Malaysian illustrator Tang Yau Hoong cleverly uses negative space to create some fascinating illustrations that make you stop and think for a while. His works look simple, yet are complicated little puzzles you can’t not love solving them! We celebrate episode 350 by sitting down and discussing art, film, and more! Read below for the full Q&A…
What is the design culture like in Malaysia at the moment? Is it a thriving location for creativity?
Although in general there are still not much attention being paid to art and design industry here but I do think it is growing. Especially more mainstream media are starting to cover art and design news. It is not easy to make a living at making art in Malaysia but I can see many artists are still passionate and positive about all possibilities. Whereas the design industry could be a good place for designers to pursue their career because of the more consistent commercial work opportunities.
Many people underestimate the technical style of The Art of Negative Space. What kind of creative process do you go to in order to execute a clever idea that translates well on paper?
This is a tough question. To me, there is no specific way or formula to come up with an idea. But I think we can somehow try to make it work with iterative process. I do a lot of sketching and brainstorming. Combining different elements and reconstructing everything I can think of could work. Sometimes I just need to keep thinking and eventually I will get the idea.
And when you begin an illustration, is it a major concern of yours that the art works on a variety of mediums such as clothes? Or is that just an added bonus?
Most of the time I try to create illustrations that are applicable on various media. But I don’t think restriction is a bad thing all the time because sometimes this actually opens up more possibilities in terms of composition and perspective as I do not need to worry that the final art might not look good on certain media.
One of your pieces that really jumps out at me is your poem illustrations that are all greyscaled in nature. What brought upon this decision? Was it strictly a printing situation where costs were concerned?
This is a personal project that I collaborated with a poet friend, eL. At first, we both just wanted to create a series of illustrations that goes well with his poems. Turned out black and white works really well. Cost is one of the concern but I think at the end we like it monochrome too. His poems are very imaginative and visual which inspired my illustrations a lot.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
Some of the Asian films I could think of now are works by Wong Kar Wai, Jia ZhangKe, Shunji Iwai, Edward Yang. I do not watch a lot of anime, but Mcdull, a Hong Kong cartoon is brilliant. I am also a manga fan of Naoki Urasawa, Minoru Furuya and Mitsuru Adachi.
If you had to describe the importance of communicative art in today’s world – what would you say?
A picture is worth a thousand words, although this is cliche. It is no doubt the the average time we spend on a single page, website, etc is reducing so I think communicative art is really important in this sense.
As a self taught creative well-versed in many disciplines, what is your personal take on formal education? Do you recommend it to other artists or do you feel your route was more beneficial?
I think anyone who feels like going to formal education might as well do it. There is no certain way or formula. My stance is neutral in terms of learning new skills. However, the experience we get in formal education is priceless because the older we get the lesser our inclination to further study. Sometimes when i think of this I wonder what would I be if I had formal design training.
You made a great series where you stated how fascinated you were with light. Are there any surreal items or things you’d like to concentrate on for a future series of illustrations?
I have a couple of series I would like to do in the near future. They will be some similar elements involved such as nature and animals, and could also be a continuation of my previous works.
What else is ahead for you in 2014?
So far, regular commissions have been keeping me busy enough. I might want to focus on my personal projects more later this year.
Lastly, any advice you could offer up to a budding young artist?
Work hard, be positive and appreciate every opportunity because any step we take could be a stepping stone to better outcome.
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Elephante is a progressive & electro house producer/DJ based in Los Angeles. Most recently he caught my attention by remixing Calvin Harris’ “Summer’. He striped the original’s dance-pop elements and replace them for an electrified progressive explosion. It adds the extra velocity that fuels every listeners fire with uplifting synths and piano. But this song adds trap-like drum lines giving this remix more flavor than many remixes have to offer. It was that kind of talent that really urged myself to stop what I was doing and showcase Elephante in this episode of the Creative Spotlight. Read below for the full Q&A…
Let’s first talk about all these aliases: Elephante. Why’d you choose that name?
It’s a reference to the phrase “elephant in the room”. I used to work a desk job, and the elephant was that I was really unhappy and hated it even though it was a really good job, and all I wanted to do was make music. So the name was about “becoming the elephante”, and just embracing what I always wanted to do but was too scared to.
Also, elephants are dope – they like stomp around and make cool noise and stuff.
And except being a great producer, are you having some regular “every day” job?
Nope, full time noise-maker!
From a marketing standpoint, its quite smart to remix popular songs by established artists to gain exposure. Was that the idea behind it or do you appreciate the challenge of remixing well known songs with your own spin?
It’s a combination of both. Obviously getting your name out there in the beginning is extremely difficult, and remixing big names helps get people’s attention. But, musically it’s exciting because people are familiar with the original, so you can really show off and get weird with it, and people can see what you did. At the same time, people love the original, so you gotta be extra careful not to f*ck it up. Which I’ve definitely done before, not that fun.
Is there a secret to your sound? Can you describe a bit about your creative process/synth sound detail?
Lots of time and coffee :) I usually start on piano or guitar and figure out a cool melody or harmony. From there, sometimes it’s beautiful and easy, and I can see the whole song before I make anything, like my Dark Horse remix. Other times I will try a million things and hate it all and want to bash my head in, like Team. But in general it’s a lot of repeating the same section 8 million times, twisting a bunch of knobs, and imagining different things and just going with whatever sounds the coolest. I also sing and yell a lot, jump around, imagine Swedish House Mafia playing it at a festival, etc. My neighbors don’t really like me.
What are some bands you’d love to work with that you haven’t had a chance to either remix their songs or meet in person?
JOHN MAYER. Only sort of kidding, I grew up on singer songwriter and indie rock, so working with Johnny boy or like Bon Iver or Passion Pit would be amazing. As far as more contemporary dance acts, right now I’m a big fan of Galantis and Seven Lions, and then weirder hard stuff like Dog Blood (RIP), Botnek, etc.
