Tag Archives: Music

Composer Weijun Chen dances away with audiences’ hearts in Aspen

The moment Weijun Chen puts his pencil to a piece of staff paper, he allows inspiration to overtake him. From the outside, watching him sketch notes onto a piece of paper, it may not seem like the most glamorous job, but when an orchestra is performing his music that he spent so long crafting, he feels truly alive.

Chen is a classical composer, writing music for symphony orchestras, chamber ensembles, instrumentalists, and singers, which is then performed at grand concert halls and music festivals all over the world. He is a renowned composer, best known for Three Earlier Songs, Watercolors, and Canoe, to name a few.

“I write every single note on the page, from vague ideas, sketches, to complete scores. In terms of the writing process itself, I am quite old-fashioned. I always start with pencil and staff paper, and eventually move to the computer during the engraving and mock-up stages. Once the piece is finished, I work closely with the musicians to bring the music to life. Often times, some of my works were written for a specific soloist or group of musicians, so the collaboration process starts during the writing stage. I also enjoy collaborating with artists from other disciplines, as my music often draws influence from poetry and visual arts,” said Chen.

Chen has seen much success throughout his career, but he believes the highlight came when he wrote the orchestral version of his piece Dancer. Already a success as a chamber piece, Chen decided to rework Dancer for an orchestra after being awarded the Jacob Druckman Prize by the Aspen Music Festival in 2015 with an invitation to the 2016 festival to premiere new work.

“I believe that writing for orchestra is a composer’s highest calling, and there is no better feeling than hearing your music performed by a large orchestra at a premier classical music festival in the beautiful mountains of Colorado,” said Chen.

Despite the title’s implications of continual movement and activity, Danceropens with somber stillness, a single chord that then gradually collapses under slowly descending scalar lines. As the glacial motion rises again through chromatic dissonances, gentle clusters form periodically, producing alternating moments of tension and relaxation. Then, after building in intensity, scale fragments and rapid turn figures cascade through the orchestra, initiating the swirling, dancing central section. This culminates in a growling climax and a grand pause, leading into the concluding slow section.

“When I was drafting this final slow section in February 2016, I was shocked and saddened to hear the news of American composer Steven Stucky’s passing. Stucky was the director of composition at the Aspen Music Festival where this piece later received its premiere. The last section unmistakably became an elegy, in memory of my beloved mentor,” said Chen.

Chen decided to create an orchestral version of Dancer after the success of the original chamber piece for several reasons. Musically, when he was working on the chamber version, he realized that the intended soundscape, in particular the overlapping scale lines, would have great potential written for an orchestra. When the opportunity arrived from the Aspen Music Festival in 2016, he jumped on it immediately.

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2016 Aspen Music Festival
Bowing after the premiere of Dancer
W/ Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra & conductor George Jackson

The orchestral version of Dancer is both an expansion and a reduction. By expansion, the ensemble got bigger by ten-fold, and Chen was able to fully take advantage of the color palate of an orchestra. Dovetailing techniques are used extensively in the piece, as Chen threads the scale materials across the entire orchestra. By reduction, he deleted a large portion of music from the chamber version, specifically the Spanish-dance-influenced melodic section, as he felt that the materials were out of focus and not as compelling.

“It was simply amazing to see how my music came alive in the hands of seventy incredibly talented young orchestral musicians, under the baton of Maestro Jackson. It was also immensely gratifying to hear the transformative improvements from one rehearsal to another, and the premiere performance was deeply moving,” said Chen.

After its premiere at the 2016 Aspen Music Festival, the performance received a brief mention in The Aspen Times. The reviewer, Harvey Steiman, stated that “Dancer explored resonant harmonies and sonorities and reflected fine command of orchestration and form.” The piece was also a finalist in the 2017-18 The American Prize in Composition, Orchestra Music.

“I felt extremely grateful. As composers, we completely rely on others (i.e., the musicians) to bring our wildest imaginations to life. It is even more true in an orchestral setting, simply due to the sheer number of players and moving parts. This piece would not exist without the support and dedication from the music festival, Maestro Jackson, and the amazing musicians of the Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra,” said Chen.

On top of its success, Dancer has deep meaning for Chen. The greatest reward, for the composer, was honoring his mentor and friend.

“It was impossible not to think of Steve when I was at the premiere in Aspen. I was honored to share this piece with many of his colleagues, friends, and students in the audience. I miss him dearly, and I hope that the success of the premiere would make him proud,” he concluded.

 

Cover photo by Ahron Cho

Hong Kong’s Samuel Lam gives musical life to new Chinese television series

Samuel Lam was born with a large birthmark on the right side of his face and spent much of his childhood alone because of it. Growing up in Hong Kong, it was hard for him, being a loner, but when he was 12 years of age, his sister bought him a guitar and his whole life changed. Music became a way to express himself, changing his personality and giving him something to connect with others.

Now, Lam is an industry leading composer and orchestrator is his home country and abroad. He has worked on multi-million-dollar blockbusters, such as Crazy Alien, to award-winning films like Mommy’s Girl. He has scored dozens of short films, and has many exciting projects on the way, including Paramount’s Playing with Fire, starring John Cena, Judy Greer and Keegan-Michael Key, directed by Andy Fickman, and Detective Chinatown, a 12 episode web-series, produced and written by Chen Sicheng, the director of the feature film of the same name, which generated over $600 million USD at the box office.

