Pet Sounds: Michael Cheuk

Pet Sounds: A series in which teaching staff and students from the English Department reflect on a piece of music or song. [Read all entries.] [Revisit the “Headspace” series.] [Revisit the “Ongoing” series.] [Revisit the “Interrogative” series.]

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“Shut Up and Keep Talking” is track 8 from the album Ordinary People. “Shut Up…” is a song that means a lot to me, and I am very proud to be part of the song’s creative process as a songwriter.

In 2010, my band Chantaiman had only been together for a few months, and the creative chemistry was very strong. It was therefore a big shock to me when Mic, my bassist, and Austin, my guitarist, briefly told me about a period in which they stopped talking to one another. Despite being childhood friends and long-time musical collaborators, they grew apart at one point in their lives due to miscommunication. Their experience aroused my interest. What is miscommunication? Why does it happen? How could miscommunication drive people who are so close and compatible away? After singing over a chord progression that Mic came up with, I soon decided that I wanted to explore the topic of miscommunication.

For “Shut Up …,” I wrote both the lyrics and melody at the same time. As a songwriter, I wanted the melody to tell me which word fits the best for a particular note. And so I sang random, often unintelligible, words throughout the writing process. When I felt that a melody was starting to take shape, I then interpreted the mumbo jumbo. The result was lyrics that focused on the inability to communicate.

The song opens with a synth sound that resembles the ambience of a forest. The acoustic guitar plays broken chords in a rhythmic, progressive manner, to convey a sense of chase-and-run between you and your friend. The verse reads:

I know where to find you, when you’re alone but you say:
‘I know where to hide, when I need some place to make sense.’
 But I know how to tell you the ugly truth, but you say:
‘I don’t want to hear it. So why don’t you just forget.’

You want to find him and tell him the ‘ugly’ truth for his own good. But he simply wants to be a recluse and resolve the matter on his own terms. But you care too much for him to let him drift away. But the harder you try to reach out to him, the further he runs away. The dilemma of miscommunication is that no one is really right or wrong. Perhaps this is why miscommunication is so toxic to a relationship.

Silence is sometimes violent.
Should you keep communicating?
Should you keep talking, or should you shut up?
Could one shut up and keep talking?
How?

{Click here to listen to “Shut Up and Keep Talking” on Bandcamp.}

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MichaelMichael Ka Chi Cheuk completed his BA in English Language and Literature in 2010, specialising in Literature. In 2013, he graduated from the MPhil programme in Literary Studies. He also has an MFA from the University of Hong Kong. Michael is currently studying for a PhD at SOAS, researching on Gao Xingjian’s later plays.

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