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Composer of The Month for June 2024: DING Jian Han

Since 2020, the Composers Society of Singapore (CSS) has been releasing a monthly series for our Musings section, Composer of the Month! The Composer of the Month for June 2024 is DING Jian Han. Jian Han's compositional style draws inspiration from his varied non-musical interests as he uses these non-musical ideas and concepts to formulate new sounds and textures in his music. He is currently fascinated with the endless potential of open or indeterminate notation in music, using 'time' as a guiding principle in approaching composition, as well as the use of acoustic models (extracting sonic and spectral information from non-musical objects). Jian Han is one of the featured composers in the Singapore Composers Festival, with his piece P.p.P.p. performed by local ensemble WeirdAftertaste.

Watch the interview on our YouTube channel here!

Interviewer: MOK Peck Yim

1.Could you tell us about your musical training/education background?

Hello! I was mainly trained in Western classical music growing up, starting with playing the violin. Funnily enough I did not harbour much interest in learning music in primary school and did not approach my violin studies with much seriousness. However, during a period of time in Secondary One I had the opportunity to play in a symphony orchestra for the first time, and something then just clicked within me and my passion for music began to ignite. I started to become fascinated with how composers created their music and did a lot of self-study in that, as well as listened to a wide variety of classical music. Later on in my teenage years, I also enjoyed songwriting a lot, especially Mandopop and Musical Theatre, and took lessons here and there. Despite this, I knew my strongest passion was in contemporary classical music and dedicated myself to pursuing a formal education in composition at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music. As my compositional style, taste and ability evolved and developed, I eventually made the decision to pursue further studies in composition at the Robert Schumann Hochschule in Düsseldorf, Germany, which really opened up my artistic horizons.

2. Share with us about your inspiration and compositional process for your piece 'P.p.P.p.' that was recently showcased at the Singapore Composers Festival.

‘P. p. P. p.’ for alto saxophone, viola, cello & keyboard really revolves around a singular source, which is the sample used in the keyboard part. This sample is a recording taken during my travels to the Niagara Falls in Canada. I was able to walk extremely close to the waterfalls at the Niagara Falls Power Station and could really feel their sheer force and intensity. However, at certain points of the giant tunnel in the power station, it sounded like the waterfall sound was fed through some sort of a filter and this was mind-boggling for me. 

Hence, my compositional process for this piece started with me manipulating the spectrum of this recording and re-synthesising it as a new sound sample, which is what is heard in the piece. Using a kind of acoustic model as the basis of a piece is something I have been doing in my music rather recently. I then composed the musical material played by the instruments by observing the spectrum of the sample and creating a ‘re-imagination’ of it. I then developed this organically throughout the piece. As to how I structured this development, I used increasing numerical proportions (of bars) to generate a sense of expansion, but at certain key points of the piece, I would break free from this system to create free flowing sections.

3.  What are some of your upcoming projects/works that we can look forward to?

I was very fortunate to be commissioned by Duo Tarenna (Tiag Yi and Cindy) to compose a piece for Flute and String Quartet, titled hreeviFruowT, as part of their Composer’s Drawing Board series. I have since completed this work and am looking forward to be working with the ensemble for their upcoming concert on 24 August 2024, 7.30pm at the Esplanade Recital Studio. Tickets are now on Peatix, so do check it out!

4. What are some of the advice that you would like to share with our aspiring young composers?

Always keep an open mind and be curious about new compositional ideas, styles, techniques and technology. Even if you do not have the time and energy to write music every day, be sure to still think about composition every day, or do an activity related to composition (listening to pieces which may be helpful for what you are working on, attending new music concerts), so as to keep your compositional ‘muscles’ active.



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