26 Jan 2014

Nature, nurture and mixed marriages

Ng Chong Lim talks about mixing western music with gamelan and the joy of writing for children.

Gamelan has long captivated the imagination of modern composers both abroad and local, and a number of great masters such as Benjamin Britten and Francois Poulenc and countless Americans, have fallen in love with its mesmerising sounds and created works with the hypnotic gong rhythms in mind.

But bringing actual gamelan players into an essentially Western music composition style has always posed problems for composers and performers alike. Both speak highly different musical languages, and many attempts at marrying the two have produced uninspiring, and sometimes contrived results.

At the Chopin Competition last November however one composer did manage to make magic with the unlikely pairing of piano and gamelan trio - Seremban born pianist-composer Ng Chong Lim’s Shadows for piano and gongs, bonang and gendang.

Admitting that his composition raised some eyebrows over the mixed marriage, Ng said he was particularly pleased with how the work turned out. “New music is still not easy for listeners. But for Shadows, I heard positive comments from musicians who attended the concert. For example a director from Germany told my friend he never liked the idea of fusion, but he was very impressed with the combination of sounds (for Shadows).

25 Jan 2014

Of superheroes, tempoyak and singing in the shower

Kelantan-born composer Ainolnaim Azizol finds a good long shower whets his imagination for contemporary classical music.

The exhilaration of water splashing on one’s face, the fragrance of soap rising with the steam, the utter freedom of being unclothed, the intimate privacy - there’s something about taking a shower that makes one just want to break out in song. In the case of young Kelantan born composer Ainolnaim Azizol, bathtime inspires not his big break on Akademi Fantasia, but something more sublime.

The 26-year-old took the express lane from gamelan to experimental western music in record time, and in May won a shared third prize in the Eight Bridges new music festival in Cologne, Germany. His work Badang!!!! for string quartet and electronics rubbed shoulders with his two co-winners Jesse Broekman (Holland) and Sophie Pope (UK), a decision arrived at because the jury wanted more from the electronics aspect of the compositions.

It is nevertheless an outstanding achievement for the Kuantan resident who shuttles to Shah Alam to teach music part time at UiTM. In an email interview, Ainolnaim lets in on the secrets of his craft.

“Most of my moments of inspiration come during taking my hot shower; I close my eyes, breathe slowly, hold myself, and I start to focus deeply and sharpen my hearing. Because of the good reverberations in the bathroom, I can hear sounds very well.

“And to feel the hot water running and dripping from my head all over my body, the details of my breath - the experience is almost meditative for me. I can spend 30 to 45 minutes in the shower and sometimes, I even get out in the middle of a shower just to notate and record down the ideas that pop into my mind,” he said.

Badang!!!! is the fourth in his series of works based on a superhero character from ancient Malay folklore that he used to watch as a kid, revealing the child in the composer. And playfully, his pieces are distinguished by the number of exclamation marks.

Visit the Malaysian composers digital library

The library is available to anyone interested, by appointment.

At present it has over 22 hours of Malaysian music, 35+ hours of Asian music and 150+ Malaysian, regional and western scores, and more.

Video highlights include Adeline Wong's Lengt for cello, string quartet and multimedia, Johan Othman's first opera Conference of the Birds at its Penang premiere, and Indonesian composers Sinta Wullur's gamelan opera The Liberation of Sita and Tony Prabowo's The King's Witch.

Email requests to info@malaysiancomposers.com


Malaysian premieres since 1995

Here is a roundup of premieres of Malaysian works at home and abroad. Since the mid-90s Malaysian works have been performed largely abroad...

Malaysian Composers TV

Free Hand Festival's Facebook

Interweaves on FB