Amandine Casadamont and Alexandre Plank
Welcome to Nay Pyi Taw
Nay Pyi Taw is the new capital of Myanmar, replacing it as the new capital of Burma. It is located 320 km north of Yangon and was built from scratch and in the great secrecy by the military junta in control of the country between 2004 and 2006. Most big cities, traditionally speaking, were founded beside seas or on rivers-centres of trade that expanded over the centuries. Nay Pyi Taw is different: its relative isolation, in the middle of the countryside, came at the price of destroying the many villages in the area, for Nay Pyi Taw is less to do with heritage and more to do with it being a strategic location, a military location. It was chosen by General Thein Sein on the recommendations of an astrologer to protect himself from all possible invaders. The skies speak. Planetary omens. Back on earth this city of just over one million inhabitants, one with a garrison of and more than 200 000 soldiers, is, according to the Burmese government 7054 km2 in size. To put that in a European perspective, that is 67 times the size of Paris, the same Paris city centre with a population of 2,241,346 (Berlin has approx 3.6 million people; Shanghai has 23 million); the same Paris with a surburban population of approximately 10,5 million. The vast Nay Pyi Taw is a city with multiple aspects, several speeds of life, and variable geometry-depending on where you are standing and who you ask. At first sight it is almost familiar: modern, gigantic, a metropolis-but an empty one. Its Grand Hotels with infinite corridors are not unlike those of say Las Vegas. It has similar vast roads, multiple runways, golf courses, even its groomed vegetation is familiar if you are a lover of television and watch programmes like Palm Springs. All appears to be made for relaxation and business, the exact opposite of the polluted Yangon, which is vibrant, noisy and saturated. Here, the air is good, all seems fluid, if motionless. There are few sharp lines, few arcitectural juxtapositions that produce eyesores: nothing protudes. A battalion of gardeners and underpaid workers maintain it night and day. First impressions are everything: this is the modern world. End fiction, try fact: at a second glance, one discovers kilometers of vegetation in waste land. And on the side of the empty road, derelict constructions, abandoned building sites, stagnant in the landscape. The same hotels, shiny in a first glance, prove to be unfinished with a closer look. Some are even empty. Those that are open and “fully functional”, promising all modern conveniences, prove to be the opposite: the conveniences are non-existent, or empty: the polite reply a series of variations on “Sorry, it’s broken…oh sorry, that’s broken…ah sorry, that has just broken”. Travel back to its centre and the noises of life, of living. Here the inhabitants are concentrated in certain districts, far from the empty luxurious outskirts. This seems more normal: multicoloured stalls, the cries of sellers and hagglers, wandering cows with bells, scarred dogs-noses chewed, eyes askew, often three-legged animals, thick dust, messy car repair workshops, karaoke’s dissonance, canteens without air conditioning, flies, a mopped brow and gilded temples. WELCOME TO NAY PYI TAW Stop. Look. Listen. Look: connect spaces and people. Listen: who is doing what? This then is a city built on a city, erected over what already existed, this then is the new Burma: “liberated”, modern, more “international”. This is the new face on the bone structure of the old, the new complexion, the smooth, pleasing features, heavily made up and always taking shape –at a first glance. Perspectives are large, just like the city, but that is all they are-dynamic extremes. Close your eyes and listen, listen carefully. There it is. Can you hear it? It is China, the first international investor in this country. Listen, listen. Stop. Breathe, sniff, smell: that is gas and oil, winds of gas and rivers of oil. Stop. What are you standing on? What is really under your feet? And look. Look again. What lurks behind the imposing hotel facades of and the new infrastructures? Other things: not history or heritage, rather the stench of dirty money overpowering the smell of incense and spices. A great diversion, the deal of the century, the illusion is perfect, 7054 square kilometers of lies, illusions, sleight of hand, smoke and mirrors. All happens where nothing seems to happen. And this nothing happening has its own endless, bewitching mantra, played on a loop: on television, on the radio or from the loudspeakers in the streets: nothing looped, looped endlessly. Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot was once attacked as a play “where nothing happens-twice” –but here nothing happens at all and yet the noisy loops proclaim everything happening -ad infinitum. We can remember it for you, wholesale. So stop awhile and listen, breathe the new air, sing, pray and have fun. We’ll take care of the rest. This was the starting point for Amandine Casadamont and Alexandre Plank who built an actual city in sound from the recorded sounds of Nay Pyi Taw, which they explored from top to bottom over a three week period, day and night. A portrait hewn from the traditions of musique concrete, documentary and music to fashion a story often beyond words and often beyond logic, Welcome to Nay Pyi Taw does not set out to explain but to illustrate and immerse the listener in a city in the process of transformation, one at an unfamiliar crossroads of major strategic and political challenge: Welcome to Nay Pyi Taw.