Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Somtow and Bruce • The Return

In only about 6 weeks, my Thai-language book, "Phasaa mai kaengraeng - volume 1" is going to come out. It's the first volume of a autobiographical trilogy that discusses my coming to terms with being a creature of two cultures.

The first book deals with the period up to 1978, and it therefore contains a lot of material which is incredibly important in the history of music in this country, yet which is no longer remembered or taught ... or rather it has been so subsumed into the collective soul of Thai music that no one realizes that there once a time when the wheel had to be invented.

I constantly am reminded of how much is forgotten. The renewal of the creative partnership between me and Bruce Gaston is, I think, going to awaken those memories. But we also have to get rid of 32 years of accumulated conventional wisdom.

I read in the paper recently a reference to what Bruce and I contributed to music in Thailand in the 70s. The paper, in all innocence, spoke of Bruce's creation of the fusion between Thai and Western music ... and of my passion to bring opera to this country ... as two important elements of that revolution in the 1970s.

The reality is, of course, in some ways its opposite. This is why Bruce and I so often are amazed at how we have ended up as mirror images of each other.

In the 1970s, when I first met Bruce Gaston, he was completely Asian, and I was completely Western. He was a student of Boonyong Ketkhong and in some ways the premier proponent of Thai classical music. I arrived and it was Bruce Gaston, the American, who in fact opened my ears to the sound-world of Thai music, but it was I who began incorporating elements of that music into my very western music, creating the ancestral (and not terribly great) work "Views from the Golden Mountain" in 1975 for a controversial TV broadcast. I went on to start imitating Asian musical techniques on Orff instruments which I found lying around in the Goethe Institute, producing the 1976 composition GONGULA. This then cross-pollinated back to Bruce Gaston and we produced a succession of works in which the styles became ever more fused ... until we ended up with our co-composed HEXAPHONY in 1977.

On the other hand, it was Bruce who first conceived a style of opera that could be comletely done within the resources of Thai music and his opera CHUCHOK was really what set all that in motion. My involvement in opera at that time was a music director of the BOS, an expat amateur opera society.

When the alliance started to fracture in 1979 with my departure for the U.S., I was left with opera, whereas Bruce was left with fusion.... we were in a sort of role reversal.

So yes ... today, Bruce Gaston is known for the Thai-western fusion which his band, FONG NAAM, symbolizes. And I am mostly known in Thailand for opera. But the truth is, we each started what the other continued ....

It's complicated, and it's all coming in my book....

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