New audio art experience marries history with fiction
Explore Jalan Besar like never before with New World’s End, an immersive, self-guided audio tour based on a fictional story about a pair of young lovers. (Photo: OH! Open House)

New audio art experience marries history with fiction

Travel back in time and see a different side of Singapore with New World’s End. The immersive, self-guided audio tour is presented by independent arts organisation OH! Open House and is slated to run from 2 Jul.

The art experience marries history with fiction. It is set in 1970s Singapore, against the backdrop of the once famous New World Amusement Park in Jalan Besar. The story it is centred on – a pair of young lovers from the past – however, is fictional. As the tale unfolds through the tour, audiences will find themselves in the neighbourhood’s back alleys and hidden rooms discovering the history of Jalan Besar.

The tour is written and directed by writer-director Kaylene Tan, and the young lovers are voiced by artists Salif Hardie and Moira Loh. The soundtrack is by music duo NADA, comprising artists Rizman Putra and Safuan Johari.

Tan, 47, offers a peek into the creative process of this immersive art experience and how it deftly marries history with fiction.

Of all the places in Singapore, why do a site-specific audio tour in Jalan Besar?

I have always found the area fascinating. It is less touristy compared to Little India and it is so full of character. I was attracted to the history of the New World amusement park and the collapse of Hotel New World; these are parts of Singapore’s history that the younger generation might not be aware of. It is also a neighbourhood on the cusp of change, so it is interesting to explore the area to reflect on its past, experience its present and anticipate its future.

What did you draw on for inspiration to create New World’s End?

The site of the former amusement park and its rich and fascinating history were the biggest inspiration for me. I was immediately drawn to the old buildings, the spirit of the place, and the history of entertainment and leisure in Singapore. I wanted to explore the idea of the “New World” in its many forms such as the amusement park and the hotel.

What was the creative journey like?

This project is something I’ve been talking about for a few years now, but I only really plunged into it in mid-2020 when I assembled the creative team. The process has been a challenging one. I am based in Melbourne, so trying to make a site-specific experience was not easy.

Although I had done the research, what I needed was to feel the site – the smells, the heat, the sights, and get a sense of how walking around the area felt like. So much of the experience was created on Google Maps, but I had very good eyes and ears on the street, and a good team that I could trust to feed me the necessary information to create the work.

Another big challenge was securing the right spaces for the immersive installations. It took a while to find the right spaces with the right “feels”.

How did you go about marrying history with fiction seamlessly?

By taking a multi-sensory approach and using various creative elements such as audio, sets, sound design and films. It is a very visceral experience as one walks, listens to and experiences the streets and the sets. The storytelling itself is intimate; it feels as if the characters are speaking directly to you or that you are eavesdropping on something private. In the indoor spaces, which have been transformed into theatrical sets, one gets to experience the private worlds of the characters and explore their mindscapes through some of the more abstracted installations.

Replies were edited and condensed for clarity.

Learn more about New World’s End here.

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