Lam is known all over the world for his talent, and recently worked on the highly anticipated Chinese series Paratrooper Spirit. The show is about a team of paratroopers with actual combat as their training ground, as they push hard to level up their fighting abilities and complete different missions. Set in the foreground of military reform, the story follows military men like Zhang Qi and Qi Xiao Tian. To develop an air force that can compete in the global stage, a special team called Guo Gai Tou has gathered. After the initial adjustment period, Guo Gai Tou began fighting wars in the North and South and challenging greater enemies. Warriors from Guo Gai Tou who are dispatched to other teams become aces in the field.

“It is a good way to increase understanding and knowledge about the military through the influence of media and entertainment. This show has a really interesting military service theme, the paratrooper,” said Lam.

Working on a series is far different than a feature film, and Lam was eager to work on his first television show with Paratrooper Spirit and working in television in China differs greatly from America. Rather than getting each episode weekly, as the U.S. does things, Lam got every episode of the show at once. Although there is a greater time crunch with this method, Lam likes knowing how the entire story is developed to orchestrate the score accordingly. He was given all 35 episodes of the season to work on and began by watching each one. Then he and his team started developing essential thematic materials such as main theme and melodies for characters that worked with each and every episode and helped to tell the story.

“It is very challenging working on a TV Show. Because of the large amount of content, you have to be very organized, and work at a super-fast pace. I had to arrange all kinds of music genres, from action orchestra, to rock and romantic pop song, and that was really fun,” said Lam.

It takes an extremely broad skill-set to orchestrate for a television show, and Lam possesses just that. He arranged hundreds of minutes of music for Paratrooper Spirit that will continue to be played over the show’s run, with millions hearing his work, and he couldn’t be more excited.

Paratrooper Spirit is currently being promoted in China and will be released in September 2019 on a major television network in the country. Be sure to keep an eye out for it.

Mix Engineer Jordan Oorebeek works with emerging Canadian pop icon Jordan Waller

With the infinite possibilities that music offers, no two days are the same for Jordan Oorebeek, an immensely talented and sought-after recording engineer, mix engineer, and producer in Canada. Every day has the same ultimate goal; make excellent art, but the unending variables of songs, personalities, studios, instruments, gear and glitches makes every day have its own unique challenges and rewards. He is constantly trying to put a moving puzzle together, and sometimes, he does not even know what it is supposed to look like until he takes a step back. When he has that “ah-ha!” moment, that adrenaline rush is why he loves what he does so much.

Oorebeek is known for his work with many prominent musicians in Canada, including Chris Buck Band, Wes Mack, George Canyon, and many more. He has made a significant mark in Canada’s country music scene, with many of his projects being nominated for CCMAs, and he was awarded with the 2018 British Columbia Country Music Association Recording Professional of the Year Award. For Oorebeek, however, it isn’t about awards or recognition; he simply just enjoys what he does.

“I love to create contrast and dynamics in my productions. I often employ bold transitions between a softly sung pre chorus with just an acoustic guitar, into a full band chorus with the singer belting out. I believe it’s this kind of contrast that we as humans love in every great story. Creating dynamic highs and lows in songs helps to mimic the emotional experience in life that makes us connect with music so deeply. My productions are more often than not very “hi-fi” and polished in nature, but I’ve also worked on many projects where a stripped down more raw and vulnerable approach was what the song needed. I know a lot of producers who really impart ‘their’ sound to a record, but that’s not really my style. My role as a producer is to be a creative liaison for the artist’s vision. I think it’s important to know when to stay out of the way and when to guide,” said Oorebeek.

Oorebeek’s success is not limited to the country music genre and has worked with many artists spanning across genres from electro-pop to rock. He recently collaborated with pop singer Jordan Waller on his newest album. Oorebeek loves mixing pop/dance songs, so when he first heard Waller’s music, he was really looking forward to working in this style. Waller’s music, although very pop driven, had elements of real drums, acoustic guitar and electric guitar, and Oorebeek loved that.

Before he starts mixing, Oorebeek always listens to the rough mix. It gives him cues and insight into what the producer’s vision is for the song. He finds it is a way of learning about the artist without them actually being there. When he began working on Waller’s music, he once again started in such a way. Then he began mixing.

A mix can make or break a great song, so when Oorebeek was mixing Waller’s music, he was always focusing on what elements in the mix were essential to bring forward. Which synths had a rhythm to them that gave him a feeling? What was the relationship between the kick and snare that made him want to move? How dark should the vocal be to match the tone of the lyric? He kept these questions in mind as he worked and paid close attention to all the elements in the tracks, making choices based on his experience.

“I always impart a bit of myself into every mix based on my personal taste. I think that’s the reason I was approached to mix these songs. I loved being creative with the use of effects in Jordan’s mixes,” said Oorebeek.

“This Feeling” was Waller’s first release and also his first single to chart. Oorebeek is extremely proud to have been a part of the success. Oorebeek worked on several more singles for Waller, whose debut album was released in February of this year.

“It’s always special when a debut single is received well right out the gate, especially as an unsigned, independent artist. You can never really predict how radio is going to receive a song, but while working on “This Feeling” I felt there was something special about it. It’s great when that gut feeling I get is affirmed by commercial success,” he concluded.

A Chat with the Stars: Q&A with Colombian Actress Juliana Betancourth

Hailing from the small town of Don Matias, Colombia, Juliana Betancourth dreamed of one day becoming an actress since she was a little girl, and today is one of the country’s most recognizable stars. She has worked alongside renowned talent and greatly contributed to the success of celebrated productions like Therapy and Bite! as well as working with some of the world’s most recognized brands on national commercials, like Walmart.

