This year’s Switch ON live experimental arts series sets the bar higher with innovative programmes in Kuala Lumpur.

Has there been a surge of activity in Kuala Lumpur’s experimental sonic arts community in recent times? It definitely seems to be the case with dedicated followers and newcomers turning up more frequently for sound art gigs, involving homegrown names and international collaborators.

This year’s Switch ON mini-festival series, which has been stretched to a two-week plus programme at Findars artist-run space in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, is a timely example of the creative ferment in the community.

Switch ON starts at Findars on Jan 25 with an international showcase, featuring an array of road-tested sound artists and musicians, while a Feb 8 show at the venue will concentrate on homegrown talent.

“People are having conversations about sound art these days. That’s a huge improvement from the early days of Switch ON, which was an actual struggle to fill up a small room,” says Goh Lee Kwang, 39, an active organiser of outsider gigs, a sound artist himself and the founder of Switch ON, which took shape in 2009 in KL.

The upcoming Switch ON edition is the most ambitious to date in terms of programming and the number of artists.

Since its early beginnings at Indicine at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre, Switch ON has been an active independent platform for live sound art, workshops, exhibitions and artist-in-residency programmes. It is also closely associated to Goh’s Herbal International label and the Findars Art Collective.

Last October, the Experimental Music Night: Switch ON/Kasi Pecah performance at the National Visual Arts Gallery in KL brought homegrown experimental musicians and sound artists like Goh, Space Gambus Experiment, HKPT, Filipino sound artist Tad Ermitano, audio visual artists Wong Eng Leong, Syafiq Abdul Samat and Fairuz Sulaiman closer to the mainstream.

“Awareness has been crucial for this scene. What is sound art? It’s a catch-all term. It’s not merely noise, or techno. Sound art has several layers. We’re looking at a very broad description, taking in experimental music, electronica, classical composition, audio visual art and more. Basically it’s about pushing music and art beyond their borders, and maybe even blurring things up further,” adds Goh.

German composer/performer Burkhard Beins, who works with percussion, selected objects and electronics, is one of the artists set for a collaborative performance at the Switch ON mini festival.

This week, Findars will host international sound artists like Toshimaru Nakamura (Japan), Burkhard Beins (Germany), Clayton Thomas (Australia), Daisuke Takaoka (Japan), Anla Courtis (Argentina), Jason Kahn (United States), Darren Moore (Australia) and Brian O’Reilly (Australia), while Goh himself will take to the stage with seasoned Malaysian experimentalists like Yong Yandsen (saxophonist) and Wong Eng Leong (audio visuals).

Despite being capable soloists with busy touring schedules, the international musicians, as Goh reveals, will be working in specific group configurations at this festival.

Nakamura will be collaborating with Moore and O’Reilly in a trio format. Elsewhere, Goh points to Berlin-based percussionist Beins and Buenos Aires-born experimental guitarist Courtis as the key players to turn on the heat at any experimental music happenings.

“Nakamura, who is a no-input mixing board player, thrives on innovation. He uses a standard mixing board as an electronic music instrument. If he sounds familiar, it’s because the mainstream might remember him releasing material on the Secret Samadhi label, which is run by David Sylvian (former Japan member),” reveals Goh.

There will also be an exhibition called Into Outside, as part of the Switch ON programming, from Jan 30 to Feb 15 at Findars. It will feature British artist Ayesha Keshani and Goh delivering installation work and a sound art piece respectively.

For the Into Outside exhibition, Keshani will be presenting her installation, Kingdom! Kingdom!, which is a tangled museum of histories and abstract realities, set in a photocopied forest. Goh’s piece Photocopying Recording, will challenge visitors at Findars to recognise the difference between pre-recorded sound and real-time amplification.

As an added highlight, Mark Gergis, who is a compiler/producer of US-based independent label Subliminal Frequencies, will handle a deejay set during the launch of the Into Outside exhibition on Jan 30 at 8pm.

The “local heroes” segment of Switch ON, which takes place at Findars on Feb 8, is also not to be missed. Experimental music fans can expect sparks to fly at the venue with inventive performances and new material from Ronnie Khoo, Jerome Kugan, German-born Tim Blechmann (Switch ON residency programme guest) and sound art outfit HKPT, while live visuals will be supplied by Wong Eng Leong.

The live shows at Findars on Jan 25 and Feb 8 start at 8.30pm (donations at the door). The Into Outside exhibition is a free admission event.