How do you feel about where progressive/electronic music has come as a whole?
I think it’s a really exciting place to be right now. It gets kind of a bad rap for being generic and all sounding the same, but there’s so much good music pushing the envelope.
What are some of your favorite Asian films?
I’m a big fan of anything Kurosawa of course. Battle Royale was also awesome. Recently I watched “Rikyu” on a flight – the whole Zen aspect was really beautiful. But then I watched Katy Perry’s documentary afterward, so it sorta cancelled out.
Piracy is the root of all problems young producers meet in their journey. Is it possible to stop it? Can you earn for living from solely selling your work digitally?
I don’t really think of it as a problem; as a young artist I actually want everyone to pirate my music. There is so much music out there to listen to that having someone spend 5 minutes on my song out of all their choices is a huge honor. I mean, they chose to listen to my song rather than watch a cat video, that means a lot. At the end of the day, I just want to make music that people love. Hopefully it makes enough of an impact that people will be willing to pay $20 to come see me play live, or if I do try to sell my music, say, “Hey that Elephante guy is pretty cool, I think my mom has a iTunes gift card I can steal”.
What plans do you have for the duration of the year? Any surprises or announcements?
Working on a bunch of original songs through the end of the summer, touring starting fall/winter. A lot of exciting stuff happening, can’t give away too much now
Lastly, any advice you can offer up to a novice producer to progress his/her skillset?
Listen to alot of music, but really LISTEN. Try to figure out what your favorite artists are doing and try to copy them. Like seriously, try to figure out how they do it and then try to do it better. It takes a LOT of work to get better. Youtube is really helpful for beginners. There’s no magic really, just keep being brave and trying new things and keep messing stuff up, because you will mess up. I have 100s of tracks that make me want to throw up, and I even hate the stuff I made a month ago. But, I’ve found that’s the best way to learn and get better.
KOJI is an artist, activist, and adventurer from Pennsylvania. Oh, he’s also been into music since he was 11. Recently I got the vinyl bug and saw that Koji was releasing a vinyl this week with brand new cover art. What perfect time then now to introduce him and his music to the Creative Spotlight? We sat down and chatted about his tour, his charity work and of course, the new music. Read below for the full Q&A…
You are an artist who definitely favors quality over quantity. Do you enjoy crafting EP’s and singles that are heavy on content rather than broad spread out projects that could potentially feel bloated?
My focus is to make work that feels truthful. That intention governs how I look at all projects whether that be a single, ep, or full length. It’s a joyful, challenging, and illuminating process.
Could you tell us a bit about your creative process when crafting a melody or lyric?
Nearly everything is improvised. There are songs in my catalog that were played straight through and then I had to transcribe the chords and lyrics from memory right after improvising them. I think more about narrative or referencing records when I’m creating full band arrangements or sequencing songs, but the initial spark in the process is very raw. I’m very careful not to overwork things and maintain a big picture perspective. There’s a harmony I am always searching for.
Touch a bit about your decision to tour South Africa and the troubles that come with that (delay in tour dates, initial pressures, etc.)?
There were personal issues that led to that final decision. I rarely cancel shows and refuse to unless it’s absolutely necessary. I am still looking forward to playing South Africa and getting a chance to experience a new culture through the lens of a musician and volunteer. We’re working hard on rescheduling for early 2015. It will be a dream come true when it happens.
So, your participation in a charity event that helped combat the violence of the Lord’s Resistance Army in the region of central Africa was or was not inspired by your tour going over there?
The LRA operates in central Africa and I do intend to visit the region soon. South Africa is a very different environment geographically, culturally, politically. Everywhere is interesting to me and especially the story of people in a place. Narrative is powerful. Social impact has always come hand in hand with my music. When I was 11 and 12 years old, I gravitated to bands with a political message whether that was The Clash, Propaghandi, or Refused. I didn’t know about genres or sub-genres, so on a conceptual level I could link these very different sounds. It just completely blew me away that music could act as a platform for a message, let alone some sort of emotional release. It took me a little while longer to make the connection between the punk bands I was listening to and the folk music my dad had showed me as a kid.
Years later when I was a freshman in art school, I remember a friend telling me that there were children who were being abducted in central Africa and forced to fight in rebel armies like the LRA. In addition, there were thousands of children who would leave their villages every night to sleep in hospital hallways, church basements, and parking lots in order to avoid abduction. I was shocked and felt my public education and the news media had failed me, failed us as a society. This was at a time when my friends and I didn’t have smart phones, GPS units, or fast internet. People didn’t have the sense that they were a global citizen and globalization was a term I was only familiar with because of the loss of jobs in Pennsylvania. When I got involved with this issue, I met former child soldiers and people displaced by the conflict. It put a human face to the issue. This inspired me to devote my life to not just my creative pursuits and social justice causes in the US, but to be a voice for peace and equality for all people around the world.
Tell us a bit about your first online performance! This is a pretty cool innovation in live music, something that YouTube has been doing for some time, but not accessible by most artists. As an artist how important is it to embrace virtual performances?
I love new experiences in music, so it was something I thought I’d try out. My friends Brian Marquis and Vinnie Caruana have done shows before and had a good time. To be honest, I thought it would be weird, but it turned out to be fun. I loved that people could comment in real time and we could have a group discussion afterwards. Nothing will replace being in front of live music with your friends, but StageIt is something cool if you don’t have a show to play or to see on a given night.
Are you a fan of the vinyl resurgence that is erupting right now? You released some material on vinyl, is there a significant upgrade in sound quality or physical packaging? What brought upon that decision to release your music in this medium?