Extending her talents to music videos, Betancourth knows how to captivate an audience within the few minutes of a song. One of her career highlights was teaming up with hit hip-hop artist Casso Blax on his video “How to Treat a Woman.”

This video was published on platforms such as The Link Up, YouTube and other download platforms. It was presented on musical channels and had a great reception in the European urban genre. After this success, Casso Blax was hired to perform in different places and cities. This song is also found on Spotify and iTunes.

You can watch the video here, and in the meantime, check out the interview below.

TTN: Why did you want to work on this project?

JB: After having worked in television, cinema, theater, and commercials … the only thing I was missing was being in a music video. Maybe because I never wanted to be in one before, I felt it was more modeling work than acting … and wow I was wrong!

When Cris Samuels, the director, looked for me through my agent, he told me about the great reception Casso Blax had in the United Kingdom, and he explained that the message of the video dignified women and love.

I felt that this could be the ideal project for making my first music video. Later I would make two more videos in Los Angeles for other artists.

TTN: How did you become part of it?

JB: Cris researched my career in Colombia and Spain and  knew that I had just arrived to live in London, so he looked for me. In England, there is no strong Latin presence, so they still see women from Latin America as very exotic.

This was precisely the kind of character he wanted to show. Someone who had good chemistry with Casso Blax but who in turn contrasts racially. We had a couple of meetings, he introduced me to the artist, we did camera tests, we went to see him sing live at an event. I met his work team and his followers. They really wanted me in the project and I was convinced that it was the right one for me to break into music videos for the first time.

TTN: What was it like working with Casso Blax?

JB: He is an artist in his genre. He composes the lyrics of his songs, the music, makes live presentations. We had a very professional and respectful deal, he was very praised for the fact that I wanted to work on his music video and that I also like his music.

It was essential that we had trust and respect between the two of us, because as an actress I need those spaces to be able to do my work, especially in sensual or romantic scenes.

Casso is a singer who has had to fight a lot in his life to achieve success, has overcome the barriers of racism and an elitist industry.

TTN: What was it like working on this project?

JB: Due to the previous meetings, there was already a friendly chemistry between all of us, so the shooting day was very simple, Casso and I got in front of the camera, the song started to play and we did what we were feeling.  If I wanted to dance towards him, or embrace him, while he sang or interacted with me, I did so naturally.

The directions of the director were very simple, he did not want to interfere with the organic moment, and wanted the interaction to feel natural. I always avoided accepting sensual woman projects, specifically to avoid stereotypes, but as I said before, their argument convinced me.

TTN: What was your character like?

JB: I was Casso’s official girlfriend in this video, the woman he chooses over all other women, the only one who can seduce him, and with whom he wants to spend his time.

A Latina woman with sensual movements, loving, powerful and fragile at the same time. It was a very organic character, the perfect balance between that seductive woman we all carry inside, and the woman who falls deeply in love with his masculine and protective figure.

TTN: How did your character fit into the story of the video?

JB: The whole song is written around her, that character that should be his queen, who does not have to compete with anyone else for his love. It shows Casso rejecting the seductions of the other women, but not those of my character. He talks about how he should treat her well so that she stays with him all her life.

In addition to acting skills, I had to have skills for a specific dance, sensual, but not vulgar. I needed to know how to express the rhythms of this song with movements.

TTN: What did you like about working on this project?

JB: From the beginning I liked the way Cris approached me, inviting me to meet the artist first, his music, his followers, he was in charge of showing me the music record support that Casso had and the recognition in his industry.

We were a couple with chemistry and my participation could open doors in Latin American countries and Spain. The recording was very easy and quiet, without many shots, everything was very fresh and I felt very comfortable. It’s a song that I liked. The admiration, in this case, is a determining factor for me.

TTN: What do you like about the video itself?

JB: Urban music has been sadly characterized by having misogynist lyrics, in which it is socially accepted to denigrate women or to advocate that men may have several women. This song says the opposite, speaks of monogamy, to value the woman you have, to be a true man. And this is more in alignment with my way of thinking and my values.

For the other two music videos that I have done “Déjame Ayudar” by JC Gonzales and “Si me dejas Ahora” by Fernando Rodríguez, they have been songs that defend the empowerment of women.

TTN: How does it feel knowing the project has been such a success?

JB: Knowing that my image has been going through all these European music platforms is very rewarding, as it is seeing that Casso’s career continued to rise after our video together. I never imagined that participation in a music video could bring me so many other projects. Blax fans, for example, became fans of mine and they now follow my work.

 

Photo by Jhonatan Tabares 

Youjia Qian provides insight and artistry to new music video for DeathByRomy

From the time she was a child, Youjia Qian always had a great interest in the arts and fashion. She learned to play the flute at a young age and began painting very early in her life. Music was always a great passion of hers, with an eclectic playlist featuring many genres. She enjoys expressing her attitude and emotions through clothing and accessories, which she has all her life.

“I think clothes show the characteristic of one person and the style that they want to express at that day. Same as artworks, dressing is also an art. To me, being a stylist enables me to help others to show their attitude with clothes,” said Qian.

Now, Qian is a celebrated stylist and art director, and a leader in her industry. She has worked on many successful music videos, such as “Say Less” for Roy Woods, “Devil in California” by Burna Boy, “Talking to Me” for Gab 3 and “Hollywood Angel” by BEXEY and Gab3. She has also made her mark with commercials, working with the famous department store Barneys New York earlier this year on their “Starwalk” campaign.

