A month ago, electronic music producer similarobjects announced on social media that he is laying the acclaimed project to rest. He broke the news without any specific reason or much fanfare. Given his career-defining trajectory so far, there was no reason to doubt that his best years in music were still ahead of him. Throughout the course of his music journey, Jorge Juan B. Wieneke (AKA similarobjects) was perhaps most responsible for steering the direction of the local electronic music scene to imaginative places, distilling globe-trotting approaches to production with the borderless spirit of an auteur and the curiosity of a philosopher who wants to navigate the world for the pursuit of the truth. His work has always been lauded as experimental, game-changing, and unconventional. When there are instances where he needed to compromise, especially when scoring films or producing tracks for like-minded artists, the award-winning multi-hyphenate knows how to bring out the best in every person or project, while maintaining a sense of sonic adventurism.
Aside from being a prolific musician, Wieneke has proven himself as a reliable industry leader whose contribution to the independent and underground music culture is often overlooked.
As a founder of BuwanBuwan Collective, he and his team paved the way for bedroom and non-top 40 producers to congregate, put together some shows, and release music that doesn’t conform to specific rules or standards. He was responsible in forming Manila Community Radio — an independent, community-run initiative that according to co-founder Matt San Pedro was “a response to the lack of spaces for artists to share their auditory crafts due to the pandemic,” and the globally renowned platform Club Matryoshka, which championed an inclusive digital space for culturally marginalized and experimental artists. He even single-handedly built a specialized school called Cosmic Sonic Arts, where he dedicated some time honing a philosophical and meditative approach to making music.
Wieneke’s vision has always been ahead of its time, conceived as a reaction to the commercial gentrification of cultural and creative spaces, and the lack of more inclusive, community-driven efforts to empower musicians and fans with diverse backgrounds. Without government funding for independently run efforts like these, the hard work put into the cause would soon tire out, hampering the process of shaping development pathways for cultural projects.
CNN Philippines Life caught up with similarobjects to talk about his decision to call it quits after more than a decade of servitude to the craft, life outside of his music alter-ego, and the envelope-pushing projects that hold such reverence and esteem up to this day.
For more than a decade, similarobjects has always been at the forefront of the underground electronic and indie scene in the Philippines. You’ve pushed sonic boundaries and challenged conceptual conventions to create something that is ahead of its time. Despite finding success in the work that you do, what made you decide to lay the project to rest?
I think a big factor to putting this project to rest was the feeling that I’ve outgrown myself and I've started to slowly come to the realization that I no longer feel at home with the idea of “similarobjects.” It just didn't feel like it was me anymore. Maybe I’ve fallen out of love with music, but maybe I'm also just shedding my skin.
For the longest time, I've used this name as a container for both my creative work and expression but soon enough I started to feel like I've been imprisoned by the idea of identity, association and all assigned meaning to the “brand” behind the name which I never really intended for the project.
I feel like somehow, I've ceased to communicate something pure or in a way it just started to feel like this project wasn’t me anymore. It’s as if I got lost in the many definitions of what a modern musician should be, and in the process, forgot why I began creating in the first place. I just want to go back to the beginning and remember who I am.
With this, I've been craving an escape from myself and everything I've built as all these things started to feel self-limiting. Everything in the past started to feel just like futile attempts, case studies, and experiments in self-discovery and expression. Or maybe all of these are simply a glimpse into what could be if I gave myself the proper time to grow away from all the pressures and external forces of society.
I also feel like there are different levels or dimensions to my expression that are calling out to me at the moment and I feel like I may only really discover what’s next if I’m able to close the chapter on this and focus on zoning into my world or feelings and honing new skills. I also do feel there is something growing inside of me but I just need to give it the proper space and time to grow and evolve into what it's meant to be. [Until] then I just want to focus on appreciating the simple things in life. For a while now music has gotten too serious and at times toxic for me, I think it doesn't always have to be this complicated.
It’s no secret that you’ve openly shared your frustrations about the industry, and how it’s taken a toll not only on your well-being and profession, but also compromised the music community in general. Does this contribute to your decision to end similarobjects’ journey?
In a way you can say that all that has affected my decision to end this, the hyper commodification of art, music and expression has definitely put a strain on me as well as all the other exploitative, problematic areas and aspects of being part of the industry, plus all the politics, definitely has had an effect on my decision.
