for soprano, countertenor and baritone is a musical response to the 1950 oil painting 'Burong Hitam, Matahari Manusia' by Indonesian painter, Affandi. The central figure is a slim, older man in loose clothing with bags and a string instrument on his shoulder, evoking a wanderer who leads the simple way of life. In the background is a blazing sun looking like an eye, casting a golden glow around the figure, emanating an aura of joie de vivre. With closed eyes and a wide grin exposing missing teeth, he looks carefree and lighthearted. A later painting of 1984 contains an inscription in Bahasa Indonesia revealing Affandi’s philosophy: ‘Matahari hidup saya, dengan tangan saya bekerga, dengan kaki saya maju.’ (The sun is my life, with my hands I work, with my feet I move forward). I have used the vowels and words derived from the inscription. The title of my trio echoes these motives of the sun, work, and life. I have organised the voice trio into eight musical vignettes, ranging from 20 seconds to 1 minute. Given the solo character of the painting, I thought it was apt that I composed solo songs for the singers. The trio opens with the countertenor in a reverie in a forest. Next, we listen in on conversations as though in a coffee shop. Then, as the soprano reminisces about love, the baritone snaps along the sunny side of life with a tinge of nonchalance. Finally, the countertenor returns, furiously working hard on a melismatic melody. Interspersed between these solo pieces are short choral phrases that remind us to be at peace with ourselves and life. Commissioned for the Pictures @ Southeast Asian Exhibition 2021, National Gallery Singapore. Duration: c. 5 minutes Akiko Otao, soprano Glenn Wong, countertenor Julian Wong, baritone
for viola, saxophone, and percussion. Falling, rising, chasing I skip, slide; you flutter. Tossed, all three stacked. Off we go, moving, listening. Bear a part, banter, weep, every grief, in heart, sorrowful Buddies, I know. Commissioned by Christoven Tan. Duration: c. 6 minutes Christoven Tan, viola, Samuel Phua, saxophone Cheong Kah Yiong, percussion
for sheng, percussion, yangqin, guzheng and double bass is a collection of six movements ranging from 20 seconds to 2 minutes. Isskimmer, means “shimmering ice” in Swedish. The creative impulse is to combine specific tone colours of the five instruments to produce distinct sonic characters. Along the compositional process, the visual imagery of different ice states revealed itself. The tranquil chords from the Sheng and the Gu Zheng with the resonance of the Da Luos are suggestive of ice shards in movements 1, 3, and 6. The resultant timbre of the membrane of the Hua Pen Gu and the pizzicato of the Double Bass is evocative of the crackling sound of walking on hardened snow in movement 2. Coloured by the Wind Gong's fluttering whispers, the Yang Qin's tumbling figure is reminiscent of the downward trail of a sledge in the snow in movement 4. Finally, the shimmering rhythmic cymbal underlaid by an unsuspecting talea in the Yang Qin is expressive of the frosted ground in movement 5. 1. Isskärva 1Skare 2. Isskärva 2 3. Kälke 4. Tjäle 5. Isskärva 3 Commissioned by Ding Yi Ensemble 2020. Duration: c. 6 minutes
for orchestra is conceived as the 4th movement of a 6-movement orchestral work. As such, the title of the 6-movement work is called 'one point six one eight zero.' The six movements relate to each other by the Golden Ratio, where the first five decimal digits are 1.6180. I envisaged each movement to focus on a not-commonly-featured orchestral instrument. 'ONE', the fourth movement, highlights the much-loved but somewhat neglected triangle. The creative impulse is a single hit on a nine-inch metal triangle, resonating with a complex pattern of ringing pitches. Fascinated by the fluctuations in the sound, I recorded the triangle to analyse the fundamental frequency. At the same time, I sought out musical material of interest, e.g., the rhythms and overtones in the spectromorphological envelope. This material was developed and organised such that every section and its subsection are 1.6180 times longer than the preceding sections. This piece, movement 'one,' is a poetic projection of a triangle timbre expressed with the palette of the orchestral instruments. Commissioned by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra 2019. Duration: c. 5 minutes
WERE WE HERE?