I’ve sold more vinyl over any other format during the last few years and it’s something that is exciting to me both as an artist and a fan. There’s something about the ritual of buying a piece of music and experiencing the art and liner notes that is very special to me–no matter what format. The democratization of the tools to make music and art and the ready to access to so much information and media is incredible. But along with that, people spend much less time with music because of streaming services with an endless amount of content and we lose some of the physicality of not just our experience in the arts, but also life. For that reason, I can see myself continuing to treasure making and collecting records, tapes, and CD’s.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
I was raised on Akira Kurosawa films such as Seven Samurai and Kagemusha. I loved Zatoichi, the blind swordsman. Bruce Lee’s films and writings are works I continue to return even now. Asian cinema and the portrayal of Asians in American media have definitely had a major impact on my life. As a kid in the States, I only ever saw Asian people portrayed positively in a very violent way. Otherwise, it was bucked tooth caricatures. As a teenager, I found artists like Takashi Murakami, Hayao Miyazaki or Rei Kawakubo who are involved with many disciplines of art. Their work and the fact that they transcended from Japan to the West’s consciousness made me feel, as an Asian American, that there was a place in culture for someone like me. What I saw in the media was very important in constructing a sense of identity because I did not have many Asian peers growing up in central Pennsylvania. My experiences made me recognize the important role the arts can play in disenfranchising or empowering a person.
So as we know you’re touring in 2015. How will those dates differ from your UK tour? Any surprises or do you perform based off the energy a certain crowds demographic gives off?
I’ve been so fortunate to be able to tour the US and UK so many times. Last fall, I got to tour Europe and Japan for the first time. Those trips highlighted how different live show dynamics can be (for instance, Japanese people do not “woo”) and how beautiful it is that people of all nationalities, ethnicities, genders, religions, sexualities, etc. can connect over this thing called music. Getting to know the world through touring has been so educational, inspiring, and grounding. I felt like traveling from coast to coast in the United States made me fall in love with America and better know what it means to be an American. After traveling the world, I am realizing more and more what it means to be human. I am eternally grateful for the opportunity.
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Kawehi is a successful musical figure backed by a solid Kickstarter fund (created after the enormous wake of her viral video stardom). She has been quietly working on a brand new EP, “Robot Heart,” which present us a great time to sit down with her and showcase her talent. Below I pick her brain about the creative process behind the album, to approaching covers, films and more! Read below for the full Q&A…
You’ve been quite busy this year just releasing material entitled ‘Robot Heart’. Immediately, I was reminded of “All Is Full of Love” by Björk. Could you tell us a bit about the exploration of the records’ sound and theme involved?
Robot Heart is about a robot who wants to become human. All of the songs are written from her perspective – you get to travel through the mind of a machine who’s ultimate dream is really to be able to feel, love, see – and experience life as a human – flaws and all. You’ll hear a lot of electronic elements – but I also kept a lot of vocalizing in as well (through beatboxing, vocal pads/harmonies and such) to keep an organic feel to it.
It might be premature to ask, but after Pop, Vocal, Toy & Robot, what other themes would you like to explore as an artist in the future?
Oh man, what a hard question!! That’s the beauty of these projects – I really get to do whatever I want! But my goal is to always keep the themes interesting – something I’ve never done before, to keep things unique. I like challenging myself as a songwriter and as a musician also. These themes help keep me on my toes :)!! But in all seriousness, I was thinking maybe a part two to Robot Heart…maybe the humans fight back? Get tired of getting their hearts taken from them? The wheels are already turning….
How do you approach a cover song? There must be a fine balance between making it your own while keeping the integrity of the song in tact. How is the selection process begun?
Usually, the songs are selected by Kickstarter backers. They support me and choose the Cover-a-song option – so I usually get to cover a lot of songs that I haven’t even heard of. Which is great – I love hearing new music. But whether it’s a song I already know or a new one – I always like to approach each cover from another angle. I go in thinking, “Ok, whoever did this originally already executed it beautifully. How can I do it differently?“
In terms of marketing, it must be a great way to connect with fans and gain support and exposure by covering mainstream songs. You even got a shoutout from Courtney Love for your Nirvana cover. Do you experience any pressure by releasing covers online knowing so many people will hear it?
Oh yes!! Even more so now. I have such a larger fan base now than four months ago. I always hope that they’ll enjoy it. But ultimately – I just really like creating this way, and it’s a bonus if the fans enjoy it too.
After a much successful crowdfunding experience you calculated that the bulk of people who are supporting your work are people who are long time fans of yours. As a musical artist how do you cater to your existing fanbase while maturing and evolving your sound as you grow older?
I am incredibly transparent – and most of my fans know coming in that I make music the way I want to make it. I may lose some fans in the beginning that way – but ultimately, I’m here to make the kind of music I love to make – and if you want in on the journey, you are always welcome!
What are some of your favorite Asian films?
I love anything Wong Kar Wai does. His films are always so beautiful. I think I’ve seen every film he’s ever done.
You’re knee deep in an ongoing tour at the moment, what was the international leg of it like and how are the crowds energy compared to the U.S.?
I’m about to do some international shows – one coming up in Singapore! I’m pretty excited about it :).
What are your plans for when the tour wraps up? Vacation or back in the studio?
I wish vacation! But back to the studio I will go – I’ll be starting another Kickstarter project in September, so keep an eye out for it!
Lastly, what equipment would you recommend for someone looking to get into looping? I suspect you try to create something that offers dynamic control of loops – not just using prepared audio as a starting point like a DJ, right?
Exactly. Everything is done live. I record everything on the spot – and use Ableton to do so – then I use a midi controller to launch those sounds that I just created in their appropriate sections (verse, chorus, turn). But I suggest you start off with a small pedal first – I started on a BOSS RC-30 and I loved it! 2 tracks – that’ll be more than enough in the beginning. But eventually you’ll improve on your timing and improve on your sounds – and then the possibilities will be endless!! I can’t wait for you to get there.
