This is the sixth instalment of the Charting Pathways series, where YST graduates look back on their experience at the Conservatory, and give us a peek at their plans for the future.
In this article, Mervin Wong (BMus '18, Viola) reflects on the process through which he developed his artistic identity, expanding his musical practice as a violist to embrace multidisciplinary methods and create holistic experiences for his audiences.
I began my journey at the YST Conservatory as a viola major, but over the course of my four years of study, this road has led me in rich directions as I embarked on explorations into a variety of genres and mediums. It was through the familiar lens of being a viola player, studying technique and going through the rigours of practice that I stumbled upon the then-unfamiliar paths of electronic music, media, and multi-disciplinary arts. At the end of my undergraduate journey, I can say that what drove me upon this search was finding my own voice and sound - and in the process discovering other pathways and means for expressing myself other than my instrument.
The turning point that sparked my quest occurred in 2015, when I was faced with illness that took me out from classes and daily life for a good 12 weeks. The 12 weeks saw me going in and out of hospitals, engaged in a battle that was not only physical, but psychological. During this time I had much to ponder, and it was then that I started to think more about the why and how of my craft - the question of what kind of artist or musician I would hope to be one day.
I started to think beyond being purely a viola major, and to see things in terms of broader questions: why I felt the need to express myself, and how best I could do this. I stumbled upon the realisation that while I was perhaps most familiar with the viola, there were other tools and brushes out there with totally different palettes that I could employ to paint this picture - the story which I was trying to tell. I began to explore possibilities in the mediums of movement, electronic and visual media. I envisioned a sound that was enriched and aided by these other tools - a more holistic performance that brought you through a journey of experience.
Encouraged by my peers and mentors alike, I came to experience my role as a musician in a new light. I am more a story-teller and guide rather than a musician; I perform with not just the viola, but with electronic instruments and sounds, visuals, lighting, and set designs; my work encompasses a whole experience for the listener and audience. I also began to participate in collaborations across genres, cultures, and disciplines with artists who shared similar views about artistic expression, which have been crucial in bringing me to where I am at today.
While I may be graduating from YST, I consider the pathway to graduation to be non-existent as learning is an endless bliss of a journey. Ever since embarking on my quest as a student, I have had the fortune to really find and define myself as an artist, through participating in conferences and music festivals across diverse locations such as Brazil, Iceland and Germany, as well as regional locations such as Thailand, Myanmar, South Korea and Hong Kong. Meeting like-minded artists and musicians and forging friendships during these moments has played an integral role in developing my own artistic and professional voice.
I consider myself blessed to have met colleagues, teachers, and friends both abroad as well as here at YST, who have deeply inspired me in my journey and my future endeavours.
In recent works, I launched my solo project Theemptybluesky and released an album titled Aphelion. I am currently a sonic alchemist, composing and sculpting music and sound, and collaborating with an eclectic array of artists from the disciplines of film, media, and performing arts to create and design unique experiences that engage both ourselves and our audiences.
Read the previous Charting Pathways article here, where viola graduate Muhammadyor Tulaganov (Dior) talks about how he discovered the viola, and the experiences and insights that have been key in his growth as a professional violist.