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An Interview with Composer Yi-Chen Chiang

Noni Ford

Nov 2, 2022

Establishing Shot

Last year, Yi-Chen Chiang was selected as the recipient of the Jon Vickers Scoring Award and will be showcasing her original score for the Jean Epstein film Cœur Fidèle at the IU Cinema on November 5th.

She is a recent graduate of Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music and currently works in Los Angeles as an audio/video QC specialist for Craigman Digital and a music/sound designer for Fu Jen Creative Design Center.

Before the debut of her new score, I sat down with Yi-Chen over Zoom to talk a little bit about her background, her influences, and the process of working on such a special project.

Noni Ford: How did you approach composing Cœur Fidèle?  

Yi-Chen Chiang: When I first saw this movie, I could tell it had so much tension in it. It’s kind of different from other movies of that time period. So, I wanted to use some different ways to compose, and I did some research on 12-tone technique and Impressionist music. And the 12-tone technique was just invented by Schoenberg in 1923, the same year as this movie. I think it’s good to use this composition scale for the film. Impressionist music is from the 19th to 20th century, so it was from the same period of the film; it came from France where the movie is set too. I imagined people 100 years ago watching this movie, with film being new to them and this music too, as it was just developed at this time. So, I wanted the music to match the time period of the original audience.  

NF: When you first started composing did you look for specific themes to make first or did you look at creating the whole overarching score for the film as your first priority? 

YCC: The movie is very huge, so I looked at it in ten-minute increments to compose. Also, I created leitmotifs for specific characters and scenes. For example, the discord violin melody is Marie’s leitmotif; alto flute solo is Jean’s leitmotif; and marimba is the crippled woman’s leitmotif. 

NF: What’s the most challenging aspect of composing in general? 

YCC: Initially for this film I wanted to write some classical Hollywood music because it’s more familiar to people. But after doing research and watching the movie, I chose to use atonal music for it, so not very Hollywood at all. The challenge was for atonal music—it’s not familiar to most audiences, and when I write it it’s hard to strike a balance for audience listening. Because they may think “what is this,” “there’s no key on it”, and “I don’t like that.” But I wanted to use the atonal music to express what the characters were thinking, but still not make it sound too discordant, so it’s challenging to strike that balance.

NF: I saw that you double-majored as an undergraduate and got a degree in film production. Tell me more about that and how it’s helped you as a composer. 

YCC: [Communication Arts] was really helpful, because with film production I collaborated with students and joined their team in-person when they were shooting their film as opposed to joining post-production. I used to be a boom operator with the film production team so I could know the production process and some film terms. Now when I’m doing some music scoring and talking with an editor or director, I can understand more what I’m talking about and I understand terms, which is very helpful. Majoring in communication arts was not just for music scoring or in-person production, it allows me to do different work like audio engineering, audio editing, sound mixing, and ADR work. It [helped me] accumulate more and more experience with film, which is helpful for my musical scoring. 

NF: Do you ever compose pieces completely separate from any other media?

YCC: I prefer to combine my musical composition with something, not just movies or short films but animation or commercials. I like to collaborate with other media, and music helps to tell the story. I like that aspect of it. 

NF: What piece of music do you come back to and what about it inspires you? Can you describe it and what you enjoy about listening to it? 

YCC: For me I really like Impressionist music, especially Ravel’s music. He’s my favorite composer. I’ll pick Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé (Lever du jour). This piece in the opera is talking about sunrise. If you listen to the piece, you can hear lots of woodwinds with very fast notes and it describes the image of the sunrise and the birds. For [Cœur Fidèle], in the scene at the amusement park I kind of imitate it. I also used lots of woodwinds with lots of fast notes with scales and arpeggios. It sounds very, very fast like they are playing in an amusement park, and I also use some harmony and rhythm from Impressionist music.  

NF: Thanks for your time, looking forward to hearing your original score at the screening on November 5th. 

YCC: Thank you, I’m very glad to join this interview.

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