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Online she goes by ‘dtnart,’ which stands for Duong Thuy Nguyen art. Although shoertened, “Maria”, has given me the opportunity to pick a brain of a new graduate, her work has already hit the scene and is getting some major buzz. I sit down with her to discuss Canada, art, films, and more!
Why Canada? Was it just to attend Sheridan College? Or did you grow up there?
My family immigrated to Canada when I was turning two years old and I’ve been living here ever since.
Please explain how you developed your own style and how do you describe your art to people?
I don’t think style is something I developed consciously. It is something that should come about very organically. To be honest I don’t think about it, I just concentrate on making images. Whenever I found myself thinking about developing a style in the past it only made me cop out bad imitations of another illustrator’s work. The work that I have produced came about from drawing a lot, drawing what I like to draw, what I don’t like to draw, drawing fast and drawing slow, drawing for long periods of time and short periods of time.
Having said this, if I had to put my work into words I’d say layered, emotive and at times surreal.
Your sketches seem to be your imagination poured onto paper. Is it merely a way of thinking, designing, testing ideas?
When I work on sketches I do not think too much about the concepts or ideas. I tend to use this time to explore shapes, colours, designs, mediums and subject matter. Sometimes these experiments creep it’s way into a project I do later on.
Most of your illustrations include nature & animals. It is quite easy for people to identify with the pain and suffering of animals. Yet there are False Dichotomies surrounding that issue. When you combine nature and people in your work are you trying to tell us something?
I wouldn’t say that the animals in my illustration are depicted suffering or is depicted as suffering. When I create an image I am problem-solving or realizing an idea. When I find it appropriate that an animal or something in nature communicates that idea well I will include them. I think that as human beings we have a natural understanding of nature and animals. They are familiar to us. I will use them to emphasize or to make a concept stronger when creating an image if it is appropriate.
You also have a visual board that asks as a source of inspiration. That is similarly the same purpose as the Creative Spotlight. Could you peek into our interview archive and pick out someone at random that inspires you and why?
I picked Hannah Yata. It’s likely because I am a visual person and her thumbnail caught my eye! I stayed because her work is amazing! Beautifully painted and very surreal. I love how there is a strong erotic but disturbing feel to her work as well. Definitely checking out more of her work!
What are some of your favorite Asian films and/or anime?
Some of my favourite Asian films and anime include: Departures (2008), Akira, Tekkonkinkreet, all the Studio Ghibli films, Tokyo Godfathers, Children Full of Life, The Curse (Noroi), Infernal Affairs, 200 Pound Beauty…wow I could go on!
Your work has a very muted yet warm color palette to it. Could you explain your color picking process when coloring a piece?
This has to be the most daunting process now that I colour my work digitally since the colouring option is infinite. I really wish I had good answer for you but I really just play around with photoshop until something feels right!
What is your favorite thing to illustrate — an idea, a memory, a dream or an observation?
All of the above and more!
You recently graduated. Congrats. Are you nervous about post-grad life? Do you feel a degree in illustration is more valuable then say…one in design, or printmaking?
Thank you! It has been a good four years! I am more excited then nervous about post-grad life. I’ve been making a lot of work so that puts me at ease. I can’t say anything about having a degree in illustration is more valuable then a degree in design or printmaking because they are all very different from each other. I’ve always loved to draw so when found out that I could make a living drawing, I hopped on that ship without exploring any other options.
Do you have any advice for any budding illustrators?
I am still a budding illustrator myself don’t you think [laughs]? But for myself I try to put more time into doing instead of thinking about what I should be doing. When I find that when I think too much about an illustration, I end up not getting anywhere because I am not exploring my options by doing. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes! Also, take care of yourself. Life as an illustrator can be very isolating so it is easy to be consumed by your work and skip out on meals,sleep or being social. Oh, and, be nice!
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Shonen Knife are fun, loud and above all legendary – because singer Naoko has built a 33-year career on songs about the important things in life: cookies, cakes, ice cream and sushi, as well as sunshine, fishing, cycling and the sweetest possible sides of rock ’n’ roll excess. Their new album, Overdrive, serves up another 10 slices of indie-rock fun and we sat down with the lead singer to tell us a bit about music, creative processes and whether or not they would return to the PowerPuff Girls new rejuvinated series! Read below for the full Q&A…
As a band entering their 3rd decade together as a group, what kind of work needs to go into the group to have such a lasting career? Is there a secret to the synergy between you all?
Our bassist Ritsuko have been joining the band more than six years and the drummer Emi is over four years. Both of them were Shonen Knife fans before joining the band and they understand the band. I’m happy to play with the present members.
Was there any particular pressure when you first started writing and recording a milestone 20th album? What was the creative process like?
I’m lazy and I usually start writing songs after we booked the recording studio. Once the recording dates will be fixed, I continue to create songs from morning to night. Sometimes I can write one song in one day or I can only make a short phrase. But anyway, I always can write enough songs for one album until the recording date. For the new album “Overdrive”, I became a little earnest. I could finish writing songs more than before one week from recording date. We could rehearse twice before recording.
The process of writing songs is like this. First, I write down some key words of the lyrics when I find interesting things in my daily life. I expand it into lyrics. Then I put melody line on the lyrics. Finally I fix the lyrics for it goes well with the melody line.
You guys are knee deep into the ‘Overdrive’ tour. What was the tour like and how were the different crowds’ energies throughout UK and Europe?
I’ve just went back from UK/EU tour. It was very fun and successful. There were so many audience at our venues and all people seemed enjoying. It depends on the cities or venues but all of our audience were energetic. People were dancing and singing along us. They know how to enjoy music.
