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A Study in Metal and Sound

By Corrie Tan | Writer-in-residence

February 4, 2022

When we first see what set builder and metal fabricator Tay Ining has brought into the Rumah studio for us to play with, the metal structures look a little bit like deconstructed pieces of scaffolding, the kind you see wrapped around buildings under construction. Two rectangular frames and two connectors, laying flat on the sprung floor. We’re in the studio today for the first of two mini explorations of material for set and sound design.

I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to be looking at, or how it’s supposed to be assembled. The frames are moveable at the joints, and sound designer Chong Li-Chuan points out later that when Haizad manipulates them, they almost resemble an Ames window illusion. Ining brings out two large plastic containers filled with wrenches, bolts, nuts and nylon nuts, and begins teaching us the minimal assembly required to turn these modular pieces into a design inspired by Da Vinci’s self-supporting bridge:

As in the image above, the modular design can be extended and raised almost infinitely with little to no tools required, and not a single nail. Ining points us to another point of inspiration, a tessellation pattern she’s interested in exploring when it comes to the modularity of the structure, the “mammoth” she’s building for the piece:

This excerpt from the (very technically titled) book Hinged Dissections: Swinging & Twisting (2002) by Greg N. Frederickson redirects us to a text by the late architectural scholar Alpay Özdural, who did a study of Islamic ornamental geometry based on the late mediaeval Persian manuscript referred to above. Özdural argues that mathematics played a major role in Islamic architectural practice and ornamental design, and his posthumously published book (which you can download here!) is a meticulous interpretation of these geometrical constructions with his own drawings and step-by-step construction methods. We find ourselves circling back to Dr Imran Tajudeen’s lecture on the interconnectedness of the Malay archipelago, and the tessellations that operate on a material and physical plane, but also on an intellectual and conceptual plane. The modularity of this metal prototype that Ining is building feels like a metaphor on several levels: for the tessellations of the port and the machines and containers it houses, as well as the conceptual patterns and philosophical connections that exist throughout this maritime region through trade and exchange across millennia.

As the four of us in the room begin to put the metal structure together, it’s clear that Ining’s movements are practised and precise. She can talk to us while paying close attention to her tools at the same time; the wrench and its torquing motion in her fingers, hands and wrists embody a kind of effortlessness that comes with repetition and familiarity. Haizad, attempting to do the same thing, is all focus and nerves. He weighs a wrench in each hand, mimicking Ining’s gestures. We pick up her tools, each worn in different ways. “I love the