May 19, 2014

On Stones, Sand and Light… Questions with Quinnuance, Composers’ edition 2014

On Stones, Sand and Light… Questions with Quinnuance, Composers’ edition 2014

Last friday, this resident kaypoh caught up with the composers of Quinnuance over brunch to find out about their upcoming concert which happens on the 30th of May.

 Hello guys! The last time we spoke was this time last year when you had your concert ‘looking deep into our roots’. Since then there seems to be a few changes to Quinnuance, including your very own conductor! Care to tell us more about this?

Bernard: After last year’s concert, two of our members had increasing outside commitments which left them little time for composing; they decided to come out from the group. Meanwhile, Clarence had just come back from Sydney after finishing his masters in conducting. His passion and vision for contemporary new music in Singapore was a perfect match for our group of contemporary young composers. As composers, we can now just concentrate on composing our music and leave the hassle of instrumentalists’ conflicting schedules for rehearsals and actual rehearsing to him. (Laugh) Then this year we are also excited to rope in Terrence Wong, whom we have known for a long time.

Terrence: For me, it’s the first time I’m participating in this project. It’s also my first time that I’m presenting a chamber piece in a non-school, public performance, and also my first time being part of a group that has to organise our own concert. In many ways it’s a lot of firsts for me in one group and I hope that I can contribute to the dynamic quality of Quinnuance.

Alicia: Yep, there has been some changes. As mentioned by Bernard, 2 of our members — Ernest and Enning — needed time off for their personal commitments and it so happened that Clarence was back from his conducting studies in Sydney and was very keen to help promote new music and the works of local composers. Hence we roped him in. Also, we had wanted to work with Terrence for some time now, but the opportunity never really came up, till now.

Has the group dynamic changed in any way?

Bernard: One less older chap and one less lady, and an addition of one young chap and another heading towards mid-life crisis with pot belly, the dynamic sure has changed a fair bit. Ha… (laugh)

Alicia: I don’t think there’s any major change in the group dynamic at the moment. I think it’s actually a little too early to tell? Afterall, it is a first time we have come together with Clarence and Fei Yang. So perhaps, after working together for a more projects, we can let you know again?

Lu Heng: Well, I guess it’s definitely different with the presence and creative input from Terrence and Clarence and sans those of Ernest and Enning, but I suppose it’s not too dissimilar since we have the same alma mater! Although it may be the first time we are working together in this particular collective, it’s definitely not the first day we know each other, and our shared memories as fellow composers and friends over the past decade or so has allowed us to anticipate and adapt to each other’s quirks and working styles.

What’s it like having a conductor in the group?And Clarence, how do you feel about not being a composer like the rest? 

Bernard: Having a conductor in the group means if the performance turn out bad, we can point fingers at him and say he’s the reason the music sounds bad. (Sorry, Clarence) (Laugh)

Terrence: I think it’s a pretty interesting experience working with someone who specialises in working with musicians to get the music out. Not that we composers have no experience with that, but having a specialist in his field gives us valuable insight into the practical aspects and possibilities (and impossibilities!) in the execution of our works.

Alicia: Personally, I always enjoy the process of the musicians “discovering” the piece through the musical motifs and gestures, before getting into a discussion/dialogue with them about the meaning etc. during rehearsals as it’s an interesting reflection of our thought processes as musicians. So now with a conductor (music director) present, there another perspective involved. This may just provide an added dimension to the discussion and it allows me as a composer to step away from my composition and see it in another light (which I may or may not have considered in the initial planning or composing process).

Clarence: All composers in Quinnuance are unique. It is interesting working together to tie their offerings to present a good concert. Like any organisation, an assortment of skills are required to drive successful projects and goals. Being a non-composer allows me to realise their works in the best possible way. After my studies in Sydney it’s indeed great to be approached to direct projects such as these. However, working with peers as your boss is not easy. You would not want to disappoint them, but that will not happen, Bernard! Quinnuance’s music is all unique and shall be delivered to their best during the concert. The advantage of directing such a program is the opportunity to learn personally from living composers. 

This year looks like it’s going to be bigger and better: you’ve changed venue from the usual Living Room @ The Arts House to the Esplanade Recital studio, with room for many more people! Do you think that the local audience and arts scene is becoming more receptive to new music?

