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02 Jul 2021

CSS Composer of the Month for Jul 2021: Avik CHARI

Since 2020, the Composers Society of Singapore (CSS) has been releasing a monthly series for our Musings section, Composer of the Month!

The 7th CSS Composer of the Month for 2021 is Avik CHARI! Avik is a composer, sound designer and engraver based in Singapore, and a graduate of the Boston Conservatory at Berklee. He is the founder and lead engraver for Liria Music Prep, a company that provides music engraving and preparation services, and currently works at the Singapore Symphony Orchestra as a music librarian.

Avik CHARI

Interviewer: GU Wei

How did you start your musical journey and what do you do now?

I started really getting into composition from my interest in score preparation. My piano teacher Rachel Foong (who is an amazing teacher) would transcribe pop songs for the piano, hand notate them and pass them to me. I always found the idea of notation extremely interesting and loved seeing how different people notated their scores. I began getting more into notation and score prep just out of interest, and that led me to compose music (in order to have more examples to notate)! Weird way to start, but that’s what led me to music. That and of course, my teacher who really allowed me to try different things, and my family who gave me the space to explore music in the first place! I currently work as a music librarian and arranger at Singapore Symphony Orchestra and as a freelance audio designer for video games.

How was your experience studying in Boston, and how did it influence your music?

I absolutely loved Boston. Not the weather, I don’t miss that. Okay I don’t miss the food that much either – Singapore is really awesome in comparison. But I miss the people and the environment at Boston Conservatory. It’s one of those schools where most performance majors LOVE new music, and want to explore different sounds and styles. I never had trouble finding musicians to play my pieces, and all the musicians were super interested in doing something other than the typical works of Classical music. There were a lot of opportunities to get my music performed and heard, so much so that I could write and perform 4-5 pieces a semester, and had two final recitals! Boston also has a fairly large new music scene, so we would go to a concert that had at least one new work, every weekend. I think the opportunity just allowed me to grow and find my voice, and their helpful AV team (who I’d bribe with doughnuts) gave me the chance to explore electronics in my music.

As a composer, sound designer, and engraver, you seem to wear many hats as a musician. How do you balance these roles and do these influence each other?

I’m still figuring out how to balance all the things I’m interested in. I run a music engraving and score preparation company called Liria Music Prep, while working at SSO and exploring the game audio world. I’ll probably be able to find more focus over the next couple of years, but I’m currently in the “I’ll do anything and everything” phase in my career. Working as an engraver and music librarian helps a lot when it comes to preparing my own music. I can see the issues and challenges caused by incorrect part preparation. In the end, the first recipients of your music are not the audience at the premiere, they are the performers. Making high quality scores and parts is important in telling those performers how much you care about your own music. As a sound designer for games, I feel that it has strengthened my music technology skills and helped me find new and interesting ways to compose music. On another note – Liria Music Prep is looking for engravers and proof-readers. If you’re interested in the occasional engraving gig here and there, please reach out!

Tell us about your interest and ventures in game music.

I think my main intent is to eventually be a video game composer. The challenge of writing music for non-linear narrative is one that I resonate with. Writing for games has also impacted my musical output – I created a sound installation for my final recital last year where audience members would interact with their surroundings and cause changes in the music as a result. I also find the actual implementation of audio into the game extremely interesting. There are so many ways to go about creating interactive music and reactive sound systems in a game. When I worked on Covidopoly (a web-based take on Monopoly Deal), I had to sometimes make 10-12 versions of a single sound, and find the best way to implement them via Javascript (with the help of the programmers) just to ensure the player experience was smooth and my sounds clearly cued the player as to what was happening in the game. Sound Design is essentially just story-telling, just like composing, but approached from a slightly different perspective.

What are some of your upcoming projects that we can look forward to?

I’m currently working on a few projects here and there – look out for SSO’s National Day arrangement of Where I Belong – and National Gallery’s Resonates with series in October. I’m also working on a project where I release one track a month. Currently focusing on ambient and interactive music, but I might explore other genres in the future. If you’d like to collaborate on this project, feel free to reach out!