Interviewer: Hajime Oishi
"Final Fantasy" and Black Metal
--Please tell me how you felt about participating in this project.
Being asked to take part in this festival was in itself a surprise for me. And when I actually took part in it, I had many learning experiences. For example, I never knew there were so many musicians in Indonesia with such high skills. And the festival had a very rich content, so it was very interesting.
--Was it the first time you had a session with Indonesian musicians?
Yes, it was the first time.
--What kinds of equipment did you use in the performance?
I used an ultra-miniature contact microphone that I made, effect pedals, and the different kinds of software on my computer.
--Was this the standard setup you always use for live performances?
That's right. I brought everything with me.
--Now I would like to ask you about your personal biography. First, what year were you born?
I was born in 1991 in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) and I still live in Ho Chi Minh today.
--How did you get into music?
When I was little, I wasn't interested in music at all and all I did was video games. My mom loves the piano, and she was a great fan of the world-famous Vietnamese pianist Dang Thai Son. And so she wanted me to learn to play the piano, and when I was 10 years old, I took the entrance exam for the piano department of the Ho Chi Minh Conservatory of Music. My mom told me that if I pass the test, she would buy me a PlayStation... and I took the exam because I wanted a PlayStation (laughs). I passed the test and got the PlayStation (laughs).
-- Your mother liked the piano, so you were familiar with the sound of the piano since you were a child?
No, not really. It's not like I listened to piano music every day. No one in my family went into music.
--And how was it after you started playing the piano?
I was doing it for the PlayStation, so I wasn't that into it (laughs). Even as I studied music, I was playing video games all the time. And after a while, I was fascinated by game music, and I started thinking, "I want to make music like this when I grow up."
--What kind of game music made you think "I want to make music like this"?
(Answers immediately.) "Final Fantasy." (Starts singing the melody.) I liked Final Fantasy parts VII, VIII, IX.
--Were the other kids in your generation into "Final Fantasy" as well?
No, not so much. My friends liked simple action games. You know, the first one I did was the Japanese version of "Final Fantasy." I didn't understand Japanese but I did it for a long time, and later, I did the English version.
--So everybody had PlayStations, including your friends?
Yes. It was very popular.
--When I saw your biography, it said that while you studied classical piano, you became devoted to black metal and death metal. I thought that was really interesting.
I studied classical piano at the Conservatory, but at the time, I was always listening to rock even as I studied classical music. Eventually I shifted to metal, and particularly black metal. And I listened to different things in search of heavier stuff, and ultimately I came to noise music. If you really want to do black metal, you have to start a band, but it's difficult to start a band in Vietnam. And it's even harder if you want to start a black metal band. But noise is something you can do by yourself. That's why I became interested in noise.
--What are your favorite black metal bands?
Mayhem and Burzum.
--Oh, Burzum (laughs).
There are lots of other bands that I like, but I like Mayhem and Burzum the best.
--Were you able to buy Mayhem and Burzum CDs in Ho Chi Minh?
I think they were illegal copies, but I could get them really cheap. Rock was popular in Vietnam as well, so I could go to a CD shop and get various albums.
--Was black metal popular in Ho Chi Minh?
Yes. I don't think it's that popular now, but it was pretty big from around 2005 to 2007. I used to dress up like metal and I had long hair like a girl (laughs).
--What aspects of black metal were attractive to you?
I was attracted to the power and the energy of it. I feel like I can get power listening to black metal. The heavier the music, the more attractive it is to me. That hasn't changed.
" Getting guitar sounds without playing a guitar
--So how did you start doing the noise/experimental things that lead to your recent activities?
As I listened to black metal, I was attracted to the sound of the guitar played through effect units. I wanted to play something like that but I can't play the guitar at all, so I connected a microphone and some effect pedals to a handmade instrument to produce sounds that were like a guitar. That was in 2009. My first performance was at the New Music Meeting Festival in Hanoi. There were musicians from different countries at that event, just like this festival. But I was making noise music for about two years before that.
--So you started making noise music when you were in your teens. What is your source of inspiration when you make music?
The fact that I can't play the guitar and I use a microphone and effect pedals to produce the sounds of a guitar that are passed through effect units is in itself a source of inspiration for me. I always think about how I can produce sounds that are heavier than black metal when I make music.
--But if you love the sound of the guitar so much, didn't you think about learning how to play the guitar?
Well, I love listening to it but I never thought about learning how to play the guitar myself. I thought I would make my own original metal music.
--I see. What kinds of venues do you usually have live performances?
Unfortunately, there aren't any venues in Ho Chi Minh where you can play new kinds of music like there are in Hanoi. So I play at rock live houses and clubs most of the time. Usually, after some rock bands perform, a DJ comes out, and then I do my performance.
--Is noise/experimental more popular in Hanoi?
Yes. Ho Chi Minh has a lot of venues where you can play, but I think it's lagging behind in terms of experimental music. I think I'm the only one in Ho Chi Minh doing experimental music (laughs).
--That's a bit unexpected. Ho Chi Minh is one of the largest cities in Asia and the club culture there is quite evolved, right?
You're right in that the club culture in Ho Chi Minh is flourishing. And I think the rock and hip-hop scene is way more advanced in Ho Chi Minh than it is in Hanoi. But I don't think there's anybody else doing experimental/noise.
--I heard that you're also doing various things under the name "Writher."
Writher is my SNS nickname. It started in 2009 as my account name on Myspace. But now I use the name Nguyen Hong Giang for everything. I didn't want to reveal my real name on SNS, so that was the name I used.
--And you play keyboard in a band called "Time Keeper," right?
I think Time Keeper would be in the post-rock genre. It started in 2013, and I'm aiming for something softer than the heavy instrumental music that I usually do. The band won support in Ho Chi Minh and we have live shows pretty frequently. The band also released two albums. I think Time Keeper may be the only post-rock band in Ho Chi Minh, too.
--I've heard that you have also done installations and collaborations with dancers. Could you tell me about those activities?
There is work I do to earn an income, like making hip-hop tracks or making background sounds for other rock bands. I also made sounds for iPad apps.
--Wouldn't you like to make music for games as well?
I've made game music since I was a kid. But there is no game industry in Vietnam, so I can't make any money doing it. I wish there was a game industry like there is in Japan.
--Could you tell me about your vision for your future activities?
My goal or vision is to create music-making software. I want to make software not just for my own use but something that anybody could use to make their own music. Also, I would like to continue to explore different kinds of sounds, and I want to produce an album in the near future as well.
--An album you will release under the name Nguyen Hong Giang?
That's right. Actually, Time Keeper has practically disappeared and I'm thinking about making a heavy instrumental album.
--This is the last question. In this project, you performed with people from different backgrounds. But was there a feeling you were able to share with them?
Yes, there was. After all, music plays a role in bringing people together and that is something I was able to reaffirm through this project. I think I will have opportunities to collaborate again with the artists who took part in this project. And actually, I think I'll be working on a joint project with To Die from Indonesia to release an album in both Indonesia and Vietnam.