Growing up with rock music in Japan in the 70s is not that much different than today with the exception of the internet. How has social media and connecting with your fans digitally evolved the band over they years compared to first starting out in the 80s and 90s?
In [the] 80s, I used postal mail for exchange information. It took five days from overseas to Japan. In [the] early 90s, our manager used telephone and fax. He had to sit up till late at night because of the time difference. Now, there is internet and I can make a contact with people all over the world any time. It’s very convenient for the band like us. There are various social network services. They are useful, too. We can spread our information to the people of all over the world easily. Also our fans can get our information easily.
With the latest album was their more of an emphasis on melodies or lyrics? For an album to be enjoyed by the masses, which element do you think is more important?
I listen to various music but basically I like songs which has pop melody line. I just wanted to write my favorite songs. I want people to be happy through our music. It’s my purpose to make music. I’m trying to write fun songs but sad or angry songs. I hope my songs will be enjoyed by the masses. I don’t like songs just for commercial.
In the fall you guys will come back to the U.S. and play a few more shows. Will this leg of the tour be a bit different then your shows overseas?
We’ll play many shows in the U.S. and Canada. Our tour dates are added. We’ll play some songs from our new album “Overdrive”, hit parade songs and early songs. Our set will have a good balance. I’m sure that everyone from our old fans and new fans can enjoy our show.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
I usually don’t watch films or anime but I recently watched “Chiisai Ouchi” on an airplane. It was an impressive movie.
Powerpuff Girls are coming back in 2016. Would you guys be interested in revisiting that franchise?
Yes of course. I love Powerpuff Girls. I was watching it every week.
Is there still any major musical boundaries to knock down, such as an all girl group can rock out with the best of the boys. Or at this point, is there nothing left for Shonen Knife to prove? Any challenges the band would like to tackle next?
I want to entertain people through our music. I’d like to make more fantastic music than before.
Lastly, having so much experience as a musician and touring in a band, is there any advice you could offer up to young female musicians looking to become rock stars?
I want to be a rock star, too. Give me YOUR advice.
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Quit Nguyen is a photographer and artist based out of Oklahoma City. Quit specializes in people, the things people eat, and the things people do. He grew up in Houston, TX, went to college in Austin, TX, and is currently living in Oklahoma City. He studied advertising at the University of Texas at Austin. With an advertising background, he is able to better understand clients’ thought processes and needs. We sat down with this double threat to get his take on photography, film, locales, and more! Read below for the full Q&A…
After graduating from Austin, you decided to leave. Central Texas is a very creative hub. What brought upon that decision?
A lady and the need for a change of scenery. After I graduated, my parents made me move home since they were paying the rent, and I didn’t have a job. After a few months back in Houston, I had saved up some cash and decided to pick up and go. My girlfriend sold me on Oklahoma City, and it’s been history ever since. OKC has shown lots of opportunity and really, a need, for elevating the photography game.
Your degree plan was to prepare you more towards economic development and international trade. Why did you decide to study a field of advertising rather then the arts and how has it aided you in your post-education career as a photographer?
A lot of people may say the same thing about advertising: Business + Art. I already had an affinity towards illustration and photography, but I really liked marketing strategy and branding. I tried looking for a job that directly related to my degree, but came up with nothing. Guess I didn’t want it enough. Knowing the thought process/ jargon of the advertising world has really helped me cut out the middleman with my clients. They can come to me with problems, and I can solve them with photos or smarts. Working for myself in a new city has really made me put on a lot of hats and take on multiple roles.
How do you decide if you shoot in black and white, or color? Does it depend on subject matter, or perhaps the time of day or is it just an unconscious decision depending on your mood?
I read an article about this once. It said, “Does color do anything for the photo? No? Black and white.” It really just depends on how I want the photo to feel. Also, if I goofed on colors, I’ll just change it to b/w to save my ass.
People think eggs are easy, but eggs are very easy to overcook. Give us your meanest egg recipe.
Hell, I overcook my eggs all the time. I just really enjoy cooking them. Eggs aren’t really about recipes, but more about techniques. You don’t have to do much to them. Coolest one I saw was on “Mind of a Chef with David Chang.” You start by boiling a pot of water, whisking an egg, swirling the boiling water with your fork, then dropping the egg into the vortex. Count to 10 (slowly) and voila! Drain into a strainer, and you’ve got yourself some fluffy eggs similar to egg drop soup, without the soup. Best part is, if you did it correctly, you don’t have to wash the pot!
And if that’s too complicated, a fried egg is always awesome.
Give us a few of your favorite Asian films?
Kung-fu movies all the way. Lee, Li, Chan, Yen. My favorite movies usually have something to do with Wong Fei Hung or Ip Man. I don’t watch as many as I used to, but I did really enjoy the new Monkey King movie with Donnie Yen. I thought it did a great job portraying the character. I recently started rewatching the old Journey to the West series with Dicky Cheung on YouTube. Good stuff.
I really enjoyed the awkward couples photobooth and was wondering if you are thinking up of other ideas or photography series you’d like to explore in your portfolio?
The awkward couples photobooth wasn’t exactly what I imagined. The actual awkward couples were too awkward to come and take a photo, but hey, a gig’s a gig. I’m always thinking up new ideas, but the hard part is getting started. Currently, I’m working on a series of shows with the word “Quit” in them. So far I’ve got, “Quit Being Asian,” in the works. This will explore different photos and illustrations reflecting things from my past that made me identify with being Asian.
Why do you think some photographers decide upon a niche? It seems you photography everything and everything quite well. Do you see it as limiting yourself?