When I started making music, I didn’t think it’d be such a deep and existential journey but more than a decade down this rabbit hole, I’ve realized that it’s easy to get lost if you don’t know who you are or what you’re doing, or what you’re trying to say, but I think difference now though is that I know better what I want to say, what I want to do and who I am, but how that all comes together is still a mystery I am in the process of uncovering.
Have you ever thought of life post-similarobjects?
I actually haven’t thought much about what I’d be doing and if there will be music coming from me anytime soon. The plan I guess is to have no plans and to learn how to jazz it up a bit. I like being able to just improvise my life a little bit. similarobjects sort of gave me too much of a restriction too. I think my main plan is to just let all my parts or selves grow. Right now, I'm just trying to make ends meet, catch up on life, love and self. And if music is a byproduct of that then I'll be sure to embrace it, but the plan is to just let things flow as it should. Nothing forced. I’m just trying to enjoy myself again, whatever that means.
Aside from music, you’ve also attained some level of prominence by being a hands-on leader on several projects related to music. From Buwan Buwan Collective, Club Matryoshka, to Cosmic Sonic Arts. Have you always thought of yourself as a leader and being good in inspiring other people to make a dent in the industry? And will you still be involved in these projects?
To be completely honest, I’ve never really seen myself as a leader and it was probably never part of my plans to inspire people with my work. I think I just picked it up along the way, possibly out of necessity to become a leader and teaching was a hidden passion for me. Buwan Buwan was purely democratic and I just so happened to be the dude pushing for action and in the end landed as one of the de facto leaders of the group.
A lot of my projects are simply responses or reactions to personal issues, frustrations and yearnings as well as hopes for the scene. I think the idea to inspire came later on when I felt like no one else had the same visions for the youth, but I really craved positive changes in the areas of art and music that I had been part of. Sad to say, it’s really tiring being part of all this, sometimes it feels like an uphill battle pushing on with these projects, but maybe all I do need is a break from all this, the pressure to carry what seems like the weight of the world.
I just feel like it's time I actually took care of myself. I realize it's healthy to be selfish too so after giving more than 10 years of my life to the scene/community, I think it's fair for me to take a step back. But knowing me, I don't think I can stay away for too long. But for now, I do think I'll be spending most of my time in isolation.
Let’s talk about the albums and EPs that you’ve released in the past. Which ones are your favorites, and why?
It’s hard to spot favorites but if I had to narrow them down, I’d probably pick out “Finding Astral Lovers,” “Rara Avis,” “Happiness is a Deactivated Facebook Account” and “Sisyphean.”
“Finding Astral Lovers” was a dream journal of mine when I was into lucid dreaming and astral travelling. All of the songs/pieces I've written for this felt as if they wrote themselves. This was early on in my musical journey and all these songs felt really pure to me, and felt as if I was really just creating on my own terms. I still listen to this release when I want to get nostalgic, it's one of the few releases that hold a special place in my heart.
“Rara Avis,” was a love letter to someone special to me and was one of the first projects I’ve had that wasn't just limited to music. Releasing an experimental video game/VR gallery accompaniment allowed me to explore other mediums and dimensions to my expression, so this release will always mean a lot to me as it managed to awaken something in me as well.
“Happiness is a Deactivated Facebook Account” was one of my first releases that started to delve in territories outside of spiritual and slowly started to explore political themes. This specific release played on the ideas of data privacy and privacy breaches as well as the huge Facebook culture prevalent in the Philippines. This release was also a reminder to me that it was ok to go beyond the safe zones in terms of expression, and a reminder that music/art can be used to communicate ideas beyond hedonistic ones.
“Sisyphean” is by far my most favorite EP because of how it felt like the closest I ever got to expressing the sounds I could hear in my head. This release felt like it best embodied who I was right before I gave up similarobjects. To me, it's really the closest approximation to the language of my soul.
How about your favorite shows and gigs? Anything that you’re most proud of during your entire career span?
A lot of my favorite shows were either abroad or at festivals. These shows always gave me hope that my music could be appreciated and loved. The ability to find people that understood it and connected to it always made me feel like there was a purpose in what I did. Most of my gigs in Manila always made me question whether or not my music was valid or if I was just really delusional, but being able to take my music with me to different countries and places and to be loved for 100% who I am is and will always be an amazing feeling for me.
