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The Profane Ear (in a habit of earnestness) ADELE TAN

a·cous·tic [uh-koo-stik]

Anthropometry Revision #4, 2006, video stills, video shot by Chua Chye Teck. Presented at Lee Wen's MA Fine Arts graduation exhibition, at the LASALLE College of Fine Arts.

adjective. Also, a·cous·ti·cal. 1. pertaining to the sense or organs of hearing, to sound, or to the science of sound. 2. of a building material designed for controlling sound. 3. Music a) of, pertaining to, or being a musical instrument whose sound is not electrically enhanced or modified; b) arranged for or made up of such instruments: an acoustic solo; an acoustic group. We forget that the country’s name begins with S-I-N-G. We were therefore born to song, verse, rhythm and beat. It was an acoustic birthright squandered when the orchestrated anthems at the national day parade became the major form of music we could have every year on August ninth. Armed with his guitar and poetry, Lee Wen’s arsenal is made of notes, words and the ether in the air; he is the self-anointed last hippie of Singapore and a defender of the revolution of music where there is close to none left. In the province of performance art practice which he has embodied for more than twenty years, few recognise that music stands at the core of his art, his politics, his ethics and his pleasure. Music as a different focal point transposes gazing towards hearing and speaking, shifting our sights from his visual codification as Yellow Man to listening to him as a troubadour of ‘Anyhow Blues’. This is the addendum that we do not get in photographic documents of performances: photographs act in different ways but nonetheless remain mute. We get the most lucid statement on this acoustic dream on his own page at the music website

taking a walk with a note … or a line made from the kitchen of consciousness from silence we get music stillness leads to action good is good bad is not bad to find my own voice, i must first listen to it 1 That we neglect this aspect of his art does not mark this interposing of music as exceptional; Lee Wen stands in an illustrious line of performance artists who have taken music, poetry, sound, silence and the function of the ear as pivotal as those carried out by other parts of the body. We immediately call to mind the names John Cage, George Brecht, Nam June Paik, Charlotte Morman, Bruce Nauman and especially Laurie Anderson and Yoko Ono, whose respective practices ventured also to the heart of commercial or popular music-making just as Lee Wen’s has. But other genre tags in the art world like sound artist, experimental composer, or avant-garde musician have eluded him or are less easily applicable. He could just be your everyday aspiring rocker and rock concert fan. He is also a product of the traditional dance, music and indigenous rituals that he has witnessed in his many travels and from which he has gleaned many ideas. As Lee Wen describes it, he is merely “a strung out folk singer re-learning how to play his guitar again, at times unable to keep rhythm or forgetting his lyrics” but nevertheless a potent “expression of a desperate struggle for the individual’s voice to assert a place in a commercially driven and essentialist engineered culture of contemporary society”.2

Anyhow Blues Project, 2010 ‘Survey from Singapore, FADO’ at Toronto Free Gallery, Toronto, Canada (1 October 2010)

Less preoccupied by rules and labels in the colloquial sense of ‘anyhow also can’ but of a spontaneity undiminished by discipline, Lee Wen’s use and making of music is eclectic, organic, capricious and most importantly, associative – the socius is taken apart in the song. Friedrich Nietzsche once declared that: “[M]an ought to suffer from the destiny of music as from an open wound. From what do I suffer when I suffer from the destiny of music? From the fact that music has lost its world-transforming, affirmative character – that it is decadent music and no longer the flute of Dionysus”.3

See, accessed 30 January 2012. His online tags are: ‘Other / Performance Art, Indie, Alternative, Folk, Punk, R / Conscious Rock’.



Quoted from Lee Wen, ‘Anyhow Blues Project’,

Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘The Wagner Case’, in Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is (1908), EBOOK_TEXTS/ECCE_HOMO_.aspx?S=14.


Lee Wen: Variations On The Exquisite Body.  

"Lee Wen: Variations On The Exquisite Body" written by Lucy Davis, Ray Langenbach, Lee Weng Choy, Adele Tan and June Yap. Lead essay of Sing...

Lee Wen: Variations On The Exquisite Body.  

"Lee Wen: Variations On The Exquisite Body" written by Lucy Davis, Ray Langenbach, Lee Weng Choy, Adele Tan and June Yap. Lead essay of Sing...