“I think the greatest challenge as an art director is pre-communication, since the visual effect is hard to express with words. Sometimes customers are not able to imagine what you want to express and then I need to prepare so many cases and proposals with clearer visuals to let them know what I want to express finally. I always make sure to discuss everything with my client in detail. Any problem that arises can be overcome with patient communication,” she described.

Such an attitude is why the art director was approached by newcomer DeathByRomy to take on her debut music video. DeathByRomy needed an experienced professional at the helm to make the project a success, and she knew Qian was just the person. Qian enjoys working with young artists, giving them insight into what it takes to make a hit video.

“I am very happy to work with female artists and hope to cooperate with more girls and new artists in the future,” said Qian.

Qian was eager to work with DeathByRomy. The two had an understanding that the video would have a slightly more feminine feel, and as the two are both female, they found it easy to strike a balance in what they both envisioned. They spent a lot of time discussing the details prior to shooting. They decided to use a dreamy color to express the feeling of youth, while interspersing a lot of cute shots to express a girlish feeling.

“I think this new artist is very willing to try new ideas and styles, so the actors in the audience are some of her own friends, and the cooperation with everyone is very harmonious and happy. We can also know what kind of things and styles young people like now through the communication,” said Qian.

The video was released in June of this year and was published by Elevator. Watch it here to witness Qian’s artistry first hand.

Rupa Rathod takes audiences to dystopian future with tremendous graphics for Bastille’s global tour

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Rupa Rathod

Nothing is more exciting for a music fan than getting tickets to see your favorite artist live in concert. The feeling of your body vibrating to the bass of a beloved song in a giant arena is simply euphoric. However, when enjoying the experience, it is easy to forget how many people it took to make the concert so incredible. Not only is there the talent, dancers, and band that one can see, there are also many that have worked tirelessly behind-the-scenes. Rupa Rathod is one of those people. As an industry leading motion graphics designer, the intricate visuals displayed on the giant screens of the show are her masterpieces.

Having worked with several iconic musicians, such as Shania Twain and Kylie Minogue, Rathod’s work has been seen and appreciated on a global scale. She loves what she does, not only working alongside some of the world’s biggest stars, but also being able to merge her passions for music and design.

“Everything catches my eye; shapes, colors, photography, art and perspective, they’re all influences. I’m constantly working out how to turn anything I see into something graphical, abstract and moving. I’m very practical and hands on so my interest in design and art have always been very much a part of who I am,” said Rathod.

Two years ago, Rathod saw great success with her work on the “Wild, Wild World Tour” for the popular band Bastille. The global tour allowed the motion graphics artist to work closely with award-winning Creative Director, Rob Sinclair, band management, and the band themselves to create and produce the screen content with LA based production company and studio, Blink.

“I developed a good working relationship with the band. It’s the notion that you understand their world and so you have their trust on something so important to them. It’s what grounds me the most during these projects and what I aspire to always have with artists and bands,” Rathod described.

Loosely set in a slightly playful dystopian world, the vision for the tour visuals was very specific but also required a lot of collaborative development. The brief for this tour was the notion that big brother was watching and controlling you, set in a future where the whole world was ruled by a fictional corporation, World Wide Communications. Rathod’s understanding of Sinclair and the band’s vision was trusted by the entire design team instantly.

“It’s unusual for a tour, especially with an indie band to have such a strong narrative, so I was sold from the moment I read the concept. In my mind, there was no end to the amount of scenarios that could be created in this dystopian world. I was completely submerged in this environment and pitching my designs, having them approved and then being able to develop all the ideas into real working visuals was hugely rewarding,” said Rathod.

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Shot from Bastille “Wild, Wild World Tour” stage

On a tour such as Bastille’s, the set design is always the beginning of the process. Rathod and her team began producing strong concepts and inspirational references. Once the setlist was completed, Rathod got to work.

As Producer, her role was to develop the initial brief, and oversee and direct the team of animators and visual artists. This involved digging a bit deeper into the references and going back with an initial design. Once her approach was approved, she collaborated Blink’s team of motion graphics artists to bring the visuals to life.

As she is so hands on when it comes to the visual aspect of the production, Rathod is ideally placed to see the project through the final stages of rehearsals. For her, it all comes together when she gets into a production rehearsal with the full band, lighting and all departments working together. As a creator of visual content, her job isn’t just to make great visuals, it’s to create content that’s cohesive with a huge live concert spectacle. Some of the best video moments in the show were not conceived until this rehearsal block, so a big part of Rathod’s job was turning ideas around sometimes overnight to test them on screen the next day. This also allowed her to form a good relationship with the band.

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Rupa Rathod and Kyle J Simmons, keyboard player of Bastille

“I worked with Rupa on the “Wild World” world tour across 2016 and 2017, where she was in charge of creating all the video content for our live show. Her creative abilities are second to none and to be able to interact with her on an artistic level was a hugely fulfilling experience. We hope to use her again and again during the next touring cycles. She is without doubt one of the best in the industry at what she does, quite apart from being one of the nicest,” said Dan Smith, the lead singer of Bastille.

Rathod stayed on this tour for the first few shows, which allowed two weeks to tweak and change content prior to the band’s first big night at the O2 in London. Seeing the fans’ responses from her work made the entire experience even more worth it.

