Since 2020, the Composers Society of Singapore (CSS) has been releasing a monthly series for our Musings section, Composer of the Month! The 5th CSS Composer of the Month for 2022 is NG Weihan, Angela! Angela is currently a Computing Sciences and Music student at Seoul National University.
Tell us about yourself! How did you start learning music and composition, and what do you do now?
Hello everyone! I am Angela and I read Computing Sciences and Music. At present, I am at Seoul National University (서울대학교), under the University of Glasgow – Seoul National University GoAbroad program, taking (Western) Composition Major under Professor Sebastian Claren and Korean Traditional Music Composition Major (국악작곡실기) under Instructor Dr. Chun Yie Eun (전예은 강사).
I think this interview come pretty timely – Prof. Claren and I were discussing my compositional style and how I began composing just yesterday, so my thoughts on composition and reflections on the journey I’ve taken as a composition student is still fresh in my mind…
Unlike many of my peers who began learning an instrument at 4, I began learning music with the piano at around 10 or 11 and only began composing at 16 (when I selected ‘Composition Major’ for the O Level examinations). Despite having many doubts about my capabilities to pursue music at the Junior College level, I eventually enrolled myself in the Music Elective Program. I think taking a Composition Major at the A levels was pivotal in helping me shape my voice as a composer. At that time, besides music, I was also deeply interested in mathematics and saw many parallels between music composition and devising solutions to mathematical problems. Through that, I developed compositional methodologies that form the basis for every new compositional project that I take on.
At this stage of my life (and compositional journey), I am most interested in music for film (original soundtracks), music for choir, and Korean traditional music. I take great pride in composing music that explores the emotions of people, and must really mention that I am really into Korean television pop soundtracks too!
On the side, I am incredibly interested in research and had my hands on Optical Music Recognition earlier this year (and my paper co-authored with Professor Xuan Truong Nguyen “Improving Deep-Learning-based Optical Music Recognition for Camera-based Inputs” has been accepted for the IEEE AICAS 2022 Conference!). I am now working on Explainable Artificial Intelligence for Piano Performance, alongside talented university seniors Bjørn Are Therkelsen and Jisoo Park, under the supervision and guidance of distinguished professors, Professor Jonghwa Park and Professor Wen-Syan Li.
As for my future, I endeavor to be part of Singapore’s Smart Nation efforts, while continuing to compose as a hobby and passion (much like Professor Bernard Tan from NUS Physics – read on to find out more!)
What are some of your main musical influences?
Hmm… It’s an interesting question. I think my main musical influence has changed a lot over the years. Back in JC, my influences stemmed from the works we’ve studied – Debussy, Ravel etc. When I began university in the UK, it became the films that I had watched. Now that I’m in Korea, the land of popular music, musicals and award-winning dramas, I am greatly influenced by the societal nuance found and expressed through these mediums. Besides contemporary classical and Korean traditional music that I write for my submissions, I now write many K-pop pieces too! I think my music influences will continue to change as I grow and as I age, but I look forward to how this will shape my identity as a composer.
Tell us about your work in computer science and technology. Do these influence the way you write music, and in what ways do these two fields cross for you?
I think this is one of the questions I get asked most when people meet me for the first time. I’m not a fan of music written by artificial intelligence. Instead, I take great interest in how computing methodologies can be translated into the way music is written. I often see music motifs as computing variables, each section as an algorithmic block and the piece as a program. Computing programs and music pieces serve very different purposes, but it is interesting how the method of developing a computer program and a music piece isn’t too different – shifting and developing the variables/motifs to achieve an intended effect or purpose.
Could you briefly share with us about the project “Composing Monumentality”? How was your journey studying the works of Bernard Tan and what are some of the takeaways from this project?
I really loved studying about Prof. Bernard Tan and his works! When the project first began, I was immediately drawn to the works of Prof. Tan after having read that he is a physics professor at the National University of Singapore. I wondered a lot “what would the music of a physics mind bring?” And I must really say the Piano Concerto is indeed a monumental work. Studying the concerto was not easy – it is a long work with many intricacies. However, through studying the work, I better understand how small changes to motifs can vastly change the mood of a piece and how fragmentation can bind a piece together. Having had the chance to be part of this project was indeed an honor.
Check out Angela’s presentation on Bernard Tan’s music below: