Zai Tang
Forest Ecology, Forestry, Urban Ecology, Urbanisation
Zai Tang

Zai Tang, Escape Velocity IV, 2019. Gillman Barracks, Singapore. Image credits Singapore Art Museum.



Biodiversity, Ecosystems and Livelihoods

Forest Ecology, Forestry, Urban Ecology, Urbanisation

Object-Oriented Ontology, Sound Archive

Zai Tang

Tang’s work reflects a deep concern for ecological crises and mass extinction, drawing influences from acoustic ecology, phenomenology, electronic, and experimental music. His practice involves capturing sonic emanations of non-human inhabitants and translating audible phenomena into visual experiences using a mix of analogue and digital technologies. The studio becomes a testing ground for immersive multisensorial installations that visualize and animate field recordings from various natural environments in Singapore. This process allows Tang to create alternative connections between humans and non-humans, challenging anthropocentric hierarchies and conventional understandings of nature. He experiments with new sound compositions and modes of listening, pushing the boundaries of conventional perception. Additionally, he explores drawing as a means of creating "visual scores" in response to his soundscapes, further expanding how he communicates his artistic concepts.

His immersive and reflexive experiences have been showcased in various international exhibitions and festivals, including the Busan Biennale, NTT InterCommunication Center in Tokyo, and the Singapore Biennale. Tang's artistic process is rooted in the exploration of human and nonhuman connectivity and offers a unique perspective on the urgency of listening to and understanding nature in the face of environmental challenges.


Spectres & Spectres LIVE

Spectres & Spectres LIVE, Zai Tang, 2017
Time reference (in video) = 0:00 - 1:41

Spectres is an artistic response to the notion of the Anthropocene. This new geological epoch is defined by humanity's radical effect on the Earth's equilibrium and the burgeoning number of species becoming extinct.

Evoking a dystopian future where the wildlife of this island has all but vanished, Spectres is an immersive environment haunted by the remnants of sounds that once inhabited Singapore. This work takes the form of an audio-visual installation derived from Tang's archive of field recordings from local natural habitats. These deceased sonorities have been brought back to life and re-animated using digital imaging and sound visualisation techniques. However, the ethereal images and sounds that emerge from this process no longer resemble the creatures from which they originated. They have metamorphosed into a myriad of phantasmagoric forms and disfigured expressions, embodying a sonorous vision of a desolate horizon. In confronting the spectre of extinction, we are invited to reconnect with that which remains in the present and imagine alternative paths towards the future. By day, Spectres is an audio-visual installation exploring the spectre of extinction. By night, it transforms into a performance space, Spectres LIVE, where local musicians respond to the thematic threads within the work through improvisational and experimental dialogues.

Cover image credits: Zai Tang, Spectres & Spectres, 2017. 72-13, Singapore. Image credits The KYT Studio.

Escape Velocity

Escape Velocity I, Zai Tang, 2018
Time reference (in video) = 2:59 - 4:06

Escape Velocity I takes the form of a soundscape composition accompanied by a visual score and stems from the artist's interest in interspecies communication as well as from his refusal of the capitalist politics of speed. The field recordings were made between 2013 and 2016 in Singapore, at Bukit Brown Cemetry, MacRitchie Reservoir, and the Rail Corridor, three areas whose thriving biodiversity is threatened by the uncompromising needs of urban transformation. Bird songs and wildlife calls have been augmented and slowed down, rendering the unique characteristics of their sonorous expressions more easily perceivable to the human ear. The composition has been pressed on to a dubplate record resting on a turntable to be played by the audience. With each play, the dubplate wears down and the sounds within the grooves gradually disappear over the course of the exhibition.

Cover image credit: Zai Tang, Escape Velocity I, 2018. MOCA Yinchuan, China. Image credits MOCA Yinchuan.

Escape Velocity II, Zai Tang, 2018

Escape Velocity II is an experiment in bringing the ethereal voices of the Singaporean wild to life through animation and sound visualisation. Featuring a composition of slowed down field recordings from Bukit Brown, MacRitchie and the Rail Corridor, this synaesthetic installation was originally set within the concrete belly of West Coast Highway.

