Music in the Wilderness (feat. Erika)
When we were first conceptualising Wilderness, we knew that we wanted an original score for the music. Writing original music makes the work more relevant, and personal and gives us more control over the story-telling of Wilderness. Composing original work is challenging, but there are even more considerations to make when doing so for theatre; the music cannot merely stand alone but must reinforce the emotional quality of the stories.
Our process can be broken down into a few stages: Conception, Experimentation, Composition and Rehearsals.
After deciding on a script between February and March, the team and I discussed the vibes of the play and how we envisioned it to be staged. As I read the script, I could imagine the music as Raw, Experimental and Fluid. It was with this vision that I decided on an unconventional combination of mixed ensemble: Bassoon, Violin, Cello, Bass Drum and 2 vocalists (the vocalists were Ian Kang’s idea, and a great idea too!).
Reasons for Instrumentation:
Violin + cello (performed by Nicole and Yi Kai):
Both play in complementary registers and are very versatile instruments. They can also sound eerie (with the use of harmonics) and portray a sense of tension, especially when it is played on extreme registers.
Bassoon (performed by Aviel):
The pitched bass instrument brings balance to our otherwise more non-bass, pitched instruments. I also like the timbre. It is nasally and can be used lyrically through its clarity and objectivity.
Bass Drum (performed by Samantha):
I love the fullness of it and how big of a sound it can give. We also needed its aggression -- a characteristic needed for some parts of the script.
(Side note: it's really crazy + a miracle that we can perform with a bass drum because they are so hard to borrow/rent/find. I even got mocked for wanting to find a bass drum! Shortly after being mocked, someone found us a bass drum in 5minutes. So, really a miracle!)
Male & female vocalists (performed by Tara and Jia Cheng):
We were very interested in exploring the voice as an instrument—not only for singing parts with lyrics but also performing vocalisations in a mixed ensemble. I think including vocals also makes the music more accessible and relatable because singing and having a voice is innate and natural to us.
We had experimentation sessions for the bassoon and bass drum in particular, where we tried out contemporary techniques on both instruments with both players. On the bassoon, we explored techniques like tapping key clicks, helicopter tonguing, blowing through the reed and blowing through the bocal (the metal-straw-looking-thing the player blows into). On the bass drum, we explored its sound using different sticks/mallets, hitting on various parts of the drum and even dropping certain objects like marbles and pebbles on it.
Composition was a time of serious engagement with the demands of the work, shutting off the noise in the world and transcribing the music in the brain. It was a time of figuring out the identity of the music and developing its motifs. There were many short pieces to write, and the challenge was to make all of these short pieces cohesive as a whole.
Carole King’s So Far Away was material that heavily influenced the work. I thought the song was extremely relevant to the message of Wilderness. So Far Away can be heard sometimes in fragments, in phrases or even in whole sections. Some of the motifs have been developed into whole pieces.
We’re in the thick of rehearsals right now and we’re preparing to be show-ready, right and consistent. Combined rehearsals have been challenging as they require a lot of coordination between the cast and music committee. Integrating music and theatre is no mean feat and it takes a lot of hard work and patience!
Altogether, I believe that the music we’re creating here in Wilderness is new and I hope that by experimenting, we are pushing the boundaries of music x theatre integration as a company. We really hope that you’ll appreciate the contemporary/experimental nature of Wilderness and its relation to the entire production.
I’d like to add that the music is not only the brainchild of the composer but is a tremendous investment by the entire team.
I’d like to especially credit Claire and Clement who also wrote some pieces and gave many suggestions on how the music should sound. Clement has also been an amazing Music Director to work with and I can’t wait for you to see him conduct on show day.
Special thanks to Tara for being an on-task + responsible + reliable + highly invested Music Manager, and to Man Lin, Samuel and Tara for being wonderful and encouraging vocal coaches. Huge thanks to Sab too, for letting us use his house as a rehearsal venue and for seeing the whole music process through from the beginning.
The musicians—Tara, Jia Cheng, Nicole, Yi Kai, Aviel, Samantha—really helped us gain a better understanding of their instruments and gave great suggestions on how certain parts could be executed. AND of course, they are the medium through which the music is coming from.
Besides being the music director for our upcoming production, Wilderness, Erika is an executive member of The Runaway Company. She has composed original music for both our original musical, Runaway ‘18, as well as Wilderness ‘19.
Wilderness runs from 9 to 11 August, at the Stamford Arts Centre Black Box. Tickets can be found here.