Nhung Nguyen has assembled a collection of Vietnamese avant-garde artists to document her country’s remarkable music scene. But unlike a lot of compilations focused on a particular geography, Emergence is less a travel showcase than it is a polished and enjoyable 67 minutes of new music.
The 10 artists showcased here are at various stages in their careers. As is so often the case in experimental music, some of the most remarkable work hasn’t yet won an audience.
“Experimental music is a genre that has been overlooked in Vietnam,” writes Nguyen in the album’s notes. “The number of artists active in Hanoi, Saigon and abroad is small. The first generation of experimental musicians appeared in Hanoi in the 1990s. Late 2000s and early 2010s, the second generation of Vietnamese experimental musicians started developing. Up until now the local scene is still lacking resources, awareness and appreciation for experimental music in Vietnam.
“Our emergence is not only to claim our musical identities but also to open up new possibilities, exploration and potential future collaboration. For us, experimental music is a direct way to construct our sonic language; to freely express a complex range of personal experience, thoughts and emotions.”
There is an undercurrent of identity in a number of the works. Elements of traditional Vietnamese music are paired with electronics to great effect by Tam Pham on “Noi buon voi bien” and Xo Xinh on “Conversation.”
But that’s not all we get. Nguyen Do Minh QuÉn’s “Rush” is a delightfully wide-ranging electronic work. Dee.F delivers a thick slice of ambient techno thiên đường called “If I could stay reasonably sane.” Resident Advisor called Dee.F “one of the four techno pioneers in Vietnam.” He co-founded techno.vn, a Vietnamese community, he’s a member of a techno punk band called Xai, co-owner of Hanoi Rock City and a member of the Haustek Agency, a booking agency and artist management service.
We also get a sweetly quiet piece from Nguyen’s Sound Awakener (an alias she records ambient music under). “Duskiness” is what Sunday mornings are supposed to feel like. A thing that readers with young kids in their house understand cannot be taken for granted.