I’ve always been told that my music would never have a place in this world and all these shows were a living testament to the truth that you do attract what you are and truly, there are so many people all over the world that I could relate to and who could relate to the art that I make. All these amazing shows and all the beautiful people I’ve met during all these travels have definitely changed my life and I will forever remember these shows. It definitely pays off to not limit your world and life view to only one place. My music definitely allowed me to find my people and all these shows prove to me that they exist.
“Solipsism” was both a visual and aural treat, and in many ways, a great piece of virtual art that felt like its own alien landscape. Can you walk us through the preparation for your last show? How does it feel like working on something that represents this final chapter in your music life as similarobjects?
I had approached working on Solipsism with the energy of getting ready for a swan song. Having struggled with a lot of aborted, failed attempts at putting together a proper release in the last two years, I thought it would’ve been nice to give similarobjects a proper ending via this show. To begin, I really thought of what the music would sound like, and it ended up being a mix of all my favorite work from 2018 til present: some were unreleased and some never finished.
A lot of my work from 2018 to the present felt almost like huge cries of pain or I’d liken a lot of them to “moments as a child where you’d shout into your pillow.” All of these songs embodied some sort of pain, hurt, anger, depression, anguish and despair that I was feeling that I couldn't make sense of at the time. I started by writing down ideas and really mapping out how to express these visually, listing down all the key concepts I wanted to tackle with the show along with mood boards and references I could show Jaime San Juan, who edited it.
A lot of these ideas were things I’ve always wanted to do but somehow never got the chance to do. It’s nice to see how all of them came together in one big release/showcase. In a way it mirrored a lot of the music as well, which was all huge hadoukens or bursts of energy and emotion to me. After mapping it all out on some documents and after a few meetings with Jaime, I went over to shooting some footage one by one on my own. Both IRL and VR/internet footage was captured by me, after shooting all the material that's when I started recording the actual live footage of me performing the set. It was difficult filming myself with a bunch of cameras but in the end I can say, I had fun and the whole experience was cathartic. After compiling all the material, I then sent it to Jaime.
I imagined the whole set to be some sort of guided meditation program that took you on a trip into what the last two years were like for me. In general, it was me channeling a lot of pain and letting go of all that and in essence just letting go of everything holding me down in general. I tapped Itos Ledesma to share some words about the whole performance since I didn't have the right words to describe it but you can read more about the whole thing on my website.
You’re also involved in a project called Soup Pot, which will be coming out on Xbox this August 2021. Can you tell us more about your involvement?
“Soup Pot” is a super cool Asian cooking game that I was invited to contribute and compose music for. It's made by a super cool game studio called Chikon Club! You should check them out! I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say more than that but it's definitely something to check out and is a win for Filipinos and Asians everywhere.
As a producer, you’ve always made it a point to map stylistic forays into the unknown, often navigating auditory and visual expeditions that reflect your own humanity, and your relationship with technology and society at large. How do you manage to create this expanse in form and function, while making it sound all your own — at least on a production/music level?
I always look at art/music as something autobiographical and somewhat as something that mirrors what we feel. In a way I don't think my music can reflect anything I don't actually experience on a real level. But also, I don’t think I ever really plan these expansions and evolutions. In a way I feel like if I grow/evolve, the music grows and evolves with me. I guess the secret is to not overthink it but to just “feel” and “be.” That's what works for me at least.
What do you think is the reason why your work remains important to a lot of folks in the music community? How do you want to be known after this journey?
I’m never quite sure why people find my work important, but if I were to pinpoint something about my work that might be useful for others, I guess it's the idea that you can forge your own path, or reclaim what's yours in a world where people tell you otherwise. I want people to know that all the things you hear, see, feel inside of you are things worth bringing to life, and that there are reasons why those exist and those ideas are worth exploring.
Maybe it's the risk-taking or the culture and community building aspect because I’ve always wanted to create a better world for people like me and maybe that's the spirit people admire: the ability to push for being yourself and expressing yourself exactly the way you want to without compromise, the idea of pushing safer spaces, honest and vulnerable art. I can’t really say because I myself don’t quite understand it yet. At the end of all this, I just want people to know that there’s more to me or anyone than just being a musician. There’s more to me than the name I make music as “similarobjects” and I think that people shouldn't get lost/stuck in all these fake realities and facades people make around their musical projects. At the end of the day, I’m just a person who acts on his ideas/feelings and someone who has a big heart for things. That’s all.