A chat with Tze Toh, our Music Arranger.

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Faye, Kai and Tze Toh posing for a casual selfie after working on Sound Design

With an intuition in music and sound design, the award-winning composer-pianist Tze Toh is working hand in hand with Faye and Kai to highlight the emotional genuineness within their performance. Having a passion and strong drive to continually improve his work, Tze Toh has made an impact in the Singapore arts community with his authentic arrangements and compositions.

Most recently in 2015, Tze Toh created and presented his own music, sound design and story in the LAND with NO SUN : Promemoria in Esplanade. We are thrilled to have him as part of the production team. In She Ain’t Heavy, She’s Reaching into Space, Tze Toh will be looking to project the emotional subtleties and conveying strong messages through his composition as Kai and Faye work their magic on the dance floor. As Tze Toh continues to strive for originality in his music, we thought it would be a good idea to chat with him about his work.

  1.     Tell us a bit about yourself, what drives you?

I am fascinated by the world around us, how everything is connected, Man’s relationship with nature and technology, and how he constantly changes social structures and impacts the natural world. I love reading, learning about stuff, anything from architecture, quantum mechanics, tech developments, design, music, anime, film to video games, and they often offer inspiration for the musical works I create as well. I am a huge movie fan and am into film music, so I tend to watch a lot of movies/anime.

I like to get better and better in what I do, explore new possibilities when I create, discover new ways to express myself as an artist. I think the sheer joy of creating something, sharing it and connecting with another human being – that’s what drives me.

  1.     How would you describe what you do?

Fun and often exciting. Challenging as well, cos it gets harder each time – you expect more and more of yourself.

I like to think of myself as a painter of sound, I create as I hear pictures.

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Faye and Kai running through the musical numbers with their dance moves

  1.     How did you first get into doing sound designing?

I started composing since I was 10, as I wasn’t into reading scores/music notation. I enjoyed exploring, playing on the piano a lot. So since young I composed and improvised. I was curious as a child and always wanted to imagine and create stuff.

  1.     Could you walk us through the process of sound design?

What I am doing for this production is more of music arrangement, specifically for the compositions by Faye.

I wanted to retain the rawness and spirit of fun the songs/lyrics were created in, and amplify the emotional subtleties the words and movement often carried. It’s a seemingly whimsical story, but at the centre of it all, there’s a very passionate, dedicated message.

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Faye and Kai having some fun with the rehearsal process

Faye and Kai were extremely fun and passionate to work with and they were almost open to anything for the music arrangements. Their innocence, joy was really infectious! Each of the melodies Faye wrote had a distinctive character, so when I heard each I immediately could imagine the song arranged in a certain kind of musical context/genre. We sort of went crazy with it, and ended up with very different arrangements from song to song! It was hilarious during the sessions where we worked on the music. I shall not give too much away, but inspirations we drew from include anything from ABBA, Korean OST, Joe Hisaishi to musical theatre!

5..     Are there certain techniques that you tend to stick to, or do you prefer trying something new?

Having worked on a diverse range of projects, from live concerts, studio projects, pop, theatre, musicals, contemporary dance, film score, jazz, fusion etc, I have learnt to be adaptive and always focused on the desired sound. Often it’s about what’s the most important thing for the music to express – is there a message we need the audience to understand? Is it explicitly expressed by words? or something more abstract, like a mood, a feeling? Is it open-ended or conclusive? If you start knowing clearly what you need to express, then it becomes easy to work out the eventual kind of sound, music arrangements you need. With experience you realise you can get the same kind of effect with different approaches, so that’s when things get really fun.

  1.  Is there anything that people should know about sound production that they might not know/might falsely believe to be true? Any advice for anyone thinking of working in this field?

I guess people don’t realise how difficult it is to create good (concise) music, sound design – you shift a note a half-beat, and the world changes.

You never stop learning, evolving. It’s a lifelong process and commitment. There’s a huge body of knowledge you first need to accumulate and there’s a lot of experimentation and exploration. Someone once asked me, “why does it seem like you can just create beautiful melodies so effortlessly?” My reply was “because I have already tried many, many possible melodic paths over years of writing – I kind of know what works over a chord and what doesn’t., or what instruments work with which others.”

It’s hard work, literally trial and error. You just keep writing, analysing, experimenting, song after song. If you ever think you are good, you never will be. If you have that patience, dedication, over time your perception changes. What you hear/can hear evolves. And then you realise actually all forms of music are not that different. You start of understand music in its most basic building blocks, and realise it’s a relationship between sound and silence. Like Yin and Yang or 1s and 0s.

My advice is, you need that sense of wonder like a child always, and a true unwavering love for the music. I have been composing for more than 25 years and I am still discovering new things every, and I feel that excitement each time I sit down to write. There are always bad days or moments, but if ultimately you don’t give up when you truly love something. You accept failure is part of the process, and you just make sure you to do better the next time. You have to be relentless. You don’t actually stop thinking about something if you are crazy about it. You sort of live, sleep, breath, eat music haha. You can’t help it.

For me, I always believe, you need to always put the music before you – ask not what your art can do for you, but what you can do for your art. It’s that simple, and that difficult at the same time 🙂


She Ain’t Heavy, She’s Reaching into Space will be presented on 28 and 29 July 2016, 8PM at 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road. What better way to spend your afternoon than to witness the artistic ingenuity of Tze Toh yourself? Email sheaintheavy@theatreworks.org.sg or call us at 6737-7213 to book your tickets now!

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