To be honest, it’s a smart tactic. You specialize in one thing, and you rock the hell out of it. People will find you for that one thing, and you’ll be set. I guess I have a short attention span and can’t seem to commit to one thing. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there are things I definitely love shooting more than others, but photographing one type of thing exclusively is just a fast track to boredom for me. I photograph people and models because I like faces, I photograph food because it’s fun and tasty, and I shoot events because it was a natural way of making money from street photography.
What is in your bag?
Normally when I’m on the go: Nikon D800 [24mm, 50mm, 100mm]
Recently: Fuji X100s and an iPhone 5S
Plans for 2014?
I’m still officially in Year One of my photography business so it’s all about making it through without any crazy financial problems. This year will focus on making strong clients and next year will be about letting the weak ones go. I also plan on sharpening my passion for drawing and getting out there more as an artist, not just a photographer.
Lastly, any advice you can offer up to any photographer just starting out?
Being a good photographer is one thing, having a photography business is another. Learn how to be selective about your shots. Snipe, don’t spray; Think.
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Personally I’ve been a fan of Onra’s for a long time, it was just a matter of time that his schedule allowed us to feature him in the Creative Spotlight. ONRA‘s live show features a range of hardware, gear and special surprises. He strays away from laptops, making him unique on the scene and a favourite amongst the traditional hip-hop heads. With the MPC being his weapon of choice and a sound rooted in ‘80s R&B and ‘90s hip hop, Onra has achieved international recognition for his fresh take on a golden era. We sit down and talk about the future of his Chinoiseries Volumes and his creative process, films, and more! Read below for the full Q&A…
Your Chinoiseries Volumes are some of the most sought after vinyls. Do you have enough ideas in the vault concerning Chinese Pop Music to someday release Vol III?
Yes actually, my collection got real deep over the years and I’m still hunting for some chinese music everywhere I go in Asia. I think I have enough material to start working on a third volume but it’s not part of my priorities as of now.
What are some of your favorite sounds to experiment with? Oboe? Lute? Monochord Zither?
I don’t really have a favorite but of course I love synthesizers.
You also attack songs in the west like Juicy J and Chuck Inglish. How do you approach which songs to remix? Do you find an opening for your creativity to fit or do you tackle songs that present more of a challenge?
Some of these remixes are asked by the artist or their management, some of them, I do it for fun. It all depends on the feeling I get with the vocals, and if I think I can take it somewhere else.
And being able to sample groups from The Isley Brothers to Yao Su-Jung is pretty remarkable. What do you attribute to your broad range of musical influences and an ear for sampling?
I don’t really pick my samples depending on the artists, it just has to sound good. It’s pretty unexplainable when I find something I want to work with.
When you originally went to Vietnam and came across hip-hop mixes with Chinese traditional music, you sort of stumbled upon a new genre. Are there other hybrids of music that you think could fuse well that you haven’t had a chance to experiment with?
I think I could very well sampled anything, there are no boundaries. I think that pretty much every genre has been sampled now too, so it’s gonna be pretty much impossible to have the same impact that I did with this Chinoiseries projects, cause it was really fresh and new when it came out.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
I’m not really into much Asian movies, but I’m a regular Naruto watcher! Also, here in France, we’ve been raised with a manga culture, as it was extremely popular during the 90′s, that’s all there was to watch on TV basically. So I think french people of my generation, are all familiar with manga culture.
You recently gave a lecture for Red Bull Music Academy. What are some of the topics you like to address and advice you try to instill in those that chose to listen?
Topics vary from personal, professional experiences, of course my experience at the academy when i was only just a student… and then path that I took to get where I am today. I usually insist on being personal with your art, that’s the only way you can stand out.
The United States is currently going through a resurgence of vinyl music and making an extreme comeback. Is the rest of the world going through the same? Are you happy to see people jump off digital music and start crate digging again?
Yes it’s great, whether cd’s, vinyls or tapes, it’s great that the listeners are back to buying music on a hard format, and not just mp3′s. I think it helps them connect with the art on another level. I hope this trends keeps on.
Do you listen to new hip-hop at all or are you still gravitating more towards the 90′s stuff?
Yeah, when I listen to Hip-Hop music, it’s mostly from the 90′s. There’s a couple rappers that I like these days, but they’re a minority. I like to listen to 90′s music, it’s the era I’m from, this what made me what I am today, it totally had a big influence on my culture and my music. And I never get bored of it.
With the ongoing efforts as a producer to not be confined to a ‘box’ or particular sound, what lies ahead for you in 2014-2015?
[Laughs] That’s a good question… I’m actually trying to figure this out now! Time is running fast and I feel I should be back soon with something new. It’s hard to be creative and come out with original ideas, it takes time to elaborate personal projects, it has to come out from your guts, and this is a whole process to go through. Time will tell which direction I will decide, so far, it’s a little messy because I want to do so many different things!
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Omahdon AKA Edwyn Tiong does quite a bit of voice acting out there! You may have heard him in DUST: AN ELYSIAN TAIL, HEROES OF NEWERTH, DUNGEONLAND, TOME, WONDERS OF THE UNIVERSE, YOUSEI, ETERNALLY US, SMASHTASM, XIN, TRAPPED and more! It’s not often we get the pleasure of having a voice actor in the Creative Spotlight so we took advantage and asked him a variety of questions. Read below for the full Q&A…
How did you get started in acting?
