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 Nov 2023 is Jazreel LOW. She graduated from Lasalle with a degree in music composition, and is an award-winning composer of concert music, and for films and games.
Interviewer: NG Yu Hng
Could you tell us about yourself and your journey as a young composer?
Hello! I'm Jazreel, I mainly write concert music and music for film and games, and the occasional other art forms.
I graduated from Lasalle with a degree in music composition. The first few years in my composition journey were hard; it was difficult identifying a clear direction to focus on the type of music I wanted to write, and it was always a constant struggle to have my music heard. I constantly asked myself: What do I want to achieve with my music? What do I want my music to sound like? Back then, I wouldn’t have been able to give an answer. It was also through this struggle that I discovered my raison d'être, to make sure that the imagery that I envision is adequately conveyed by the music I write. Having been a part of various composition programs that support young composers have also helped me gain that initial foothold for developing a clearer compositional voice.
Recently, I have been scoring music for documentaries, animations, games, as well as multidisciplinary projects working with art, so that’s been really exciting! A film I scored, Pulau, was awarded Best Original Music at the 9th National Youth Film Awards earlier this year, and it’s opened up more opportunities to score films, which I am very grateful for. I am also a big nerd when it comes to music theory, and enjoy spending time analysing scores and transcribing music that interests me in the moment.
What is your composition process like, and how do you source for your inspirations?
The compositional workflow I follow varies depending the presence of an external influence for creativity. For concert music, the intentions behind the piece are entirely derived by the composer, so I usually pick a topic I feel strongly about. That makes deciding musical parameters like tonality and timbre easier to pinpoint. Tactician, for example, was inspired by my many hours spent playing strategy games and listening to their soundtracks. (Fire Emblem and Octopath Traveler music fans anyone?)
In contrast, for film and game music, I align myself with the director’s vision for the project, and have a good grasp of how they want the audience to feel for different scenes before I start scoring. I will usually start a piano sketch in the DAW as I improvise and experiment with different instruments and sounds, crafting a sound palette suitable for the film. Personally, I really like creating new sounds by sampling from recorded instrument parts that are already part of the project’s sound palette. It's also a conscious effort for me to push for new ways to present my music. Sometimes, that might be using extended techniques (which I have a newfound appreciation for!) or non-conventional instrumentation, like a blend of acoustic and electronic sounds.
Recently, you took part in Salastina's Sounds Promising Young Composer Program, do tell us what was the experience like, and what have you learnt from it?
To say that I learnt a lot from the program would be an understatement! Aside from composing a piece for the program, we would also gather for virtual meetups to bounce off and check-in with each other, as well as learn more about the inner workings of Salastina from the co-founders Maia and Kevin. Salastina themselves frequently program exciting concerts that are genuinely appealing for the community, so it was great to hear about the effort that goes behind their performances. It was also fun to learn about the initiatives of my fellow composers in the program, and their efforts to uplift aspiring composers, among many others.
My fortnightly meetings with composer mentor Derrick Skye would always be insightful as he shared about his composition process and how he was able to compose concert music quickly. I also learnt how to live as a composer (as cliche as it sounds) and to have a more systematic approach towards my writing process.
Check out part 1 of my interview with Salastina, where my fellow composers and I go into detail about the whole experience!
Tell us about any current or upcoming projects you are engaged in!
Apart from the usual applications for calls for scores, I recently finished scoring two documentaries for A Piece of Mine, a collection of short portrait documentaries by OKJ, conveying life experiences across generations. Stay tuned for the YouTube release!