Sunday, August 11, 2013

Interview with a Contemporary Fusion musician: Tze

2011 Results - The UK Songwriting ContestSome years back, I got to know a Singaporean musician and composer from a songwriting meetup. Back then, I didn't really know what he did. But he seemed to know a lot about music.

Then I gradually found out that Tze Toh (or Tze, as he likes people to call him), was an award-winning composer (first prize in the 2011 UK Songwriting contest, Instrumental category).

2011 Results - The UK Songwriting Contest

In one of our occasional online conversation, he shared a long term vision of forming his own orchestra. Pretty grand goals and it sounded immensely difficult.

It wasn't all talk and no action.

Last year, he put up a concert. With an ensemble!

I bought a ticket and spent an enjoyable evening, at a musical show that was thoughtfully put together. Tze's music is a blend of jazz, with the piano and/ or asian-based instruments as centrepieces. That's my interpretation anyway.

Tze calls his music "contemporary fusion" with a blend of "film score, jazz, Indian, Chinese and European classical music". If you've not heard his music before, here's a taster from his 2012 "Tze n Looking Glass: Return to wonderland" trailer video:

Since his ensemble concert last year, Tze has put up one more show in early 2013. He's pretty prolific, for his third show is coming up just a few weeks from now, in September 2013.

He agreed to an email interview, so here it is:

Q: Fusion Jazz isn't entirely new. So what's unique about your music?
The orchestra improvises as well. So each musician infuses their own vision and ideas. I feel that is the one truly unique thing about our orchestra - an ensemble where everyone has a his/her own voice.

[Ivan here: Folks, I'll let that sink in -- an ensemble that improvises. Not easy!]

Q: What sort of audience would you like to have at your concert?
I think our music have a broad appeal - from fans of jazz, classical, film music, world music (even some Jay-chou fans and people who don't usually listen to music!). We would like to have people who want to truly experience a journey, and listen to our stories. We always hope that the audience takes something home with them after the concert, hopefully a bit of inspiration, a smile, or a positive feeling that life is beautiful and will get better

Q: For someone new to your work, can you give them a flavour of what to expect at your show?
Here's a 28min recording of highlights from the "Wonderland 2012" Concert

[Ivan here: One of my favourite songs from Tze's 2012 concert were the ones with the Indian Raga flavour, like this one that starts from 4min 17sec]

Q: What would you say to someone who ask, "Why should I attend?"
Haha. Because you may hear something not often heard. Different musical languages -- be it Jazz, Classical or Asian traditional sounds -- coming together to create new tapestries and soundscapes. Like how the Indian violin blends with bebop jazz saxophone like the coming of rain; the entire orchestra improvising collectively to sound like a forest coming alive; the acoustic bass sounding like a growling mythical giant that grows and pushes Heaven and Earth apart.

Q: What goes on in your mind each time you prepare for a concert.
There's a lot of thought that goes into the conceptualization of each concert. I think the big question is always, "Why?".

Why are we doing this concert, and why are we writing and creating this new music?

Then comes the questions of "What do we want to explore and say with this music"? And "How do we say it?"; how to express what we want to using the instruments, melodies, harmonies, scales, sounds etc.

There's many aspects to concert preparation, whether it's the technical, or the mental. Technical issues are straight-forward to solve, e.g. playing and rehearsing, working on details of music, but the mental side is tricky sometimes, because you need the musicians to understand what the concert/music is about, and to understand where it all comes from, in order to realise your vision. Often to understand something in depth, one needs to have gain certain experiences in life and it's hard sometimes, for say, younger musicians, concerning certain themes and issues.

Q: What goes on after?
Usually after concerts, there's the (self) evaluation part, and some sort of celebration :) But mostly it's about just taking our minds off the music. It's intense, preparing for a concert. Because you eat, sleep and breath the music for a month or two. Your mind is never away from the music - always thinking, conceptualizing every day, while you are taking the bus/train, walking, having meals etc. The mind doesn't stop working. So after the concert you have to slow down gradually for a week, up to a month, before your brain learns to relax again.

Q: Your shows are often accompanied by write-ups that describe the concepts behind your work. What's your musical philosophy?
I think it's important for every concert to have an essence. For me, each concert is about discovering something. There is something inside of us that we often need to express, discover/ re-discover. I think music itself is a very interesting way of looking at the world around us, and also discovering what it means to be a sentient being; what humanity means. The expression of music itself is our way of sharing with the audience how we connect with the world around us. And how as musicians we connect with each other, to create this bond and special "place/journey".

Every imagery, idea in your head has its musical equivalent. I see myself as a sonic painter, creating each piece as a means for audience to experience this world which I imagined.

Q: Tell us more about your coming concert in Sept 2013.
In this upcoming concert, "The Longest Dream", we explore our perceptions of time/space, reality and dreams. Much of the music is inspired by Asian mythologies of creation like Pan Gu (盘古), as well as breakthroughs in Quantum physics like the discovery of the Higgs Boson. I think it's fascinating how science, mythology and philosophy have common themes.

It features original music that I wrote, with new works inspired by the music of Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ennio Morricone, Keith Jarrett quartet, E.S.T trio, Ravel and Debussy.
The Longest Dream - 2013 concert poster

The concert will feature the following soloists: Lazar T.Sebastine (Indian violin), Teo Boon Chye (saxophone), Joyce Poh (Chinese flute), Julian Li Yongrui (acoustic bass), Wendy Phua (e.bass), Thirunalini Balakumaran (dance).

Audience can have a post-show dialogue with the artists after the concert.


The concert is on 5 Sept 2013, 7.30pm, at the Esplanade Recital Studio. If you're interested in tickets, they are priced at $30 each. Tze says there's a package price of $90 for a set of four tickets. Students get concessions prices at $18. There's an Early Bird price of $25 if you buy before 12th Aug 2013.

Tickets are at (note: A TICKETMASH booking fee applies for each ticket. Latecomers will only be admitted at suitable breaks. No admission of infant-in-arms and children below 6 years).

[UPDATE: Tze tells me tickets are also on sale on the day itself, outside the recital studio]

You can find out more about Tze and his orchestra at these pages:
Official site:

Tze can be reached at I'm sure he would love to know what you think of his show.

p.s. I'm asking a few friends if they want to attend this show with me.

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