Completely by accident, really! I guess you could say it all started with video games – specifically the graphic adventure games by LucasArts. Back in those days, games didn’t have full speech for every piece of dialogue yet, and even when they did I didn’t have the computer hardware to play them properly (386DX40 with 4MB RAM and no optical drive. I’m sure those specs would cause a small shiver of nostalgic pain to those of the tech savvy persuasion)! Graphic adventure games tended to be on the text heavy side, so I just grew into the habit of reading a lot of the dialogue out loud – I even replayed the bits that were especially funny just so I could attempt reading them in another way once I got the joke! Objectively, I’m sure I was pretty terrible at it but it livened playing experience to no end – especially when I had friends over and we would take turns at doing all the voices of different characters. This habit of reading text aloud died around the same time I got a new computer – allowing me to finally play graphic adventure games with their full voice acting glory. Also about this time, I discovered the magic that was the Final Fantasy games and really got into them – though without my usual mouth-talking habit coming into play. I enjoyed them enough to sign up to a Final Fantasy-related forum and found myself participating in probably all the same shenanigans that all fans of anything get up to on the internet. Which is to say: filth, fanfics and flamewars over what is or isn’t canon. And that’s where my voice acting career would have ended – had not someone from outside our closed-knit community come on the forums one day and asked if anyone was interested in participating in dubbing over scenes from Final Fantasy VIII. Just for a lark, I said yes, auditioned for a couple of parts, and got the role of Seifer Almasy – my first ever role in anything, basically! From there, I was introduced to the online amateur voice acting community and my life was never the same again! That was about 15 years ago now, geez.
What’s the greatest difficulty doing voice work?
Like anything to do with the entertainment business: dealing with rejection. Basically, you can try your hardest and do your best at something, but sometimes (ofttimes) that’s not quite what the producer/director/casting is looking for. Maybe they’re looking for someone who sounds a little older or a little younger. More foreign or less foreign. More of a duplicitous sneak or less of a naive, gullible mark. Or sometimes they don’t even KNOW what they’re looking for and are hoping that you can solve the problem for them. Those are some vague, hard-to-see hoops to jump through and it can get extremely discouraging if you have a lot of these in a row.
What’s your strategy on choosing voiceover roles?
Well, like we discussed in the previous question, it’s often not really MY choice per se – I just audition for something and if I’m lucky enough, I’m selected by the producers to solve their problem of “so who do we get to voice this character?”. Sometimes if I’m really lucky, I get scouted to voice a role that has been specifically written with me in mind. And sometimes if I’m really, REALLY lucky, I don’t fit any of the roles I auditioned for, but the producers like my performance enough that they put me on another role. Or even create an entirely new character just for me! And that’s all kinds of magic. However, if we’re talking about the strategy on choosing what to AUDITION for – then I usually try out for roles that fit these certain keywords: smug, vain, intelligent, cool, confident, crotchety, creepy, duplicitous, hypnotically alluring, idiotic, hysterical, Russian, robot, fox, ninja, mage, butler. That’s not an exhaustive list, but some of my strongest and most well-received roles have involved some combination of those keywords. I try out for other things as well for the fun of it, but more often than not I’ll be cast as the smug, idiotic, duplicitous mage or something. One day I’ll be cast as a robotic fox ninja butler and get to tick off that item from my bucket list.
Video game systems are quickly becoming “all-in-one” entertainment pieces. Do you miss the days of videogame systems being just that, video game systems?
Honestly, while I’ve played and/or borrowed a variety of game consoles from my friends or relatives, I’ve always considered myself to be more of a PC gamer type person. And even that’s not really an accurate description: I have a PC that does a lot of things AS WELL AS play games. My experience with personally owned consoles pretty much starts with a NES, went to a Gamecube and then plopped into a PS3, by which point the intermingling of games console with “other electronic experiences” had begun. So for me, I’ve always had a “videogame system” that’s been an “all-in-one” platform: listening to music, watching movies/TV, browsing the internet, doing word processing, mixing audio and video and so forth. As technology grows and becomes easier to use, I think we’re going to see a greater convergence of what were once considered separated techs/interests into the one device. On the other hand, I do think there’s a lot of (justifiable) outrage right now at how the next-gen consoles seem to be more interested in drawing in the TV sports watching crowd than the hardcore gamer – Xbone’s disastrous initial marketing campaign being a prime example. But once these teething troubles subside however, I can see a future where someone uses their PS4 to cut their album together or their XBone to create a powerpoint presentation. I mean hey, you can do all that on your smartphone these days – why not your game console?
Can you tell us about an experience you had doing a role where it was a lot more difficult than you had anticipated?
There was a game where I had to play a character that did several military-style mission briefings and debriefings as well as several barks and in-mission lines once the character was in the field. The barks were fine, and actually kind of fun (if just to see how many variations of “I’M HIT!” or “I got a badguy on my tail!” I could do) but the mission briefings were an absolute PAIN. I’m pretty terrible at doing narration in general and mission briefings were basically all that and a couple more bundles of concentrated pain. To put it simply, there’s quite a bit that goes into recording mission briefings/debriefings for games, even if they’re probably the most skipped over piece of voicework in the history of video games. Apart from the technical terms and names, there’s a certain kind of “military patter” you have to fall into (or so I think) so that you present the greatest amount of information in the shortest amount and most efficient use of time possible. And I just could NOT get into it. I felt like I was a slurring, slurping, mealy-mouthed mess by the end of each mission briefing and there were just so MANY of them to record. Thank god for modern technology that allows us to cut together different takes to make one seamless, perfected whole; otherwise, I don’t think I could have survived recording all that. As it was, I was PROFOUNDLY happy when my character was killed mid-mission, which meant no more mission briefings AND I didn’t have to record the debrief on that particular mission. Because I was dead. Sweet!
What is your opinion of the political landscape of video games and the opinions of people saying that video games are bad for people?