“The reaction from fans as well as reviews acknowledged the visuals I produced and was a welcome recognition of how important the visuals are to the overall concert experience. It’s a completely multi-sensory experience and seeing it through from start to finish is always the most rewarding part. It’s always such a priceless moment when you see it go live, a feeling that I don’t think will ever leave me,” she concluded.

To stay up-to-date with Rathod’s work at Blink Inc., check out their website.

 

Top Photo: Rupa Rathod, Tom Colbourne and Steve Price working on Bastille Tour

Samantha Van Der Sluis moves from Composing for the Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra to Feature Films & TV

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Samantha Van Der Sluis recording violin

Great cinema is far more than just the images projected on the screen. When a film’s score is truly exceptional, it can often tell as rich a story as the film itself. While moviegoers fix their gaze on the characters and places they see, it’s what they hear that often sets the tone and subtly guides their imaginations. Few people understand the relationship between sight and sound in cinema as well as film composer Samantha Van Der Sluis. Fueled by an early love of storytelling, Van Der Sluis strove to find a medium perfectly suited to the tales her mind would weave.

“I was 15 years old when I started learning to play songs on the piano,” Van Der Sluis recalled. “I started venturing toward other instruments like the violin, French horn, bass guitar, and choral singing.”

As she developed an understanding over an array of instruments, her mind became filled with countless unwritten scores desperate to see the light of day. She found the outlet she needed when she began her work as a composer.

“Once I discovered I could perform music, I realized I had the potential to create it too,” she said. “Music is meant to be shared and listened to, and I believe the best form takes place in visual media like film, where music works together with the visuals.”

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Samantha Van Der Sluis conducting an original composition

Before she began her work as a film composer, Van Der Sluis received critical acclaim for many of her orchestral compositions. One of her pieces, ‘Searching For Home,’ was chosen by the Dublin Philharmonic to be performed as part of their world tour in 2015. Soon after, composer Jeff Russo collaborated with Van Der Sluis as part of his team; and she was given her first big opportunity to shape the musical soundscape of an array of hugely-anticipated television titles. The wide-ranging list of projects Van Der Sluis worked on included the Golden Globe and Emmy-winning FX series “Fargo,” the CBS All Access series “Star Trek: Discovery,” and Netflix’s dystopian thriller “Altered Carbon.”

In 2017, Van Der Sluis composed the score for the tensely claustrophobic and relentlessly terrifying feature film “Landfall.” The film centers on a pair of young lovers as they barricade themselves inside their beach house, desperate to keep out something much more sinister than the impending cyclone.

Though “Landfall” was completely unlike any project she’d worked on before, Van Der Sluis’ meticulous and immersive approach to scoring the film was exactly the same as it had always been. She wrote every note of the score around what the characters were experiencing. But because suspense was a major component of the film, she was careful that the story her composition told didn’t tip off audiences to any of the story’s secrets.

“Over the duration of the film, a lot of questions the audience may have at first are answered,” she explained. “Because of these mysteries, I had to be very cautious of the score not to give away the unexpected twists in the plot.”

Directed by Travis Bain, “Landfall” stars two-time Melbourne Underground Film Festival Award winner Kristen Condon (“The Beautiful and the Damned”) as Maisie and Rob Stanfield (“Windscreen Watch”) as Dylan, the film’s main characters. A testament to the power of the film and Van Der Sluis’ work as a composer, “Landfall” was recently purchased for distribution by industry heavyweight Archstone Distributions.

“Landfall” director Travis Bain says, “Thanks in part to Sam’s terrific score for ‘Landfall’, we’ve now secured a worldwide distribution deal, which will see the film be released in multiple countries around the globe… Samantha brought plenty of enthusiasm plus a willingness to help me fulfill my directorial vision… Her professional scores really help elevate all the other elements of my films. Her music adds so much production value, and for international audiences and distributors who expect a certain level of quality, production value is everything.”

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Poster for the upcoming film “Landfall”

As the film progresses and more is revealed about protagonists Maisie and Dylan, it gradually becomes clear that neither is the person they initially seemed to be. In the same way, Van Der Sluis’ score evolves dramatically between the first introductions to the characters and the tense final moments of the film.

“I had to compose themes for the characters dependent of their situation and not who they were, because in Landfall, this has a very different meaning,” she said. “I created tense cues around the main female character, Maisie, utilizing chromatic melodies, atonal harmonies, a variety of rhythmic passage to achieve inconsistency, and cadence that never resolved… Later in the film, when the audience starts to understand the character’s situation, this music turns into something more tonal and warm.”

Masterfully, Van Der Sluis captured the film’s characters not as they were, but as the audience was meant to believe. Together with the action onscreen, her score lulls viewers into a false sense of security and sets them up to be shocked by the film’s big twists.

“For the duration of the film, until the last 20 minutes, we assume Dylan and Maisie are completely innocent — turns out they aren’t,” Van Der Sluis said, careful not to reveal too much. “The music in the last 20 minutes starts to reiterate themes of what was heard previously. The theme used for the bad guys are now being played when Dylan and Maisie are seen.”

As the storm closes in and the main characters’ true natures are seemingly unveiled, Van Der Sluis continues to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. Her score takes on a more sinister tone, building in urgency until the storm makes landfall and at last the full truth is revealed.

Prior to her work on “Landfall,” Van Der Sluis composed a much different score for a much different story. Soulful and nuanced, the 2016 drama “Day Off” is a tragic drama from director Stephen Hall that tells the story of a middle-aged couple whose lifelong love is being taken away by an insidious disease.

