At the moment, I am most well-known as the composer of the AIDS Memoir Quartet, a 90-minute excerpt from my String Quartet that is a memoir of the years I devoted to being an AIDS activist during the height of epidemic in the 1990s.
I am a composer. My music is like a diary. At least, it’s the part that cannot be said in words, whereas the part that can be will be.
Is my life so interesting that you would want to – literally – hear about it? I’ll put it another way: there is no such thing as a life without something fascinating in it. This I believe. Everyday I observe people around me and I have repeatedly come to this conclusion. My life is not extraordinary. And yet as Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.” It makes you reconsider what ordinary means.
Since about 1985 I have been sketching my two pieces Solo Piano and String Quartet. Some passages are fully-written and have been performed, but the vast majority of the works is only in sketch form or even just idea form. These two pieces have seen me through all my adventures, from my years in the United States to my new home in Australia, from my college days to my health lobbyist/activist days to my work as a musicologist and record producer, and to now, someone who is first and foremost a composer.
It only gradually dawned on me that I was only meant to write one piece in any one genre. There will only ever be one string quartet, one solo piano piece, one opera. As I was writing my piano piece, I couldn’t end them. When I ended a piece, it felt like the ending of a section, not of a work. So I eventually caved in, and embraced this insane idea which, to the best of my knowledge, has not been executed by other composers. Far from being triumphant, it made me feel nervous. If not one other composer had done this before, maybe it’s because it can’t be done.
For me, every time I write music, it is a journey into the unknown. It’s been said that the quality of your life depends on the quality of the questions you ask. The quality of the music depends on the quality of the questions the composer asks. I don’t write by formula and my music has very little repetition. If you ever see a passage that resembles another, it’s because I asked the same question and felt I was going to get different answer.
As for the barebones of my life – I was born in Malaysia where I spent my childhood and early teenage years; I moved to Australia 19 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin where I spent my late teenage years and early 20s. I hold a Bachelor of Physics from the famous university there. While there, I also worked as a molecular biologist in a retrovirology laboratory run by Rex Risser and studied music under Conrad Pope, J.Peter Burkholder and the Pro Arte String Quartet. When I arrived in Australia I became a health lobbyist and a drug-runner, importing bootleg anti-HIV drugs then unavailable here. In 1996, when the AIDS medical and activist movement produced the miracle drugs called protease inhibitors, I considered the AIDS crisis, as I personally knew it, to be over. I returned to music, studying for a Master of Musicology at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. I got a tremendous opportunity to join a tiny team at ABC Classics, which we grew into the country’s largest classical record label. As its artistic director I had a whirlwind of a time producing a decade’s worth of the most important classical recordings.
And then I left to follow what has always been my first passion – to be a composer. What I didn’t anticipate was that the process of rekindling my composer spirit would also be a journey of breathtaking personal development. It’s this journey – towards fearlessness, my life’s purpose, right entrepreneurialism, a cosmic sense of abundance – that I’m still on and am sharing on this website. Please stay and read – and listen – awhile.