Maybe I haven’t been paying attention to the “right” news networks, but I’m a little hard-pressed to think of the last time some terrible event has been blamed entirely on video games – I think most people these days would just brush it off as old, recycled scaremongering. The 90s and early 2000s were probably the worst periods for that sort of scaremongering tactics and they all seem rather trite and silly now. I remember the outrage parents and the press had over those IRRESPONSIBLY VIOLENT and SATANIC games like Doom, Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil. Now we can get commercials for their even more gory (but perhaps slightly less Satanic) sequels on TV or at the movies and nobody bats an eye. I’d like to think that this lull in putting the blame on video games FOR EVERYTHING is because there has been research that has since disproven a direct link between video games and violence in society; and that there is a greater social awareness and acceptance of games in general since the rise of mobile gaming on smartphones. But it’s more likely that news networks are owned by giant entertainment conglomerates; and that those same conglomerates also have their fingers in several video game publishing pies. Bad mouthing the very products that you’re trying to sell doesn’t make a whole lot of business sense so…If anything, I think we should be more worried about the manner in which the video games industry and community perceives and then presents itself in popular culture; I’m talking specifically about the college-aged “dudebro” mentality. I’m all for the growing greater cultural acceptance of video games as more than a children’s pastime; but that the cultural norm for what are considered “typical gamers” seem to be fast food munching, soda guzzling, alpha-male-posing misanthropes… Well, it’s moderately depressing. And worse yet is the idea that this is as close to legitimacy as video games are going to get, “so we might as well embrace it”. Let’s take as an example Spike TV’s VG Awards (now called VGX for reasons that don’t make ANY sense), one of the biggest events in the gaming community calendar. Often, it’s hosted by a well-meaning but ultimately confused “cool” celebrity; who has to stand in front of a crowd of hooting hollerers and make “jokes” about how Mario must ingest mushrooms to get high and other “edgy” video games “humour”. Geoff Keighley is a legitimate video games journalist who has interviewed many of the industry greats as well as written articles such as the “Final Hours of…” series which gives a great look into behind the scenes and the stress of video games development – but you wouldn’t know it from the popular internet meme of him promoting Halo 4 while staring dead-eyed into a camera, surrounded by packages of Doritos and bottles of Mountain Dew. It’s just a real shame that THIS is considered legitimacy for the video games industry. Which is why stories like the one about Game_Jam collapsing for all the right reasons gives me a modicum of hope. I’ll link the full story from Eurogamer below, but to sum up quickly: there was meant to be some kind of collaborative game development jam with some of the darlings of the indie game development scene. Executives and their handlers tried to turn the whole thing into some kind of reality show debacle with product placements everywhere and $400k worth of sponsorship on the line. With tensions running high, it was the comment by the presenter about how one team would be disadvantaged due to having female members that finally got all the indie developers to stand as one and walk off the set. It was a very expensive failure, and that show of support amongst the developers AND the video game community at large once the story emerged is one of the more positive stories I’ve heard this year. We don’t have to mindlessly pander to the dudebro mentality and the marketing juggernaut behind that. There are also other sociopolitical stuff about the world of video games I could throw my opinions around on, including the inherently sexist, racist, homophobic and just plain toxic nature of some games and gamers; and their acceptance at such behaviour as being a “natural” part of gaming… But that’s an article for another time and you probably don’t want to be flooded by responses about where a woman’s natural place is and how I’m a mewling quim who should return to my country of origin and eat some curry. So I shall abstain.
What kinds of setbacks have you conquered to get to where you are now?
Honestly, I haven’t encountered anything that I would consciously consider a “setback”, major or otherwise – mainly because I got into this whole voice acting thing with absolutely no expectations whatsoever. It was never about money nor fame, for me. For me, it was always about having fun and having a bit of a lark with friends; and I took whatever else that came on top of that as a pleasant bonus. I just kept auditioning, kept working, kept meeting new people (I hesitate to use the term “networking” because that sounds so cold and trite – I made FRIENDS) and in so doing I got to do a whole lot of stuff I never thought I’d ever do! Off the top of my head: I got to work with creators and artists I greatly admired including Adam Vian, Tom Vian, Matt Gardner, Peter Gresser, Joseph Blanchette, Christopher Niosi, Scott Ramsoomair, Dean Dodrill amongst many others. I never set out to be one of the most recognized voices in flash animations/games on Newgrounds, nor intended to voice some of the most memorable (and meme-worthy) characters on the Internet – but those things happened as well. And I never thought I’d be voicing the main character for a graphic adventure-styled game a la LucasArts but I’ve had the opportunity to do that multiple times; and even more than that for adventure games that don’t fit that particular mould! I’ve been very fortunate to get to this point in my life, honestly. If anything, I think my biggest setbacks are in front of me: more and more of my friends have either left the voice acting world entirely, or are actively pursuing a voice acting career of a more professional nature. I’m at the point where I really need to make a choice about where I want to go with this and if I’m ready to commit to the dream proper. The dream is just so big and I’m honestly a little terrified at the prospect of trying to make it come true. Some hard decisions in my future, I think!
What are some of your favorite Asian films and anime?
Off the top of my head, I consider some of my favorite HK films to be: The Killer, A Better Tomorrow, Once Upon a Time in China, Mr Vampire, A Man Called Hero, A Chinese Ghost Story, God of Cookery and Shaolin Soccer. I recently saw The Raid 2: Berandal, which has some of the sickest, most amazingly choreographed fight scenes ever put on film. I was also subjected to Ring and Ring 2, by truly terrible and mean friends who wanted to make sure I didn’t slept soundly for a week AT LEAST. As for anime, like any kid from the 80s/90s I grew up with stuff like Robotech, Samurai Pizza Cats, Sailor Moon and Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs. But in terms of a “favorite anime”, my absolute favorite has to be Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still – specifically the version with the first English dub produced for it featuring Steve Blum as Genya, which I contend is some of his finest performance in voice acting ever.
Any words of encouragement for our readers and fans?
The entirety of “The Paradoxical Commandments” by Dr. Kent M. Keith are words everyone should live by, but I’ll just quote the last stanza here: Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.
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