Conductor of sound and noise

Music graduate Lee Kok Wey manages noise pollution at construction sites as well as ensures the acoustics of performance halls are of top quality.
Music graduate Lee Kok Wey manages noise pollution at construction sites as well as ensures the acoustics of performance halls are of top quality.PHOTO: COURTESY OF WASIN PRASERTLAP

In some ways, Mr Lee Kok Wey is the unseen conductor of the everyday orchestra of ambient sounds and noises.

The work of the 27-year-old consultant with an international engineering and design company ranges from managing noise pollution at construction sites in Singapore to ensuring that the acoustic properties of auditoriums, performance halls and residential and commercial properties are top notch.

The Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music alumnus, who majored in recording arts, says his career path has surprised those who know him, including himself.

"I never expected myself, with a music degree, to end up in engineering," says the youngest child of a retired sales assistant and a housewife. He has two older sisters; one is a housewife and another a tax accountant.

Indeed, his initial aspiration was to teach mathematics and he had applied to the National University of Singapore to major in the subject.

It was a chance meeting with his former band conductor from Presbyterian High School, while he was in national service, that he learnt of the conservatory's recording arts programme and decided to switch courses to pursue his twin interests in music and science.

An acoustics module he took later piqued his interest in the subject and prompted him to ask his professor at the conservatory to connect him with other acousticians here.

He says: "There were all these things I previously took for granted about sound and spaces that captured my attention and I wanted to know more about the application of acoustics in the industry."

In his final year at the conservatory, he snagged an internship with the international engineering consultancy Arup that saw him conduct environmental noise studies in Singapore and acoustic testing at the Victoria Concert Hall.

The internship eventually led to a job offer, which he took up readily.

He says: "I enjoy the different types of projects that my job exposes me to and my music degree allows me to bring a different perspective on sound to my work, especially when we are working with musicians."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2016, with the headline 'Conductor of sound and noise'. Print Edition | Subscribe