Meet Ng Sze Min, Bachelor of Music (Interactive Composition) graduate from the Melbourne Conservatorium

Ng Sze Min. Image by John O’Rourke.
Ng Sze Min. Image by John O’Rourke.

After completing a three-year diploma in music composition at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore, Ng Sze Min moved to Melbourne to study Interactive Composition. She discusses daily life at the Conservatorium, personal highlights from her studies, and her hopes for the future.

Although I knew it would be a challenge being away from home and my family, I really wanted to study a music composition course in which cross-discipline collaboration was a major part of the program.

The schedule of an Interactive Composition student is pretty full. Classes begin at 10am, usually in the form of workshops. After lunch with friends on campus, and an afternoon seminar or showing of work, I’d often stay on in the Digital Hub to finish up some work or (if I wasn’t too exhausted) meet with some of my collaborators. If I was working on a theatre show, I would cross campus to the Performing Arts Building and participate in a devising process or rehearsal with the actors.

Ng Sze Min with fellow Conservatorium of Music students Keidan Morley (saxophone) and Rose Gonzalez (guitar). Image by John O’Rourke.

I love working on projects. In second semester each year, I had to put together a cohesive 20-minute show with the individual projects done over the semester. It pushed me to think more conceptually and completely about my compositions, which developed my ability to draw connections between ideas and present them to audiences. It was an extremely challenging part of my study, yet the most enjoyable because it was the most rewarding.

As far as I was able, I tried to give every project I wrote for the course a life outside the Conservatorium. As well as submitting them as assessment for my degree, I also submitted these projects for festivals. My work Six States of Love – a one-on-one live art performance based on six words relating to love from different languages around the world – was first presented at an Interactive Composition-led show Love Remixed (2017).

Later that year, it was presented at the emerging artist festival ARTas in Singapore, and at the Festival of Australian Student Theatre in Brisbane. Another work, Stanza to Song, was an on-the-spot poetry singing work, where participants wrote or brought along a poem which I then turned into a song. This was presented at Singapore’s Poetry Festival 2017 and the University of Melbourne’s Summerfest 2017.

Ng Sze Min’s work Six States of Love. Image supplied.

Most recently, my audio documentary Reason to the moon was an official selection at the 15th Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in the United States. Paper Orchestra, a participatory performance work, is being programmed as a knowledge transfer activity for the National Library Board Singapore’s Programme for Teens.

The exchange hangover – a series of site-specific audio, participatory work that seeks to revitalise local attractions for widely travelled Singaporeans – received a NOISE Matchbox Grant from the National Arts Council of Singapore. All of these projects I created in my final semester at the Conservatorium.

Ng Sze Min performing her work Stanza To Song. Image by Poetry Festival Singapore.

Going into the profession, I feel that my experience at the Melbourne Conservatorium has offered me a head start through the collaborations set up across different discipline areas. In my two years at the Conservatorium, I worked with students from film, dance, theatre, music theatre, and production. Interactions with students outside of music has provided a foundation for the kind of language used in each art discipline and allowed me to form working relationships that will continue outside of university.

I really enjoyed the Breadth subjects I took on the Parkville campus. It was such a great opportunity to be able to dabble into the fields of literature, arts, sciences and philosophy. One of the subjects, Arts in Florence, was an intensive subject held in Italy. For three weeks, I lived and studied with students from different faculties, attended lectures conducted in classrooms, museums, and in front of paintings and sculptures. We also travelled to Sienna and Pisa as part of the subject. It was an incredible experience.

Opportunities from the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) Creative Arts Department, biennial Mudfest and volunteer activities on campus have connected me to the larger university community. Online newletters such as Union House Theatre’s Enews Followspot, UMSU and the Student Portal mean that help was easily found when I asked for it. It was through these platforms that I got opportunities to expand my areas of interest such as participating in devised theatre with the Union House Theatre and the Writers-in-Residence Programme 2017, entering (and winning!) the 5 Minutes of Fame competition and receiving the Creative Development award from Mudfest.

I try to keep in mind is how important it is to notice what you come into contact with each day: how the weather interacts with the trees, how the light casts colours into the air and into the waters. Every moment has a hidden potential, a learning opportunity; and we don’t have to travel places far and wide to find them. As I need plenty of headspace for thought, I always try to find the balance between relaxing and exerting energy. When I’m not working on my compositions or collaborating on a performance work, you can find me in galleries, festivals, libraries and shows – catching all the great ideas circulating around.

I have three main goals for the next few years. Now I’ve moved back to Singapore I’d like to develop more work in collaboration with community members. I’d also like to translate my knowledge into accessible audio works and participatory performances. And finally – I’d like to receive my first commission to compose a new work.