East Vancouver musician, poet, and artist Ruby Singh thinks it’s passé to celebrate the power of individual genius.
“I think that’s such a tragedy of a way of thinking,” Singh tells the Straight by phone. “It’s an interdependent community that lifts voices, that raises voices, that gathers around and lifts people.”
It’s reflected in his soon-to-be released album, Vox.Infold, which is a collaborative effort between himself and cocreators Dawn Pemberton, Inuksuk Mackay and Tiffany Ayalik of PIQSIQ, Russell Wallace, Tiffany Moses, and Shamik Bilgi. In advance of its release on Bandcamp on January 31, Vox.Infold can be heard in its entirety at the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in an installation at Lobe Studio (713 East Hastings Street) using 4DSOUND technology.
Singh points out that Lobe Studio has speakers in the ceiling and the floor, enabling him, as composer and arranger, to do things he could never do in a regular recording space.
“I took the stereo mix and turned it into a choreographed dance of voices,” he says. “This is like a 28-speaker decision. So you’re moving sounds and having them meet at different points in a song and then you can shift everything.”
With great enthusiasm, Singh points out that Lobe Studio is one of only three studios in the world with this capability—and the only one in North America. He says that this studio enables him to send sound flying away or flying back at whatever speed he likes.
“It’s like you’re putting dimension to sound,” Singh adds. “It’s very much ambisonic, so it’s moving and dancing around you. You can really feel the movement of the music and the different voices.”
The first single from the album, “Nakshatra”, was released in December. Its name was derived from “the lunar mansion in Indian astronomy, carrying with it the light that shines through the darkness”, and listeners can hear the Inuit throat singing of Mackay and Ayalik among the other voices.
The video for the second single, "Horizon", was posted on YouTube on January 13.
The album was recorded in November and December of 2020, before the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, which meant the singers were masked and shielded and had to remain three to six metres apart during sessions. According to Singh, the goal was to make an album outside the ambit of capitalism, white supremacy, and other overarching and suppressive forces in our society.
“There was a lot of heaviness in the room,” Singh says. “The album didn’t try and shy away from that. If anything, we leaned into the ideas of pain and grief because those are things that expand us as human beings and expand our humanity.”
He brought along some poetry that he had written, which was incorporated through polyphonic sound.
He adds that as part of an effort to decolonize the production, the primary focus was on the process rather than the outcome.
“Everybody was really into that,” Singh says with satisfaction.
It premiered at last year’s Indian Summer Festival, which is partnering with the PuSh festival in presenting it this month.
Singh notes that the title, Vox.Infold, refers to both a shortened term for voice and to folding vocal cords.
“I saw it as knitting voices together,” he says.
Singh learned to adapt at a young age
Singh didn't have an easy upbringing in Canada. His mother died of cancer when he was five years old, leaving his father with four boys.
"My dad's sisters came from India to help when my mom got sick," he reveals.
Singh moved to Toronto for three years, where his mother's younger brother took care of him, then to Cranbrook and later to Abbotsford.
His father eventually remarried, which brought more stability to the family's life. And he expressed gratitude to his stepmother for taking on the job of raising four boys.
By the time he graduated, Singh had attended 13 schools. He didn't start playing music until he was 20.
That process of constant adaptation helped give Singh an ability to work with a wide range of people. And he says that the assistance that he received along the way, including from high-school English and theatre teachers, enabled him to develop his voice and stage presence.
Most of his family members are still in Abbotsford and he feels great pride and joy seeing how people in the Sikh community responded to the recent flooding.
To him, it was a manifestation of the concept of seva (service) that infuses the faith.
He's also inspired by the Sikh concept of oneness—that we're all interconnected—and that, too, is reflected in Vox.Infold.
"We're constantly folding into each other," Singh says. "To me, the idea of the individual is a cognitive dissonance."