11 Feb 2021
To celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year on 12th February 2020 we created two brand new albums Scenes of China and China: Festivals & Celebration.
The first is filled with evocative pastoral scene setters with traditional Chinese instrumentation blended with a Western string section. China: Festivals & Celebration is filled with bright and jubilant cues featuring traditional Chinese instrumentation, creating an authentic, multi-textured soundscape, transporting listeners to street processions and traditional Chinese festivals. Both albums were expertly crafted by composer Kokjun Phang and renowned musician and composer Richard Harvey. To find out more about the creative process and how Kokjun and Richard pulled off a multinational collaboration, despite global Covid restrictions, we spoke to both composers on a video call to delve more into the making of these two unique albums…


How did the albums come about?

RH – West One Music wanted an authentic and traditional Chinese music album for our new Asia Record Collective label. At the time I was working on the score for Disney’s Mulan live-action feature, so it was fitting that I join the creative process and production of the album. My experience on Mulan made me realise how seamless it was working and recording between London and Singapore (and even Los Angeles!) and it started a great working relationship with the recording studios in Singapore. When the Pandemic came into play (March 2020) I was in Thailand, so it was a brilliant opportunity to partner and worked closely with Kokjun.

KJ – I think Singapore is in a very interesting position geographically and culturally, not only do we speak English and Mandarin, but many Chinese musicians go through the same conservatoire training as Western musicians. Chinese musicians can handle both traditional Chinese material and other genres as well, this versatility was important.


What inspired the albums and how did you produce them?

KJ – Music in China is for a purpose like festivities and ceremonies, or to describe the moon and the lakes. We were looking for something that would fit celebratory events, so we started identifying the different moods and styles that we wanted. We talked about the traditional imagery that lots of Chinese music was supposed to evoke and our two albums were organically developed, one for festivals and one for scenery, these became the two titles.

RH -There was a point where we thought of going very non-traditional and some of these examples had electronic programmed drums, but these sounds would not have resonated around the world. We decided to keep the pair of albums acoustic.

Chinese music is suspended in the air, it’s all about the melody and losing yourself in mystical fantasies and beautiful imagery. However, chords have become more and more prevalent as China has moved into the film and TV scoring world.

KJ – This is very accurate Richard, there is a lack of bassline because there was a lack of drum instruments. There has always been an obsession with melody and everyone plays the same melody in Chinese music. However, the bass is seeping through into Chinese music because of modernisation and the mutual influence of Western music.

It’s interesting because I grew up playing both Western and Chinese instruments and Richard you grew up with Classical instruments and then you were introduced to lots of Asian instruments. This project made us meet in the middle and I think it’s wonderful that this connection can happen.

RH – It is always important and works best when these collaborations are based on strong mutual respect.

KJ – With these two albums we were trying to create a balance between Chinese instruments and recordings of Western strings (recorded in Prague), we had a nice organic balance, and we didn’t need to rely on any electronics.

RH – The thing that gives these albums a quality stamp is that strings have been used in Chinese film scores for a long time, and they sit very comfortable with Chinese instruments, they don’t seem out of place. Chinese and Western music interlock in an exciting way.


Can you talk about the Recording Process, especially during the global lockdown?

RH – Recording took place in five venues. We recorded in my home studio (in the UK), where I have lots of Chinese instruments and we recorded some percussion for the album at the wonderful and unique Karma Studios in Thailand and then the string orchestra was recorded in Prague, we did this via video call in a Covid safe way.

KJ – We also recorded in two Singapore studios, a large one for the drums and large ensemble and a smaller project studio for the solo instruments…..so we employed the wonders of technology to do some more remote recording with Richard who was back in England at the time, that was fun. Covid forced us to think about solutions to record remotely. This way of recording is something to consider in the future.

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