Chong, Kee Yong (2016) Multi-layered ethnic and cultural influences in my musical compositions. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

In this doctoral thesis, I examine the influence of multi-ethnic cultures and heritage of East and Southeast Asia on my compositional development. Although the imitation of the outward features of other cultures is an important part of the attempt to compose cross-cultural pieces, such imitation is only one part of the learning process. The most difficult task is to make a meaningful cultural confluence out of these influences. My original contribution to music lies in the way in which I have activated the legacy of my multicultural Malaysian heritage and combined a strong focus on Chinese cultural traditions with a wider Malaysian context that involves theatre, philosophy, rituals, and spirituality.

Over the past few years, I have composed cross-cultural works for traditional East and Southeast Asian and Western instruments, collaborating with multiple musicians in Asia, the United States, and Europe. The compositions discussed in this thesis reveal the various elements of my writing for Chinese instruments that are at once original and eclectic. I am particularly interested in incorporating various East and Southeast Asian musical practices such as Chinese dialect folk songs (especially Hakka storytelling and mountain songs), Gamelan music from South East Asia, Indian ritual and ceremonial music, ancient Chinese court music, and chanting of classical Chinese poetry, Korean Pansori music, and Japanese Gagaku music to create my own compositional techniques and languages. Using my compositions as examples, I illustrate the incorporation of East and Southeast Asian vocal and instrumental techniques into Western musical languages. In the first two chapters, I focus more on the importance of Chinese sources of poetry and philosophical thinking in a number of large-scale works. In the third chapter, I examine the key compositional roles played by elements such as sonic mobility and spatialisation, the interplay and interchange of roles in instrumental writing, and the concept of “living ornamentation” in creating heterophony and vocalisation, and present a detailed analysis of one of my works Yuan-Liu (2009). I explain how sonic mobility and spatialisation, as realised through unique instrumental setups in my compositions, are deeply informed by my childhood experience of listening to the acoustics of nature in the woods. In the concluding chapter, I discuss how I use the concepts of time, narrative, and cultural confluence in my music.

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