Earmark with Tze Yeung Ho

February 9, 2017

In our ongoing series of posts on new associate composers, we have an entry from our conversation with Tze Yeung Ho. Tze Yeung is a Norwegian-Canadian composer of Cantonese descent. He spent his formative years in Toronto, and is now based in Oslo, Norway—these two cities are centres for his musical activities. Some of his teachers and mentors include Toronto-based composers Gary Kulesha, and James Rolfe, while Trond Reinholdtsen and Asbjørn Schaathun have been mentors during his time in Norway.

Apart from hearing from Tze Yeung about his musical roots, he shared how he defines, and relates to community when he is part of two geographic communities with distinct attitudes and attributes.

CMC: What got you excited about music at a young age?

Tze Yeung Ho: I was eagerly collecting blank staff paper as early as five or six years old according to my mother’s somewhat mythologized recounting of my childhood—although, I do vaguely recall a time when I was browsing through a bookstore in Hong Kong and I begged my mom to buy me one of those large staved exercise books for harmony exercises. As I grew up in a small town in Northern Norway with non-musical parents, I had little contact with classical music at that age. So I guess what initially fascinated me was the prospect of notating symbols where certain people translated them into sounds.

CMC: What was the most important music concert/event you attended?

TYH: Neither a personally nor emotionally moving experience, but an eye opening ‘concert’ I attended was the Norwegian premiere of Johannes Kreidler’s Audioguide in Ultima Festival 2014 in Oslo. Kreidler’s “new conceptualist” piece is delivered through humorized loops of the 9/11 videos, anti-feminist gestures, overtly sexual displays on screen and destruction of instruments—a hundred Chinese factory-grade violins, to be precise—on stage. Perhaps the piece comments on how an audience today reacts to the concept of shock value, but what was truly eye opening was how indiscreetly Kreidler presented the idea. I think it was that moment when I really understood what it could mean being a composer in Europe versus being a composer in Anglophone North America. I didn’t sit through the whole six hours of performance and I would never imagine creating anything remotely similar to Kreidler’s. However, attending this performance definitely shattered my North American student attitude towards music making.

CMC: What is on your personal playlist?

TYH: I keep two playlists: one for focused listening and one for less mindful listening. For my focused listening list, I have works of Rebecca Saunders, Morton Feldman, Hans Abrahamsen, Bent Sørensen and Kaija Saariaho lined up at the moment. For the latter list used for clearing my thoughts on bus and subway rides, I have some Glass Animals, Agnes Obel, Cocorosie and Lana del Rey on a mindnumbing loop, which I believe is important to balance the otherwise intensive musical focus in my composing.

Although not fitting in an audio playlist, another composer I have been paying quite a bit of attention to, visually and musically, is Manos Tsangaris. Going back to my childhood fascination of coding happenings on paper and making others perform it, I think Tsangaris really brings this idea of musical and physical instructions and control to a whole new level.

CMC: How do you define your musical/artistic community?

TYH: I would like to think that I belong in musical/artistic communities (plural) since I have moved back home to Norway. Having spent almost equal halves of my life in each country, I can safely say that Canada and Norway are two completely different musical worlds. Norway is a small country with a tightly-knit and vibrant musical community and one easily feels being part of the bigger picture when they are creators in the arts. In comparison, Canada is an enormous landmass where there are many pockets of activities of strikingly different artistic levels and demands. So in that sense, I often feel like I have to change my language and attitude for music, depending on the context and nature of the work and the people I work with.

The one defining characteristic that I see the Toronto and the Norwegian music scenes share in common is the periphery identity. This has propagated constant attempts—on a local or national scale—to define themselves aesthetically, politically and socially from their southern neighbours.

CMC: Tell me about a project/work of yours that you are particularly proud of.

TYH: I am happy to have recently co-founded the new music ensemble +47 with my colleagues at home. We had our debut concert in Oslo in the past autumn and I had the fortune of realizing my piece fold min ryggrad pent om jeg dukker i betong for 2 violas, 2 harps and prepared piano. The ensemble will play its second concert this coming spring, as part of an anniversary celebration of the Norwegian Academy of Music.

Check the CMC community page regularly for more composer profiles! You can visit Tze Yeung’s personal page for additional information about his career.