Thank all so much for all of your kind support and feedback on my ELLE cover this month. A lot of you have mentioned that it’s ELLE Singapore isn’t available to buy wherever in the world you are, so I thought I’d share a few extra images and excerpts from the story, in which I talk a bit about my film and process (and probably reveal more of my spectacular nerd status than I’d intended).
In what ways would you say your love for the piano has guided your creative processes in your other works? Are there specific works so far where you can clearly say that it had a great influence over? Music generally informs all of my creative work. Certainly, it’s the first thing I notice about other peoples’ work. It was always so much a part of my upbringing, and really defined my spectrum of emotion, It doesn’t necessarily need to be so literally, either. Sound is a communicative tool that has such an impact on, for example, a subject’s energy on set, which is really apparent in any imagery – moving or not.
What was your relationship like with piano growing up? Did you have a love-hate relationship with it like many kids do, or was it more of a straightforward love affair? The process of learning to play and rehearsing a piece, for any musical instrument, is not a pleasant one. It’s tedious, exhausting and a test of patience and commitment. Even once you get over that, your spectrum of feeling as a kid is pretty limited on any plane. I was only really able to fully appreciate the impact of music and performance on my emotional state when I matured, and could think beyond the notes and the boxes I had to tick for exams.
How long have you learned the piano for? Who are some of your favourite composers? I’ve been playing since I was about 3 or 4. I gravitated towards more tumultuous, Romantic-era music. Spanish (Granados, Albéniz), German (Brahms, Wagner, Mendelssohn, Schumann) and French (Chopin, Berlioz, Fauré, Debussy, Ravel) composers later in the 19th Century and early 20th Century have always really resonated with me in their vulnerability – the rage and sorrow and uninhibited joy and every other extremity of their emotional plane are so directly reflective of their personal narratives and socio-political or cultural surrounds, and yet remain so open to the next performer’s interpretation. Miles away from their predecessors’ calculated composure.
What’s the main motivation behind creating There’s No Space Left In C# Minor? What does the title refer to? Why did you choose this particular Chopin piece to feature in the film? The piece is essentially about the accessibility of classical music in our modern, digital age, and how the medium itself can be communicated in ways that offer much more authentic and holistic experiences for the listener, or in this case viewer. In our present mindset of short attention spans and multimedia overstimulation, I don’t think pre-20th Century music is a terribly relatable medium for most. My work is always informed by my music training, and I’m increasingly drawn to projects and creative concepts that allow my fairly separate universes of passion – art, fashion, music, film – to coexist and feed into one another. Film seemed like the perfect medium for an exhaustive exploration of my favourite Chopin work (Fantasie-Impromptu in C#Minor) – thus the name. Dissecting it on every possible technical, psychological and abstract level.
Can you walk us through the creative process and artistic vision behind putting together the three acts in the film? The arc of the three acts begins in the studio, uncomfortable intimate and claustrophobic, prying into the unseen rehearsal process that is never really shown in the classical music universe. An undercurrent of frustration, mathematical approach to decoding notes, tedium in repetition. Act II is the big show: the nonsensical grandness and feigned understanding of an homogenous audience. Act III is the truest iteration of the piece. Hip hop and rap producer ACYDE and I worked on a remix of my concert hall recording together to accompany quite aggressively abstract visuals of what the original piece conjures in my mind. I also worked with artists KHLORIS, Vicki and Ted O’Donnell and Lani Mitchell on realising vivid imagery with my recording as their only stimulus. The goal was for the audience to see inside my mind and understand the breadth of Chopin’s emotional impact potential.
Putting yourself as the subject of a film must be terrifying, and surely requires a fair bit of self-love and belief. How do you cultivate that sort of confidence in everything you do? During the shooting process, this is honestly not something I thought a lot about, as from a stills photography perspective I’m quite accustomed to being both in front of and behind camera. However, in post-production it became really daunting. Baring yourself in such an uncontrived way is a difficult hurdle. The closer I got in time to an imaginable audience watching my work, the more difficult the editing process became. Before my first director’s cut screening in LA, I barely slept for days. But in the end, nobody can judge your true self. As a creative, external opinion is just something that you just have to let go of, and go with your gut.
You are possibly one of the most hardworking KOLs in the industry at the moment. How do you find all that energy? Is there anything you do to prevent that dreaded creative burnout? Diversification by working across multiple disciplines definitely assists with avoiding feeling stale or ‘burnt out’ creatively. No two days will ever look the same for me, Jumping from photographing on set, to meeting a client in a consultant capacity, to retouching endless stills, to skype calling our composer about the track for an upcoming film – all of these use different parts of my brain and I find if I’m losing focus on one thing, or struggling to conceptualise, it helps to move on to something completely different and return with fresh eyes or ears or mindset. I’m lucky enough that I work across enough fields that I can do that with ease and often.
You’ve mentioned some people not wanting to listen to your pitches because of your age. Does that still happen despite your portfolio? How do you manage difficulties like that? To my knowledge and peers’ similar experiences, it’s a pretty common challenge. No matter how well-versed you are in your field, our society is necessarily built to value years of experience over quality of experience. This is not a paradigm that is about to change in a hurry. Stick to your guns, and be comfortable with the fact that those who won’t give you the time of day or choose not to respect your opinions are not the people you want to be working with anyway.
Is there anyone you look up to in the creative world, and why? I’ve long admired Sergei Polunin and Svetlana Zakharova’s stamina, grace, charm and ostensible passion in their craft. I aspire to be so expressive in my work.
What are some of the things you love to do outside of creative work? I really enjoy consulting – obviously there is a creative arm to that as well, but the business strategy, e-commerce structure, market research, report and analysis involved with particular clients is so satisfying and fascinating for me.
What does love mean to you? Feeling so strongly about something that you would voluntarily allow it to overwhelm you to the point of losing sense of time and space.
PHOTOGRAPHY Margaret Zhang
HAIR Paloma Rose Garcia
MAKE UP Molly Warkentin
PHOTO ASSIST Nick Shaw
SECOND ASSIST Ana Suntay-Tañedoa