Bernard: It would be like saying just because there are audiences who went for “Ah Boy to Men” Musical and now we have an increased number of people who likes musical. To gauge whether local audiences are more receptive to new music will not be apparent till another few more years or even a decade to see if that reception has increased. In my opinion, non musician audience who are not trained in music are more likely to accept the sound of contemporary new music. These audiences come to listen with unbiased ears and without baggage, thus making them more likely to appreciate the sound and music produced.

Having said that, we moved to a bigger venue so we can sell more tickets! (Laugh) Just kidding. Well, if we are going to get more people interested in contemporary new music, it’ll be good to have a space for more potential audiences to come. It’s a challenge for our young group, but we’ll see how it goes. Moreover, it’s good that we can finally have some playing of lights and a professional production team from Esplanade to assist us.

Terrence: I think the local audience, be they part of the arts scene or otherwise, is opening up -albeit slowly- towards new music. I feel that we as artists cannot wait for audiences to come to us; we have to go out to promote new music in a way that also appeals to a part of the general audience, be it in familiar sounds, stories or emotions…in that way, they will slowly accept that new music (and art) is a way of life and need not necessarily be repulsive or boring.

Alicia: Like what Terrence has mentioned, our local audience is slowly opening up to new music and being receptive towards local composers and musicians. Having our concert this year at the Esplanade is really us reaching out and encouraging more people.

Lu Heng: More musicians and ensembles have been putting up more concerts featuring more new music and naturally both performers and audiences have been warming up to it gradually. It’s relatively niche and would take some time, but there is definitely progress.

Stones, sand, and light: sounds very close to nature.. what’s the inspiration behind this year’s theme? 

Bernard: Actually it was proposed to be Stones, Sand, Time and Light. But it’ll be a mouthful, so we took away the “Time”, as it’s already implied in Stones, Sand and light. These were used in ancient days to measure time. Music is about the soundwaves that travel though time and space. With every note played on an instrument, sound is produced by vibration of air columns whose energy would disperse through that space and over a length of time.

Also, it is a continuation from last year’s theme, “looking deep into my roots”. After seeking the roots, a seedling needs soil to grow, soil which consists of stones and sand, and nurtured by sunlight. Another way of looking at this is to say that roots are infants, and after growing, we are now at toddler stage where we start to explore the surroundings and play with stones and sand. This is a way of charting our growth process as a group of young composers.

Alicia: I guess Bernard explained it best! (Laughs)

Lu Heng: We had collectively agreed to build upon the theme of our concert last year (“Looking Deep Into Our Roots”) and, after toying around with a few variations, settled on “Stones, Sand and Light” as suitable subject matter to transition into? Literally, moving from our roots underground to stones, sand and light above ground? (laughs)

How do your compositions relate to the theme?
Bernard: If you read my programme note, you’ll know that my work is about the time, this work is the 3rd of the series of work for a quartet of instruments that deals with time. It’s about the future and culmination of several ideas from the previous two works. So the theme of the concert implies on time, my work is about time, so there’s the relation.

Terrence: (d)evolution traces the construction and deconstruction of sound from a simple minor scale and Morning Dances depicts a dance of light – both pieces help to give life and imagery to the term ‘light’.

Alicia: My composition (not telling you guys the title, come to the concert to find out!) is quite literally based on the theme of the concert. As Bernard explained earlier about our conception of the concert theme, Time seems to be the underlying link to all three elements. And Time, in the sense of the past, a very distant past where stones, sand and light played an important role in people’s life…

Lu Heng: I personally identified with the transformative processes taken to get from stone to sand, and the binding factor of particles in sand (silica) and light (photons), in relation to my piece.

Finally, complete the sentence in your own way – Stick and stones may break my bones….

Bernard: Huh? That’s lame. (laugh) Ok, if you insists. Stick and stones may break my bones, but it’ll not stop my eyes to open in the hour of autumn. [editor’s note: Bernard’s piece is titled ‘Let the eyes open in the hour of autumn]

Terrence: …but even so, you can use the sticks, stones and my bones to play some exciting percussive sounds!

Alicia: But Sand and Light may make me whole!

Lu Heng: But put them together (stems and noteheads) and they form tones!

Brunch at Plaza Singapura’s Dome with the composers of Quinnuance.

Catch Quinnuance at the Esplanade Recital Studio on 8pm on the 30th of May 2014!  Get your tickets by emailing or by contacting Alicia (93675883) or Lu Heng (96392100). Tickets are priced at $22 each, and discounts are available for groups of 4 and above.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *