Reflections: Two weeks in Guizhou • 回顾贵州暑期实践

Over the past two weeks (4 – 14 July ’18) I had the privilege of being part of a Shanghai Conservatory of Music  trip to Guizhou, China, as a visitor from Royal College of Music. The purpose of the trip was primarily to expose post-graduate conservatoire students to village music-making cultures (so that such awareness might rub off on their academic and creative work), and secondarily, to facilitate the exchange of music-making practices and sensibilities between village and conservatoire musicians through holding joint ‘volunteer service concerts’ in various villages. A significant portion of this article has been submitted for an upcoming memorabilia publication by the Shanghai Conservatory; I am posting it here with the addition of photos, as well as well as more extensive thoughts regarding composition.

I set out for Guizhou knowing that this would neither be my first time in China nor touring a Chinese village, having previously visited Zhouzhuang (in Jiangsu), and a Bai village in Dali. Nonetheless, I was excited about meeting and hearing the musics of the Dong and Miao people in this province. It was with such anticipation that I arrived, ready to learn more about these ethnic minority groups—their ways of life, beliefs, customs and traditions—and experience their music-making activities. After all, this was why I signed up for the trip—a big reminder to self that the classical contemporary realm (within which I mostly operate) is, really, not all there is to Music.

Continue reading “Reflections: Two weeks in Guizhou • 回顾贵州暑期实践”

some recent stuff (CD album)


Me: “Hi, I’m Ji Heng, I’m doing my Masters in Composition right now at RCM.”
New acquaintance: “Oh, composition! What kind of music do you write?”

Not sure about other composers, but I’ve always found it especially tricky to describe the ‘kind of music’ I write. On one hand I don’t want to start blabbing away about the compositional concepts I’m interested in, but on the other hand I also hope to give my new acquaintance an accurate yet understandable description of my music. Consequently, I find myself at best vaguely tongue-tied, at worst just dismissing my work (on which I do spend considerable time and effort) as ‘music without key signatures’, ‘bleep-blob-bleep music’, or even ‘music you wouldn’t listen to’ (which, I’ve realised, sounds more condescending than self-effacing).

Continue reading “some recent stuff (CD album)”

A practical on viable ways of using indeterminacy in repose III (2018)

This essay was written earlier this year for a module (Context, Materials and Repertoire) of my Masters Composition Course at the Royal College of Music. I am posting it here since it is a product of self-reflection in my compositional practice.

A significant part of the research discussed in this essay has been born of practical necessity from my[1] recent involvement in an ongoing College project, in which composition students are invited to write new pieces for our peers in Consort 21, a Historical Performance (H.P.) chamber ensemble. I had already written a piece (repose I) in dialogue with my coursemate’s (repose II), when there came a request for more pieces for an unfixed number of performers. Continue reading “A practical on viable ways of using indeterminacy in repose III (2018)”

On Approaches to text


Finally, some breathing space after an orchestral workshop submission deadline yesterday, which also means it’s time to get my desk organised. As I was rearranging my printed scores and manuscripts, my handwritten notes for an RCM composition faculty class presentation in January popped out. After reviewing it, I thought it’d be relevant to share the ‘script’ here, since it reflects my continuous journey of compositional self-discovery.

A bit of context: Over the duration of two faculty classes, the first-year Masters Composition students were each given twenty minutes of airtime to discuss their music, recent projects, interests, influences, etc. For my presentation, I talked about my exploration of various approaches to using text in my recent pieces—a ‘come-listen-to-what-I’ve-discovered-so-far’ kind of talk.  Continue reading “On Approaches to text”

What next?

For the past seven years I’ve been composing, searching for my ‘own voice’ (or compositional language, whatever it is called) has been an ongoing aspiration. I have, however, never sincerely considered how to achieve a ‘voice’ as such. I thought that as long as I kept myself open to exploring new techniques and a variety of musics, I would eventually muster sufficient ‘essence’ (or experience) to forge a unique identify in my own pieces. At this point of writing, I still agree there is truth in a thought as such, but with the awareness that the extent of my ‘openness’ (the size and shape of my ‘fishing net’) is influenced by my aesthetic predilections.

There is nothing objectively wrong with predilections. (Is there ever any, in the realm of musical subjectivity?) They are very much reflections of one’s personal background (familial upbringing, living conditions, etc.), musical training, listening habits, … One’s self, really. What is crucial, I realised, is that one (especially a composer) not only consciously acknowledges predilections, but seeks to broaden their scopes beyond one’s comfort. In other words, it is possible for one to constantly grow to discover new likings, particularly those significantly different from previous likings. It might seem contrived to force oneself to like things that one evidently doesn’t. Yes, it feels all the more ironic when we view our musicking as a way and source of enjoyment and fulfilment (again, whatever those mean). Yet if one sees things through the perspective of time, and considers one’s non-likings as indicators in the mere present, then one has to confront the possibility of changes to one’s predilections in the future. This is a helpful mental corrective at times when I feel ‘enslaved’ to my predilections in an a priori manner: “I don’t know if I’d come to like this thing I don’t like. I might, eventually. So why not confront it and try liking it now?”

Continue reading “What next?”