Interview with Victoria Cheah on the multimedial creative process
We interviewed composer Victoria Cheah about her creative process, in particular as it relates to her new collaborative piece with video artist Pawel Wojtasik, We burned the care of our flies for accordion, viola (played by Anne Black), and video and sound. This piece will be premiered on our second concert of the season on Thursday January 18, 2018 at Third Life Studio. – Hubert Ho, Co-Artistic Director
HH: What was the experience of writing for accordion like? How did you interact with Dino accordionist Kathy during this process?
VC: I was glad to get to know an instrument that I hadn’t had the chance to work with before. I find the construction of the accordion sound to be very interesting, and it was wonderful working with Kathy. We met to discuss what options her instrument has after I finished the piece, and it was valuable to sit down with her and try everything out, particularly regarding register switches and how pitches can affect timbre. We discovered a few combinations between the keyboard pitches, register switches, and bass chords that result in different kinds of audible beating – subtle, perhaps, but noticeable. I’m particularly interested in acoustic beating at the moment, so this was a nice fit, as the accordion is well suited to this effect.
HH: How did the experience of working with video artist Pawel Wojtasik expand upon, alter, or transform your vision of the composition?
VC: Working with Pawel has been great. Before either of us started work on the music or the video, we spoke on the phone to find a common ground for the project. Pawel had taken some video of a landfill some years back, and proposed using garbage and the sublime presence of a landfill as a conceptual start. I found this general idea fascinating, and also in line with my interests. We’ve had a few back and forth exchanges on both the music and the video, discussing what we think about each other’s work in progress and revising along the way. I feel like we’ve really been working on the same project together and hope that coherence comes through!
HH: In what ways does your music reflect upon issues of ecology, environment, or natural sustainability?
VC: In the purely aural medium, I have been exploring how small details can add up to larger consequences. This concept is relevant to how our actions affect the earth, the air, water, and so on, but from a structural perspective instead of an topical one. Another issue I’m interested in is repetition based in recycling and repurposing material, both musical material and physical materials, depending on the project. For example, the first version of my installation Studiolo (2014) made use of discarded packing materials, which were left over from another performance that took place in the same festival. The Studiolo is a little cardboard house, with speakers hidden in the walls playing unsynchronized loops. I thought the repetitive but constantly changing nature of the audio would match an environment built from leftovers, perhaps suggesting that there is more to gain, more to use, or notice, or learn from that which we might otherwise dismiss and discard.