Singapore group The Observatory was formed in 2001. Currently made up of six members, five are from previously well-known Singapore bands.
The Observatory’s debut album Time of Rebirth, a unique blend of folk-rock, jazz and electronica, was released in March 2004 and is still drawing new fans to their music. This quiet, ruminating album of poignant songs is an exquisitely mellow first outing, underlined by delicate textures, beautiful melodies and subtle electronic injections.
In September 2005, Blank Walls, elaborating on the band’s philosophy of perpetual change, the group’s second album resonated with darker, edgier and more exploratory atmospheres. Relentless in their pursuit of non-formulaic styles, music as a pop medium just isn’t what the group follows. The members are galvanized by experimentation with song form, an open-ended approach pushing towards greater depths and farther boundaries. Slow, undulating mood textures alternate with intense mood disturbances. With their sophomore, The Observatory have created a rich, palpable mix of space and sound.
A Far Cry From Here furthers the group’s experimentation with sound, arrangement and song-form, this time making an ambitious quantum leap through textural re-imagining and metamorphosis. Released in April 2007, the album assimilates rich and myriad influences, echoing Soft Machine, This Heat, Tortoise, Talk Talk, Shining, Jaga Jazzist, Supersilent, Brian Wilson, Robert Wyatt and Nick Drake into the band’s distinct vision built around vocalist-guitarist Leslie Low’s pensive, tender yet elliptical song-craft. A multifaceted entity where adventurous, far-reaching musical notions exist in tandem with qualities of restraint and intricacy. Exploring and addressing multiple levels and perspectives, emotional and musical, the group’s third album strikes a chord with fans of experimental and progressive-minded classics such as Radiohead’s OK Computer, Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden and Wilco’s A Ghost Is Born.
In July 2009, The Observatory release their fourth album to date, Dark Folke, recorded and mixed in Bergen, Norway with their longtime collaborator, Jorgen Traeen, well known producer of bands such as Ultralyd, Motorpsycho and Jaga Jazzist. With a change in musical direction, the math prog rock of The Observatory’s third album A Far Cry From Here has morphed into a fluid mystical beast called Dark Folke. Most songs have no drums on them. But there is rhythm. Only the type of rhythm associated with an invisible pulse. An implied rhythm. 5 folks sitting around a fire. A metaphorical fire. Chanting for the rain to come. The CD album is a hardbound book, designed and drawn by metal/hardcore/underground illustrator and designer, Justin Bartlett aka Vberkvlt, the artist behind the wicked art of SUNN O))), Moss, Aura Noir and more.
Reflecting the group’s mindset, their songs are observations about life and people, about the human condition from the psyche of the individual, about simple truths rather than big epiphanies. The Observatory represents a creative space for expression, to question, feel, search, imagine and realise. Their main desire is to take music beyond what is acceptable, to challenge and invigorate audience appreciation for work that is experimental, thought-provoking and unpredictable. Exploring universal themes from a distinctly Singaporean perspective and creating a rich musical tapestry of unconventional structures, progressive sounds and improvisatory forms.
Since The Observatory’s debut Time of Rebirth in March 2004, the group has gone on to perform in major festivals such as Baybeats 2004 in Singapore, headlining regional music events in Malaysia and Thailand, such as MTV’s Pattaya Music Festival, Heineken Fat Festival Bangkok, the Seoul Fringe Festival, to mention just a few. They have been invited to play twice at the NUS Arts Festival at the University Cultural Centre theatre, and have also played main showcases at The Esplanade Theatre Studio for two nights in July 2004 and at the Recital Studio in September 2005 during their second album launch. The act also opened for Chicago post-rock giants, Tortoise during the Mosaic Festival 2005 and Norwegian jazz-rock supergroup, Jaga Jazzist, for the Mosaic Festival in 2007. The Observatory have performed in Tokyo, Seoul, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, and have won themselves a loyal fanbase as far flung as Belgium, France and even Mongolia.
Aside from writing music together, the group has also worked on art projects with filmmakers and playwrights notably with filmmaker Royston Tan and theatre director Kok Heng Leun. In June 2006, the group collaborated for the first time with Artistic Director of Drama Box, Kok Heng Leun, to craft a soundtrack emotionally powerful and thematically interlinked with the company’s production, A Stranger At Home, which showed to sold-out audiences at The Singapore Arts Festival in June 2006. The Observatory’s music was also nominated for Best Sound Design for the 2007 Straits Times annual Life! Theatre Awards. The Observatory have continued their collaboration with Heng Leun with music scored for Drift, another Drama Box staging which premiered at the Singapore Season showcase in Shanghai 2007-2008 and was subsequently presented at the Singapore Arts Festival 2008. In the recent Singapore Arts Festival 2009, the band was commissioned to stage their first major art show, a collaborative effort with filmaker Ho Tzu Nyen and Director Kok Heng Luen called Invisible Room, which had the musicians performing live to visual projection in a surreal pentagonal setting whilst remaining unseen by the audience.