“A 50-something year old man is struggling with dementia and having trouble remembering things. He vanishes from his caretaker,” Van Der Sluis described. “His caretaker calls the man’s wife, Laura, explaining that he has walked off and she can’t find him. Laura leaves the cafe she was sitting at with her friend and runs around the city to find him.”

The film follows Laura as she desperately races to find her husband, Brendan. She’s frantic and alone, yet her determination is unwavering. Her search leads her to places from their past, when their life and future together seemed perfect.

“The most important scene was when Brendan wanders around, having flashbacks of his wedding day,” Van Der Sluis explained. “Although these are happy memories, he’s still frustrated because he feels like he’s forgotten something, and therefore, [like he’s] losing something.”

Van Der Sluis’ score for the film is poignant and resonant. The music of “Day Off” perfectly echoes the deeply-nuanced emotions felt by Brendan and Laura. Her compositions tell the same story as the dialogue and images on-screen; they ring with lows every bit as devastating and highs just as euphoric as those of the film itself. Without uttering a single word, it was with “Day Off” that Van Der Sluis proved herself a master storyteller.

“It starts off delicately with a lone piano, which gradually increases in size with strings, winds, and rhythm section. It begins with a sparse, minimal texture and evolves into a more orchestrated, thick texture, which constantly repeats itself,” she explained, before revealing just how meticulously she considered every detail of the piece. “The act of repetition is a little ironic, due to portraying a character who is having trouble remembering certain life moments. But because one of his important memories is still there, his wedding, the repetitive music pieces seems to work.”

Every note of every piece she’s written has been guided by her philosophy that cinema is at its most powerful when the two are weaved together. Her adherence to that guiding tenet, together with her unrivaled skill, earned her quite a bit of attention for “Day Off,” including a nomination for the Best Score award by the Underground Film Festival.

The full breadth of Samantha Van Der Sluis’ work is staggering, yet each of her projects is linked by a common thread. Regardless of how different any two films may be, Van Der Sluis’ defining quality as a composer is her ability to visualize a project from the perspective of a storyteller. That skill, together with a meticulous attention to detail and a virtuosic understanding of music on an instinctual level, are what make Samantha Van Der Sluis an unrivaled composer in modern narrative cinema.

 

Copywriter Aahana Pereira teams up with celebrity DJs for Motul Rhythm campaign

Despite always having a love for writing, Aahana Pereira never expected in her youth that her passion would translate into advertising. In junior college, she was studying science and math, but she hated it. She quickly switched to Mass Media, not because of an interest in communications, but simply because it would mean she no longer had to take math. However, those three years changed her life. The more she learned about advertising, the more she knew she would be happy in the field. She would watch old advertisements from all over the world, read long copy print ads and learned a great deal about famous copywriters. She wanted to be like them. Combining her interests in writing and advertising, Pereira decided to pursue a career in copywriting, and has never looked back.

“On most days as a copywriter I follow a brief and write copy with as many options I have time for. It is not every day that we get an exciting brief or a project, so day to day is, so to say, average. That being said, I still push to make average better. Most days we work on small budget campaigns, and I aim to make each and every campaign, whatever the size, achieve greatness and make something I am proud of. Then, once in a while, we do get a brief where we get to showcase our creativity at the highest level, and that is just plain fun,” said Pereira.

Throughout her esteemed career, Pereira has worked on many projects for prolific corporations known worldwide. She has travelled the world doing what she loves, and consistently finds unique approaches to promote a product. This is exemplified with her work on commercials for Palmolive, Colgate, IBN 7, and many more. The highlight of her career came when she was given the opportunity to work on the Drink Up campaign, an initiative by First Lady, Michelle Obama in partnership for a Healthier America that encourages people to drink more water. Most recently, she worked with Falcon Agency in Malaysia on several successful campaigns, impressing all she collaborated with.

“Aahana and I have worked on several projects since we first met in 2017 – Motul Rhythm, Meet the Sydneyporeans, just to name a few. I really enjoy working with Aahana as her ideas are strong and always on brief. I love the passion she has for her work,” said Liz Leow, Regional Account Director, Falcon Agency Malaysia.

Working on Motul Rhythm was a project that excited Pereira. It was one of the first projects she worked on at Falcon Agency as a solo copywriter. Motul, a company that produces high-performance motor oils and lubricants, is not typically associated with music, making the campaign extremely original. The idea was to hold an online contest across the Asia-Pacific area where anybody could submit their original music, made completely from the sounds of their motorcycles. They asked fans to create sounds and upload it to the Motul Rhythm website. The prize for the winners was a chance to co-produce their own music track with Asia’s most well-known DJs, such as Terence c, Idham and Flickswitch. The selected winners were also sent to the MOTO GP event held in Malaysia in 2017, and the music track mixed by the DJs was then launched at an event in Kuala Lumpur.

“I thought the idea was good. A brand like Motul, which is such a low involvement category, was getting its fans excited. The idea was true to the brand values that stands by performance. In this campaign, performance has dual application – performance of the lubricant and oils meets performance in music. It was a synergy,” said Pereira.

