Muni-muni: On old work, Alexis Tioseco, and why I want to write about Philippine music

Hi there. In the next couple of days and weeks, I’ll be putting up some features work I’ve done on local and international musicians and artists, written over the past eight years. All of them have been published on local magazines/websites. All my old stuff isn’t directly related to geographies of music (yet), but I plan to use this material in the future, as I set out on fieldwork and sketch a structure for my thesis. I also plan to return to this old material to remind myself of my primary reasons for embarking on this degree.

The main goal I’ve set for myself in thesis-writing is to pull together my academic and non-academic interests and come up with something useful to researchers, music professionals, and cultural policy people in general, and particularly those in the Philippines. Put in a less ‘objective’ way, I want to write an interesting and valuable piece on Philippine music, which has infused my life with much fulfillment and joy.

I could have chosen to do music journalism/criticism full-time. But I believe in the power of theory to forge new directions in the way we understand and try to steer the big sweeps of society. Someone needs to thoroughly and consistently ask the big questions about where we are headed as a culture and a society—to lead as many people as possible to ask those questions. To question the questions themselves, especially.

I believe academics and theorists have the great potential to contribute to that endeavour. That said, I do intend to keep writing music journalism and criticism, to circulate the questions as widely as possible, and to keep my own line of thinking fresh and quick. (Academics don’t realize how lucky they are to enjoy the luxury of writing space—meandering is actually required.)

I also feel that the Philippine creative economy of music is in dire need of rigorous research and interpretation—and without enough people making the effort to produce knowledge about it, we’d have a much harder time figuring out how to preserve and disseminate creative resources already in danger of disappearing into obscurity. This is why I’ve decided to push through with a PhD in spite of my considerable hesitation with becoming a full-time academic.

We have many excellent musicians in the Philippines. What I feel we lack are discerning audiences, insightful critics, and forward-thinking patrons. In short, we need better listeners.

Whenever I slip into these random moments of ridiculous clarity (once a philosophy major, always a philosophy major), I find myself thinking a lot about Alexis Tioseco and how he spent the last years of his life—completely unaware, of course, that those were to be his last. Alexis’ life, and that of his partner and fellow critic Nika Bohinc’s, were cruelly taken away in a 2009 murder that has yet to be (re)solved.

I read somewhere that Alexis decided to forego his earlier dream of becoming a director in favor of becoming a film critic and advocate, because that’s what Philippine cinema needed more. The difference he made in ‘elevating discourse on Southeast Asian cinema’—the earnest passion and sheer enjoyment with which he made that difference—strikes me all the more since he accomplished it all in a span of six or seven years. That he made a ‘counter-flow’ choice and moved to the Philippines—when he could’ve stayed in Canada, where he is also from; when the rest of the country (including myself) is streaming outwards, seldom looking back—tells me that he had indeed found his place in the world.

In 2005, Alexis recounted how he was spurred on to move from film journalism to serious film criticism: ‘I was always keen on writing about cinema and thoroughly enjoyed doing so, but it was only after witnessing the lack of serious critical attention given by the Philippine media to [filmmaker Lav Diaz’ 5-hour opus] BATANG WEST SIDE, that I truly began to feel a responsibility with regard to my writing on film’. Three years later, in an unforgettable letter to Nika published in Rogue magazine (now a dead link, it’s been quoted here), he wrote, ‘the first impulse of any good film critic, and to this I think you would agree, must be of love’.

In other words: enthusiasm grows into responsibility. A love for beauty engenders a love for justice (as cogently argued by Elaine Scarry). To love culture and the arts is to make a stand for what they could be.

I often remind myself of how lucky I am to be in this programme, with this scholarship. To think of Alexis is to think of the real depth of that luck—to the fact of my being alive. I still mourn for what he could’ve yet done, and been. It makes it impossible to view this time and this opportunity lightly, as nothing less than the chance to restore justice in the small corner of the world I care about.

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