Light and Waves” I was having a lot of fun experimenting with different processes, new hardware and software that I didn’t use previously. I created a lot of custom software to manipulate sounds and generate sequences based on algorithms and programmed logic. I also included “live band” tracks recorded with my 4-person live band on the album for the first time. To me this is the fun part about making music, trying new experiments and discovering new ways to make unusual sounds and compositions.