Although the idea of Motul Rhythm already existed before, Pereira and her team adapted it. The idea was to get audiences to participate in a competition, where they had to submit sounds from their bike and reputable DJs would take the best sounds and mix it into a music track especially for Motul. However, the challenge was to entice them in a way that would encourage motorbike fans. As a team, they concluded that the hook would be that participants would get a chance to co-produce the music track by submitting their audio clip. This was discussed over a period of discussions. However, Pereira had never worked on Motul before or even the oil and lubricant category, so this meant she had to do a lot of research to figure out just the right way to target consumers. She had a sense of the Asian market but wanted to find just the right way to reach bike enthusiasts. It was more than just making them aware of the competition, it was getting them to participate in it. With the help from the team in Singapore and support from the team in Malaysia, they managed to launch this campaign, and those lucky few consumers managed to have their dream come true by working with DJs to create a track.

Other than launching the Motul Rhythm microsite, Pereira’s team created Facebook advertisements and digital banners to get the word across. This was the first point of communication and a way to generate awareness. It was very important to write copy that would make people stop and click, not to mention character limits in digital ads. Pereira met the task with determination and commitment.

“This project was fun. It incorporated bikes and music. I loved working on it and it was amazing to hear what people could create with the sounds of their bikes,” she said.

The Motul Rhythm campaign is just one example of Pereira’s creativity and determination. She took a unique idea and targeted just the right audience. Such talent is required to be a success in her industry, and for those looking to follow in her footsteps, she offers some important advice.

“One, be persistent. Keep aiming for good work even if they are not the big budget briefs.

Two, watch films, shows, read books that will expose you to different stories and styles of writing. You never know what will inspire you. Three, have a voice in your team. No matter what your title is, say something,” she advised.

 

Photo by Biel Calderon

Violinist Hui Cao brings joy of music to Zhuhai Jinwan while leading the Chamber Orchestra

From the time Hui Cao was just a baby, he would listen to his mother sing. As he grew, he began to sing with her, and his innate musical talents were evident even then. He could easily identify each note, and without any lessons, he effortlessly would carry a tune. The same occurred when he first lifted a violin; it felt like he was meant to play the instrument and has been doing so since he was a child. Now, he is one of China’s most prolific violinists.

With an impressive resume both playing and teaching, Cao’s career as a violinist has been extraordinary. He aims to share musical culture with both his admirers and his students. In 2013, he began teaching violin classes at Pooi To Middle School in Macau, a city on China’s South Coast. The popularity of the instrument rose dramatically when he was there, having such a celebrated musician teaching. He is currently practicing for the 2018 Music String Festival in Zhuhai Jinwan, a large festival in China. Not only will Cao be a soloist at the event, but he is also responsible for inviting other violinists to partake in a masterclass that he will then conduct.

“I feel like I can’t live without music. I like to play the violin to audiences and enjoy every moment,” he said.

Cao’s influence in Zhuhai Jinwan began in 2015 when he started playing in the Zhuhai Jinwan Chamber Orchestra. Founded only the year beforehand, Cao was instrumental to making it the success it is today. He was hired as the music director and concertmaster, in charge of every musician in the orchestra. During the three years that Cao has been leading the orchestra, they have played over 30 charity concerts and educated over 60,000 people in music.

We love to perform right in the community, whether that be in schools or small businesses. It brings lots of fun and music to the local people, and playing for charity is always a good thing. I think, as a musician, you play music that will hopefully help some people in this world. That is a wonderful thing, which is why I think performing for charity is so very important,” said Cao.

When Cao was invited to take part in the orchestra, it was still very new. He was immediately interested, wanting to help spread the joy of music whenever possible, and he felt Zhuhai Jinwan was the ideal location to do so. It is a relatively new city, and therefore music and the arts were not as developed as many other cities in the region. The local government wanted to change this, and therefore created the orchestra as a non-profit organization.

“People who lived in Zhuhai Jinwan did not have the opportunity to experience good, classical music the way that so many others do in the larger Chinese cities. I wanted to be the person to help change that,” said Cao.

After getting in touch with the sponsors, Cao began working immediately. He started with finding musicians for the orchestra and followed by choosing the perfect music. He wanted to select pieces that would excite the locals and allow them to appreciate classical music. When recruiting players for the orchestra, he reached out to the residents of the city, allowing them to get excited at the prospect of the first chamber orchestra in Zhuhai Jinwan.

“We are very honored to have Hui as our music director for the chamber orchestra. He is a talented musician and gives us a lot of support. The first day we met Hui we knew he could help us build this chamber group to a great success,” said Mok Ian Ian, Director of Zhuhai Jinwan Cultural Affairs Bureau.

Once Cao filled every spot on the orchestra, they started rehearsing twice a week. He helped the players practice, teaching them how to perform and offering insight from his many professional experiences. Most of the musicians were not trained, and it was Cao’s responsibility to do so. Under his direction, the entire orchestra went from many individual musicians to one entity, playing seamlessly. He also supported the guest conductor during rehearsals while still planning the music for each performance.

“I really admire the local musicians and their love of music. It was my job to help them become better players and make sure they improved, but you can’t teach passion. Directing these musicians was easy because of how much they enjoyed what they were doing,” said Cao. “I am also very thankful to the government and all the support we received from them. It was the people I worked with that made this such a special project. Everyone wanted to bring music to the community.”

Cao and the orchestra held their opening concert at the Zhuhai City Hall in 2015. It was extremely successful, and from there, they have continued to be recognized and praised by all sectors of society. Now, just a couple of years later, the orchestra is seen as a prestigious group of musicians.

“After three years of work, I saw the Zhuhai Jinwan chamber orchestra get more popular and professional. I am very happy, it has been like watching my kids grow up. I put lots of my time and energy into the group, and the results more than paid off,” he said.

