Isuru Kumarasinghe is a musician and sound artist from Sri Lanka and is based in Colombo. Through a listening practice his work focuses on the experience of sound perception and sound movements. He is a self-taught artist, who creates tools to transmit philosophies of listening, affect and the relationship to the body into sound producing. He mainly works with electro-acoustic music improvisation, field recordings, as well as sound installations and performance. Kumarasinghe extensively collaborates with musicians, dance, theatre and filmmakers and is a co-founder of the Musicmatters collective in Colombo. He regularly produces music records and is currently co-founding the new producing studio Earscapes in Colombo.
Photography by Shehan Obeysekara
A shadowy figure is playing a string instrument in a rectangular blue-lit room with stark white columns. The echoing resonance of the space lulls us into a meditative state that almost automatically leads us to contemplate and reflect, while we're encapsulated and engulfed by sound. "With this project, the idea was to discover certain resonating points inside the space, activated by the voice and an instrument called Esraj, normally used as a melodic string instrument. I thought of the space as a resonant body, like you're inside an instrument," Isuru Kumarasinghe, a sound artist based in Colombo, Sri Lanka, describes his performance as part of Goethe Institut's Thattu Pattu project. "Whatever the sound you're playing inside the space, it becomes that. That space just becomes sound." At the heart of Isuru's practice is listening. "In whatever context he works - musical, installation, theatre or multi disciplinary - this has been the key right throughout. This to me is reflective of his amazing sensitivity to sound and frequencies!," says Dr. Sumudi Suraweera, director of the Muscimatters collective based in Colombo, which Isuru is also part of. Musicmatters provides music education as a music school, studio and rehearsal space, and it was also at its premises that Isuru's aforementioned performance took place. Having cut his teeth in various bands, making "songs." Isuru later gravitated towards experimenting with sound and exploring its various qualities and recording techniques. "I didn't study sound engineering in an academic way, I learned things by myself as well as reading and having conversations with others. I have also worked under a sound engineer.
Most importantly, playing with other musicians, especially the Musicmatters collective: we mostly experiment and learn from each other." Sri Lanka's musical topographies span a formerly burgeoning rock and heavy metal scene that prevailed largely in the early 2000's, India's rich music heritage, Western influences, as well as traditional musics. Isuru's sonic practice evades all of these categories, and carves its own niche, absorbing the sonically rich environment of his home, from the found sounds of natural and urban jungles alike. According to Dr Suraweera: "Within this contemporary scene Isuru uniquely stands out to me, as there is no one else who has followed the path that he has. He has committed himself to a practice to go in depth in an environment where the majority of musicians are forced to adapt and do a bit of everything just in order to survive." At times, Isuru's ethereal figure completely disappears during the performance, leaving behind an acousmatic veil, a trace of the present that has just turned into the past. "It also touches upon another topic we're living through right now: we just give in, let things happen, not knowing how to go about it. Thinking slowly. So it was a surrendered and surrounded sort of feeling. I'm treating it very ritualistically. I can't perform it again. I cannot repeat it," explains Isuru. We surround ourselves and surrender to sound, unequivocally, unconditionally.
Space Becomes Sound
By Lucia Udvardyova with contributions from Sumudi Suraweera
We asked Isuru Kumarasinghe to curate a playlist that would situate his work in his local context. He chose to highlight releases from the Sri Lankan record label Fish Climbs Tree Records, an initiative of the Musicmatters collective, which focuses on finding new sounds in a contemporary context rather than genre-based music. The work featured on the label is often research-based and involves experimentation.
The audio recordings contained in this playlist have been used for non-commercial, educational purposes in compliance with the fair use provisions of the Intellectual Property Act, No. 36 of 2003.