for 12 musicians is a musicalisation of a dialogue between Vladimir and Estragon from Samuel Beckett's tragicomedy, 'Waiting for Godot' (French 1949; English 1954). In response to the theatrical rhythm and the non-linear structure of Samuel Beckett's play, I composed Were we here? as a play without speech. Instead of setting text to music that vocalists sing, I muscalise the text by capturing the spectral quality and rhythmic intensity using only instrumental colours. By doing so, the same dialogue in French would have a diﬀerent musical outcome from the English. Framed by a prologue and an epilogue, I organised the work into 14 movements of varying conﬁgurations, e.g., 2 duos, 2 trios, 2 quartets, 2 quintets, a septet, and 2 tutti. With the colours of the woodwind quintet, I musicalised the French dialogue (lines 93 to 148; starting with Estragon's 'Allons-nous-en.' and ending with 'Taisons-nous un peu, tu veux?'), and those of the piano quintet, the English dialogue (lines 90 to 139; starting with Estragon's 'Let's go.' and ending with 'Do you mind?). The duration of the movements ranges from 1 minute to 5 minutes, echoing the often short, incomplete, sectionalised and repetitive features of the play. To accentuate the theatrical aspect of Were we here?, I added an overture where 3 pairs of actors run through notable sequences from Beckett's play; the hat sequence, the carrot sequence, and the boot sequence. I also invited philosopher and wordsmith Étienne Turpin to author a series of responsive texts around and about my musicalised interpretation, which, as an unsung Greek chorus, describe, overlay, anticipate and comment on the play, reﬂecting on its inheritance and, in turn, on the validity of our existence. By way of interplaying types of instrumental colour in relation to the language; movements to actors that give resonance to the play and characters; and types of text, such as epigrams, prose, and dialogues, I wish to creatively relay Beckett's play that might invite an introspective and meditative consideration of the human condition. Composed for 12 musicians of the SETTS Ensemble, 2018. Duration: c.40 minutes
is an octet for flute, oboe, clarinet, tenor trombone, violin, viola, cello, and piano. Earworms. I am certain that everyone has one time or other, encountered these worms. They can be pleasurable, but of course, not until the point of saturation is reached when they begin to turn irritating and dreadful. For some unknown reasons, I have three (pleasurable) earworms which have been with me for a while now. They are music phrases from my favourite composers. So distinct are the gestures that they have become music fingerprints. Naturally, one way to befriend these earworms is to create a musical work from them. The first fingerprint comes from Béla Bartók's opera, The Bluebeard's Castle, an aural image of a bubbling pool of tears (measures 90-93). The second is the chanting call from the opening movement, entitled 'Incantatoire' of Henri Dutilleux's Métaboles (measures 1-10). The third is from Olivier Messiaen's sixth movement of the Quartet of the End of Time, from measure 54 to the end. The timbral quality of the bubbling effect and the harmonic sonorities of the call gave me the impulse to investigate any shared spectral characteristics. In Messaien, the rhythmic scheme informed the combination of instrumental colours to produce the desired ensemble sound. I unraveled the bubbling aural image by integrating seemingly disparate elements and proliferating tiny motivic cells. At the same time, a second subject is unsuspectedly emerging and morphs into the call. Finally, the call segues into the last section with a similar process, a temporal manipulation of the preceding features. Composed for the occasion of Reconsil Ensemble's 'Exploring the World' Project, 2015. Duration: c. 7 minutes
WHAT'LL WE DO?
for piano quintet is a musicalisation of a dialogue between Vladimir and Estragon from Samuel Beckett’s tragicomedy, ‘Waiting for Godot’ (French 1949; English 1954). Since the premiere in Paris in 1953, it has attracted all sorts of social, political, and theological interpretations, most of it centred on the cryptic Godot. It delves into the dark recesses of human thought, questions the purpose of our existence, how we perceive reality, and ponders the point(less?) pursuit of knowledge. In response to the theatrical rhythm and the non-linear structure of Samuel Beckett’s play, which has always fascinated me, I composed 'What’ll we do?' as a play without speech. Instead of setting text to music that is sung by vocalists, I muscalise the text by capturing the spectral quality and rhythmic intensity using only instrumental colours. The short text excerpt (in English, 1954) is taken from Act 1, beginning with Estragon's "Let's go" and concluding with "Let's stop talking for a minute. Do you mind?”. Organised in four movements, the first movement musicalises the theatrical rhythmic pulse and micro-movements expressed in rhythmic, gestural and spectral motives whilst the second movement articulates the material of the preceding movement in a cinematic fashion, such as slow-motion, speed up, playback etc. The third movement is an abstraction of signiﬁcant words and material and the last movement is a piano cadenza which encapsulates the theatrical rhythmic intensity of Beckett's texts. Tom Stoppard describes "the drama is stripped down to bare essentials. The play is an universal metaphor precisely because it wasn't designed as being a metaphor for anything in particular. The true subject matter of "Waiting for Godot" is that two tramps are waiting for somebody. “ Commissioned by Take 5 Piano Quintet, this work was premièred at Esplanade Recital Studio Singapore on 17th May 2009. Duration: c.14 minutes