Evidently, Cao is an incredible musician and director. What he accomplished with the Zhuhai Jinwan Chamber Orchestra is just one example of what this talented violinist is capable of. He truly loves what he does, and for those looking to follow in his footsteps, he says that is of the most vital importance.

“As a musician, I have only one piece of advice to those who are looking to pursue a career in music, and that is to love the music and enjoy the music. Music is always a great and interesting hobby, but if someone wants to become a professional musician, the path is very difficult. You have to persist and practice and remain focused on your goal every step of the way. That is why passion is key. If you do not have this, you will never be a true musician,” he concluded.

Sijia Huang shows the importance of music in animation

When Sijia Huang animates a film, she sees herself almost like a choreographer. She aims to make every movement as seamless and fluid as possible, almost like an infinite tide. This is her priority with every project she takes on. She always ensures she has the perfect balance between tension and looseness, generating the ideal rhythm for all of her films. She does not limit herself to one type of animation, and as long as the audience is moved by her work, she is happy. It is this mantra that makes her one of China’s best animators, and why she is taking the industry by storm.

Huang’s style is evident in every one of her films and is perhaps best displayed in her award-winning film Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil, a film conveying the struggles of humanity. Since then, Huang has seen continued success. Quitting Brave Victory, a film about warrior who begins a journey to find his strongest opponent, has over 2.6 million views online. BoxHome, is a story of a couple who live in a box, went on to win several awards. Breakfast, a fun film about a child’s imagination, made its way to several prestigious international film festivals.

“As an animator, I work for a variety of fields including film, television and commercials. I animate characters based on designs and stories. I would like to say animators are like magicians who bring things to life,” she said.

Huang’s flair for animated choreography is exemplified in the collaborative film for the event Measures & Frames. A partnership between a group of filmmakers and a group of composers, Measures & Frames featured the internationally renowned Pendrecki String Quartet performing five pieces of contemporary classical music paired with original visuals projected against a three-screen display for an unforgettable pairing of image and sound.

Measures & Frames aimed to create a conversation between the pictures and the music. They made something more like a painting: a world that embodies a story-like idea or emotion. It’s an audio-visual experience that gives the audience a new entryway into the music. Suddenly, audiences see structure and form that we couldn’t see before. What seemed impenetrable and unfamiliar can suddenly become inviting and enjoyable, especially with a very conceptual, sophisticated piece like Arcadiana, the film that Huang worked on for the event, which was a main part of the entire production. Music is a large part of Huang’s life, and this project gave her the opportunity to showcase this passion. It was also her first opportunity to animate to the music of a strong quartet.

“I was so happy that I could be the animator for this project. It made me want to make more music related projects. If an opportunity comes up to work on a music video in the future, I will jump all over it,” she said.

When the Director of the project, Michael Patterson, was looking for an animator to bring such a unique film to fruition, he thought of Huang’s work on her film Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil and knew she was just who he needed, knowing she was capable of choreography, which was very important to Arcadiana. He invited her to take part, and she immediately said yes. Patterson is famous his work on the animation for the famous A-ha music video “Take on Me” as well as creating the characters Stray Mob and MC Skat Kat, who appeared in Paula Abdul’s music video “Opposites Attract”.

“Music is abstract and invites the audience in—the visuals have to do this too,” said Patterson when speaking of why Huang’s animation was vital to the project. “The multi-sensory experience invites the audience to understand the form of the music in an expanded way. If you’re depicting the music too literally, you’re limiting the freedom to personally engage.”

Huang designed the main character that was used in the film and did the stop-motion animation. At the beginning of the production, she wanted to shoot the animation using the down shooter with paper cut puppets. When she showed the director her work, he asked me if she could also try to animate another 2D version using After Effect. In order to create a more defined looking for the skeleton puppets, she used the latest character pin and created the dance for two skeletons. With each revision, Huang got closer and closer to their vision, until finally she achieved perfection.

“I had the opportunity to collaborate with Sijia on a project titled Measures & Frames Sijia created the portion of the show that featured two skeletons dancing with one another. This part of the production was crucial to Measures & Frames, and Sijia was the only animator capable of combing choreography and animation to make our vision a reality. Her mastery of a variety of animation techniques made her indispensable to the project. Specifically, her utilization of Adobe After Effects, a digital visual effects, motion graphics, and compositing post-production application, was key to finishing the animation on the project. Sijia’s high skill level in using the latest animation techniques, as well as her remarkable versatility and distinct style, vastly elevated the visual portion of Measures & Frames,” said Michael Patterson, Grammy Award-winning filmmaker and Director, specializing in TV spots and music videos.

Huang stands by famous composer Veronika Krausas, who once said, “For some audiences not familiar with new music and it’s their first time hearing not one but five new works, it’s tough. I think that the added dimension of the video helps smooth that out a bit. This is a way for audiences to actually experience the music more and become more familiar with it. The video helps acclimatize people to the sounds, and then they’re more able to appreciate them.”

Those who attended Measures & Frames on March 28th, 2015, were wildly impressed with both Huang’s animation and the event as a whole. Experiencing music in a visual way was captivating, and Huang thinks it is of great importance.

“If the diverse crowd that delivered a standing ovation at the evening’s conclusion is any indication, this type of visual music experience has opened the doors of classical composition to a newer, younger crowd than the form has seen in quite some time,” Huang concluded.