Researching and recording soundscape in Siam would not be complete without a valuable piece puzzle, which is the sound of a Muay Thai match. This traditional sport had accompanied the history of Siam from ruler to ruler, kingdom to kingdom, Muay Thai had become one with the soul of Thailand. In an era of war, it was used as a defense mechanism and part of the military. In a peaceful era, Muay Thai was a form of sport that can be spectated by the general public as entertainment and competition. Recorded since the Shukotai period (1238-1408M), young generations had started to learn this form of discipline. Later in the Ayutthaya era, where a war against Burma and Cambodia erupted, Muay Thai was studied as a martial art, and in that era practice grounds spread across the land. Since then, Muay Thai have accompanied the history of the Siam people.
During this period, MuayThai was considered a higher art and was part of the royal curriculum. It was intended to develop good and brave warriors with great physical fitness into great and brave rulers. The first King of Sukhothai, Phokhun Sri In Tharatit, believed in the benefits of MuayThai so much that he sent his two sons to train MuayThai at the Samakorn Training Center to prepare them to take the throne. In B.E. 1818-1860 (1275-1317 CE) Phokhun Ram Khamhaeng wrote a war text that included the teachings of MuayThai as well as instruction in other fighting
When I first visited Thailand in March of 2018, I accidently stumbled upon a Muay Thai match at the MBK Center, a shopping mall in Bangkok. I intended to stroll around the shopping mall, but a Muay Thai match was more interesting for me. With all the cheers from the people, traditional music, and exchange of punches and kicks in front of me, my adrenaline -though I never experienced first-hand an exchange of punches- rose high taken by the atmosphere. Coincidently, I brought my portable recorder, so as I was watching; I was also recording the soundscape of the Muay Thai match. It was in the afternoon, and because the arena was outdoors, the spectators were spread out making the sound recording to be scattered. I was standing not far from the musicians that were accompanying the match. The sound of instruments was also emitted from amplifiers. Around me were spectators, mostly middle aged men, cheering. Today, Muay Thai has spread across the globe and has become a sort of martial art trend, aside from Boxing, Judo, Karate, and other martial arts. That afternoon, this international competition had fighters from different countries participating , starting from Thailand, England, France, Portugal, America, Brazil, and many more. Other than being an identity for the people of Thailand, Muay Thai has become a global Tradition.
During the soundscape research period, I wanted to study further regarding the sounds produced in a Muay Thai match. This time, I wanted to watch in an arena that I felt had a stronger atmosphere. I searched on Google regarding the arenas in Bangkok that regularly hold a Muay Thai competition. Among them were, Lumpinee Boxing Stadium, Rajadamnern Thai Boxing Stadium, and Channel 7 Stadium. After researching through photos and other information, my choice fell to Channel 7 Stadium which was owned by one of the television channels in the country. The reason I chose that particular arena was because I could feel the intense atmosphere –one of the reasons was because the arena was not too big, but was filled by many spectators-. It was a very intuitive choice.
The Muay Thai match at Channel 7 Stadium was usually held on Sunday around 14.30, and it would be broadcasted live on television. I went there by the BTS train. The stadium was not far from Mo Chit station, only a few hundred meters going across the famous Chatuchak Park. Around 2 o’clock I entered the arena through the checkpoint. The match was going to start in half an hour, but the stadium was already filled by spectators. I felt shook by the spectators here. The majority of people who came were locals, but there were also a lot of foreign tourists, and seen from the uniform and attributes, Muay Thai fighters from foreign countries also came to watch. I managed to get a sit right on the corner of the stadium.
While I was waiting, I set up my equipment. However, because the space there was so small and crammed, I had trouble to place my microphone. Just before the match started, I decided to get out of my chair to sit down below it. This was my post. It felt very comfortable. I was able to freely record the sound and take pictures. Even though I was in the corner of the stadium, but with the crammed condition of the stadium this position was the best choice. I also did not want to bother the people around me with all the equipment. At first, a number of people were looking at me who was immersed with my study. They looked at me not with a suspicious look, but with a curious look. They might had thought of me as a weird person who was setting up sound equipment’s in a place like this. However, as time passes they started to forget about me. One man might had even understood what I was doing, and gave me a smile. It was not a problem. I did not care, and was immersed in the world of sound recording. Furthermore, the stadium was owned by a television channel, so there was a feeling of being in the same boat of recording.
I started to turn on the microphone and other equipments. Five minutes later, the match announcement could be heard. Two fighters entered the arena and warmed up. At the same time, the stadium erupted. At 14.30 sharp, the match started. The accompaniment also started. Adrenalines escalated along with the heightening intensity of the sound in the stadium. The sound of accompaniment that consisted of Pi Chawa, Ching cymbal, and Glawng Khaek all collaborated with the sound of cheers from all directions. The instruments that accompany Muay Thai is naturally loud, but when the spectators started to cheer with every energy they had, the music sometimes got drowned in the commotion. You could imagine how loud and hectic the atmosphere was when the match started. The sound recorder that I initially set for 25% was broken, and I had to lower the level of the recording. The experience of listening to the sound of a Muay Thai match that afternoon was something memorable for me. I was drowned in the fantastic world of sounds in Thailand.
Aside from the cheers, especially when a fighter successfully lands a hit, there were also the sounds of people placing bets among the spectators. In the arena, fighters fought, and outside the arena spectators place bets. Gambling was something that cannot be separated from watching a Muay Thai match. Although I did not understand the language, the sound of them placing bets were very captivating. Visually, it was interesting seeing money going from one hand to another, from spectators to bookies and vice versa and codes communication by fingers. The sounds were combined into one. The noise would settle for a short moment when the bell rang indicating a round was over, and sometimes accompanied by the sounds of clapping by the spectators showing appreciation towards the fighters. The accompaniment would also rest for the moment. During the rest period, the noise of people betting can be heard clearly. Then, when the bell rang again, indicating the start of the next round, the noise erupted once again.
I watched the match until the end that day, because there were several matches held in a day. The matches vary from the main professional ones to the lower teenage fighters. All the matches finished around 5 o’clock. As the last match ends, spectators exit the stadium in flocks. I was still caught in the moment and was reluctant to leave. I still wanted to observe the stadium. The sound of music and cheers of the spectators turned to the sound of people cleaning the stadium from the waste the spectators left behind. Technicians were putting away their equipment. The atmosphere had settled down, a complete opposite to how it was a few hours ago. I was then surprised to see that without the crowd the stadium was actually smaller than I thought. Amazing how the small space available could fit so many people and be filled with such noise. (You could try comparing the photos)
After I felt satisfied, I packed up my equipment and exited the stadium. I just then realized how empty my stomach felt. Street vendors were ready selling their food by the street just outside Channel 7. It was time for me to fight my hunger.