Kin Leonn: Singaporean ambient artist makes slow music for chaotic times

The composer and electronic musician on his collaborative EP with Hiroshi Ebina, embracing “creative transience” amid the pandemic and tapping into a collective subconscious through his music

When Kin Leonn performs, everything comes to a standstill. Lights are dimmed, no one speaks and, for a while, nothing else matters. The rising ambient artist has cast a hush over full-house audiences in both his home city of Singapore and in London, where he’s made his mark on the venerable Cafe OTO.

The 25-year-old is currently pursuing a degree in mixing and mastering at the London College Of Music, but these days, he’s grounded in Singapore. He even recently found the time to release ‘Faraway Vicinity’, an EP with Japanese sound artist Hiroshi Ebina – whom he’s never met in person.

Released under Singapore label KITCHEN. LABEL, ‘Faraway Vicinity’ is a seamless addition to Kin Leonn’s and Ebina’s respective discographies. It plays to both their strengths: the former’s penchant for emotion-building compositions pairs perfectly with the latter’s novel and delicate instrumentation.

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How did this collaboration happen? The two had been Instagram friends for a while, and Kin Leonn reached out to Ebina just around the time when lockdowns were being enforced globally, hoping to start a meaningful project amid the stay-home restrictions.

And there began a process of back-and-forth between the two collaborators as they built up the sonic layers that would eventually coalesce into the EP. The first audio file that started it all was one of Ebina’s esoteric, nostalgic contributions: a kalimba loop which now features in ‘Leaving home for the fields’.

Kin Leonn worked on ‘Faraway Vicinity’ all over the place, writing and composing in London, on the flight back to Singapore and in a quarantine facility. Finally, back in his own home, he mixed the songs and then sent the EP to Tokyo-based electronic musician Chihei Hatakeyama to be mastered. He jokes, “WeTransfer is the real MVP here.”

Kin Leonn Faraway Vicinity Hiroshi Ebina Kitchen Label
Hiroshi Ebina and Kin Leonn. Credit: Press

Though the process and circumstances sound chaotic, ‘Faraway Vicinity’ is anything but. The 16-minute EP is the musical equivalent of what a nature texture pack is to a graphic designer. Its sonic fabric includes sounds of waves crashing, soothing wind chimes, rainfall, a bubbling stream, birds a-tweeting. The tracks serve as fluid foils to the rigid routine the pandemic has created, and though the two artists had no specific theme in mind when embarking on the collaboration, they began to notice concepts manifest after finishing a couple of tracks.

“Hiroshi and I had discussed how the stay-home orders had effectively severed our connection with natural landscapes, even altering our interactions with the immediate human landscape,” Kin Leonn recalls. “More than that, it seemed clearer than ever that we were truly crossing into some dystopian age. This, coupled with our intense desire to return to nature, led us to construct a series of virtual landscapes which could express these feelings.”

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This introspective element and depth is characteristic of Kin Leonn’s artistry. His musical projects exhibit a purposefulness in the way he builds songs up through swelling instrumentation, interlocking harmonies and repetitive melodies. Putting listeners on an emotional journey is something that has always come naturally to him.

“This continuous stream of introspection reveals itself in my music, where sonic phenomena act both as reflections and as ripples on the surface,” he says. “I suppose ambient music is a focal point – the crossing where my artistic sensibility meets this stream of introspective observation. I’ve always been fascinated by the simple sensations of feeling, thought and imagination. The idea that everyone else has this capability too is riveting.”

‘Commune’, his debut album released in 2018, was a homage to the idea of a “common subconscious” that listening to music taps into, he says. He acknowledges that music – his own included – is a subjective experience and brings people to different places. It brings him comfort, and he knows he isn’t on this path alone: “Sometimes words fall short in describing the many layers of why we feel what we feel. Nonetheless, it’s a place that we’re drawn to share with others.”

That “common subconscious” of Kin Leonn’s music is a place where stories, themes and plotlines are expressed not in words but in mood – like movie soundtracks, which is something of a first love for him.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the simple sensations of feeling, thought and imagination. The idea that everyone else has this capability too is riveting”

During our conversation, Kin Leonn waxes lyrical about an idea for a film that includes angels, door portals, a vibrating energy sphere, and the birth and death of the universe. It’s surreal, yet the more he fleshes it out, the more it makes sense. And he already knows how he’d score it: “The soundtrack will sound like Hiroshi Yoshimura’s 1986 ‘Green’ album,” he says, referring to the kankyō ongaku classic.

Fresh from the release of ‘Faraway Vicinity’, Leonn is now in what he describes as a state of “creative transience”: a period of exploration where he is free to experiment. Besides being “really into coding”, he’s currently thinking up alternative graphic notation to accompany his music, exploring making music for installations and spaces, and also writing music with his friend Yeule, a London-based Singaporean cyber pop artist. In his own words, he’s always finding a way that music can make life better – which is even more apt for our current times.

But he also admits that 2020 has been a challenging year. Personal tragedies coupled with the pandemic have renewed his reflections on the meaning of prosperity and contentment. On the account of “2020 being my most emotional year, ever”, he says, his next EP – which is in the works – will be a lot more emotionally visceral than his previous releases.

“Sometimes words fall short in describing the many layers of why we feel what we feel”

These days, you can also find Kin Leonn learning how to literally breathe anew. In February, he became a believer in the breathing method extolled by Dutch endurance athlete Wim Hof. Now, he swears by how it alleviates his anxieties and worries, and fills him with acceptance towards things beyond his control.

“It’s such an important space for me to reset and refresh my priorities. I take a walk out to the park and sit on the same bench every evening, hyperventilating like a madman. I don’t care how I look though, because after about seven to eight cycles of breathing, I’m basically floating,” he says. “Seriously, try it.”

Kin Leonn and Hiroshi Ebina’s ‘Faraway Vicinity’ is out now

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