Open Ear Prize – A Lavish Birthday Gift!

Open Ear Prize – A Lavish Birthday Gift!

Thank you for your birthday wishes! I could not ask for a more humbling way to look back on what my 43 years of life have amounted to than with the gift of a touching and poignantly written jury report for the Open Ear Prize bestowed on me—a prize that honors my body of work as a composer/sound artist.

Thank you very much for nourishing me with your friendship. I share this with everyone who has been part of this reverberant journey. Maraming salamat po.

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The prize comes with a bronze ear designed by artist Ansuya Blom.


Winner: meLê yamomo

Members of the 2022 jury: Alison Isadora (chair), Du Yun and Matt Wright.

November 17, 2022

The work of meLê yamomo defines itself by a focus on time and place, on sonic entanglements, and the materiality of sound. Born in the Philippines, yamomo is now based between Amsterdam and Berlin and is active as composer, researcher, and theatre-maker. In 2018 his book Sounding Modernities: Theatre and Music in Manila and the Asia Pacific 1969-1946 was published.

Academic research and composition are intertwined in yamomo’s work to such an extent that it is hard to see or hear where one begins and the other ends. Perhaps we can talk about an expanded compositional practice? yamomo’s distinctive oeuvre encompasses podcasts, music-theatre, and curation – all, however, with a focus on attending to the world through sound.

In the video-lecture-performance This Doesn’t Sound Right, shown at the Donaueschinger Muziktage in 2021, our syntactic understanding is given visceral embodiment by the manipulations of image and spoken text created by yamomo. This is not just a representation of the text but a powerful materialisation of it.

yamomo’s works circle around issues of colonisation through the medium of sound, just as gamelan pieces may seem to circle around similar melodic material while constantly creating another textural context. For instance, the compositions Sonus-the sound within us (2019) and This Doesn’t Sound Right (2021), both contain graphic representations of the relationships between sonus, body, and media/sound but within quite different environments. Through his works, yamomo continues to develop his unique language, with each composition containing another point of reverberation.

Works relating to the same topic may take on divergent forms. Interferenzen (2020) is a radio play that presents interviews with academics involved in Southeast Asian radio archives within a sonic environment that playfully but forcibly navigates the musical space between Western art music and gamelan and, in doing so, enriches our sense of musical heritage.

In Interferences Live (2021), some of the same interviewees are presented in a setting in which the physical presence of yamomo with live spoken text and music is in contrast with the audience who listen to the proceedings unfolding before them, on headphones. As audience members, we are invited into the intimacy of the bi-neural environment while being separated from the audio space in which we are physically sitting. As yamomo himself notes in this work, he is not offering us some kind of cathartic resolution—perhaps being disturbed is necessary.

yamomo uses text, sound, and image compositionally to create works that offer new ways of framing our idea of art. Complex issues relating to colonialism are addressed through the sonic archive, resulting in works that are poetic, poignant, sometimes humorous, and always profound. His creation of artistic and sonic bridges allows us as audience members to transverse between a cognitive understanding to something experienced on other levels of our being. This is not a surface investigation but one that generously offers the audience an opportunity for expanded insight, one that asks us to look beyond the easy notion that the West is the only centre of new thought and experience.

The brilliant music-theatre work Echoing Europe – Postcolonial Reverberations (2019) can perhaps be seen as his most powerful work until now. Echoing Europe starts as an exhibition of objects used for recording and historical photos, before transforming into an ingenious and deeply moving music theatre work in which historical recordings are performed and we are confronted with how radio technology has been instrumental in changing the ways people think about themselves. It is not surprising that in the process of challenging our pre-conceptions of what sound can mean, yamomo’s palette expands beyond the palette of the sonic medium. His focus, however, is always on sound, and the poetic organisation of his visual and audio material and the dramaturgical quality within yamomo’s work expose a deeply personal and original compositional approach.

The jury is inspired by yamomo’s body of work and excited to follow his trajectory, which we have no doubt will continue to be daring, provocative, and authentic.

As yamomo himself says, ‘sometimes you only have to listen.’ “

You can read the full jury report from the Trillende Lucht Foundation’s website.