The visual element of the piece originates from scans of Zai Tang's hand drawn visual score from Escape Velocity I (2018), created in response to the sensuous qualities of creatures recorded in each locale. Building upon past audio-visual creations with artists and animator Simon Ball, their collaborative process is centred on experimentation between the senses; searching for ways to embody sonorous beings and the soundscapes in which they dwell through a visual choreography of animated forms, spaces and architectures. Situating itself in opposition to the momentum of modernity and anthropocentrism, Escape Velocity II is an experiential exploration of attunement to the other we call Nature; an attempt to bridge the gap between human and nonhuman worlds.

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Cover image credit: Zai Tang, Escape Velocity II, 2018. West Coast Highway, Singapore. Image credits Tucky's Photography.

Escape Velocity III, Zai Tang, 2019

Escape Velocity III is an installation situated within the tensions between nature as a thing-in-itself (before we project our human ideas on it) and nature as it is constructed by the state and through capital.

The work utilises field recordings made in the forests and parks near to the Mandai Rejuvenation Project area. This 7-year re-development of existing wildlife habitats aims to create a complete eco-tourist destination which integrates with the Singapore Zoo, Night and River Safaris. Whilst the 'rejuvenation' positions itself in terms of sustainability and re-connection with nature, it nonetheless contains inherent contradictions because of its human-centric perspective; the many creatures and the delicate ecologies embedded within the area have been displaced and impacted. So, rather than close the distance between the human and the nonhuman, it recreates it through its anthropocentrism.

On one side of the installation space a turntable plays a dubplate record containing slowed down and largely unedited recordings of various birds. On the other side another turntable spins and underneath it there is a computer running a custom-coded software, which listens to the dubplate record. At regular intervals the dubplate is sampled, re-sequenced and played back according to a central compositional logic. The original sounds, now augmented, are set into a machine-like motion and reconstituted into the rhythm of Singapore, a city in a garden.

Accompanying this sonic dialogue are two visual scores, each rendered in different media and created as a response to each side of the conflicting soundscape.

Cover image credit: Zai Tang, Escape Velocity III, 2019. Gillman Barracks, Singapore. Image credits Singapore Art Museum. 

Escape Velocity IV, Zai Tang, 2019

Created alongside Simon Ball, Escape Velocity IV is an animated visualisation of soundscape recordings made in the forests near to the Mandai Project in Singapore. The area this development is taking place in is undergoing transformation from a rich natural habitat into a 'complete nature destination', to be integrated with the existing zoo and safaris. Within the film, abstract visuals are choreographed in response to the sensuous sonorous character of the creatures that have been recorded, inviting the audience to tune-in to a deep listening experience. For Tang this gesture of listening deeply is a form of attunement which can help us develop more meaningful connections to our surroundings and close the gap between humans and the other we call nature.

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Cover image credit: Zai Tang, Escape Velocity IV, 2019. Gillman Barracks, Singapore. Image credits Singapore Art Museum.

Escape Velocity V, Zai Tang, 2021

"What does it mean to listen to Nature in a time of ecological crisis?" asks Zai Tang. Escape Velocity V, the artist's latest surround sound installation, sets his local wildlife recordings in motion towards a darker horizon. This presentation builds upon Tang' longstanding exploration of sites threatened by urbanization and hyper-development. Here, in the artificial night of the gallery, voices of the Singaporean wild allude to the rhythms and dynamics of the city, conjuring sonic imaginaries that accelerate towards extinction. Visitors are invited to adjust their senses to dwell in darkness, making room for spectres of the creaturely and the non-human.

Cover image credit: Zai Tang, Escape Velocity V, 2021. National Gallery Singapore, Singapore. Image credits Singapore Art Museum.


A man wearing headphones holding a condenser microphone inside a building

Zai Tang (b. 1984, Singapore) is a multidisciplinary artist, composer, and sound designer, who engages with object-oriented ontology (OOO) to redefine relationships between humans and non-human entities, especially within the context of endangered natural environments facing urban development. OOO, a 21st-century philosophical perspective challenging human-centred views, particularly in ecological contexts, serves as the foundation for his artistic exploration.

Zai Tang, courtesy of National Gallery Singapore

Selected Exhibitions

Selected Solo Exhibitions

2021 Redder, Thailand Biennale Korat, Thai Crane Research Center, Korat Zoo