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‘Monster’ Band Digitizes Traditional Sound

A group of young Cambodian and foreign musicians have begun playing contemporary forms of Cambodian music. Krom Monster uses five traditional instruments combined with digital manipulation to create music that appeals to younger Cambodians.

The band, made up of five Cambodians and one Briton, is part of a trend in collaboration between modern and classic artists underway in Cambodia.

Krom Monster played live in Phnom Penh Monday night, following five weeks of rehearsal and sound mixing.

“Definitely the aim is to try and develop an audience’s awareness for contemporary forms of music,” said David Gunn, the director of the London-based arts organization Incidental and Krom Monster’s lead singer.

Gunn collected sounds from Khmer musical instruments and from the streets in Phnom Penh over the past four weeks and modulated them to mix with five traditional Khmer instruments including the kong tom, roneat ek, tro sor and khser deav.

Gunn, who also leads a participatory art project called ‘Neak Ta,” said the aim of producing the new form of contemporary Khmer music was to help local artists and musicians create their own form of music.

“Quite often people come to countries like Cambodia and try and teach how it's done in England or America, which for me is not a very interesting way to approach it,” he told VOA Khmer in an interview on Monday. “If you come here, you shouldn't just tell people what to do. So it’s more about trying to help the musicians find a uniquely Cambodian form of contemporary art and music.”

At present, traditional Khmer music forms lack creativity, while most of the modern ones are under public criticism for the fact that they follow or are copied from foreign music.

Pov Punisa, an 18-year-old music student from Cambodian Living Arts who plays the roneat ek, said that the new form of Khmer music does not require any rules.

“Our traditional music, like Pin Peat, has proper rules to follow, but with this form of music we just play based on our feeling,” she said.

Lun Sophaneth, a 20-year-old music student at Fine Arts University in Phnom Penh, said that only with such innovation can Cambodian music move forward.

“The world gets interested in contemporary forms of music, so this kind of music can help Cambodian musicians compete with others,” he said.

Song Seng, project coordinator for Cambodian Living Arts, said the creation of the new form of Khmer music is a strategy for promoting Khmer music and at the same time attracting Cambodian youth to their own art and music.

“’This is important to re-popularize Khmer art and music,” he said in an interview on Monday. “If we only promote the traditional forms, it is not effective because Khmer youth are interested in something new and different,” he said.

Prum Putvisal, a university student in Phnom Penh, said after seeing the live performance of the Krom Monster that he liked the new form, which was strange and appealing.

“Not many people listen to our traditional music nowadays,” he said. “So, when it is mixed with the computer modulation, it is good.”

Samraing Komsan, secretary of state for Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said the ministry supports using the traditional instruments with foreign music elements to form new styles of music.

“We need such kind of innovations to modernize our music,” he said in a phone interview.