Singapore musicians featured in Michael Bay's pandemic movie Songbird

Musicians Jonathan Ngeow and Calista Liaw. PHOTO: CHUA WEIJIE

SINGAPORE - Michael Bay's pandemic thriller, Songbird, has a soundscape featuring musicians from about 15 countries, including Singapore.

Jonathan Ngeow, 31, and Calista Liaw, 20, are among 25 international musicians who recorded themselves remotely and worked with acclaimed composer Lorne Balfe to create a pandemic soundscape.

Songbird, the first feature film to be shot in Los Angeles since the Covid-19 lockdown, is a romantic thriller set four years into the future when Covid-23, a mutated version of the virus, continues to ravage the world.

It is produced by Bay and directed by Adam Mason.

Ngeow plays the ruan and Liaw the erhu, both traditional Chinese string instruments. They were invited to be part of the soundtrack after an American music production company spotted them on Instagram.

Ngeow is a member of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, while Liaw is a first-year Bachelor of Music (Music & Society) student at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music.

They were given the film score and a backing track and recorded themselves remotely - Ngeow at home and Liaw at her university with the help of a professor. Their recordings, along those by musicians elsewhere in the world, were later woven into the film.

Ngeow says they only found out the project was a film during a Skype meeting in which they met Mission: Impossible composer Balfe.

"When they told me it was for a movie, I was even more excited... I grew up watching Michael Bay movies - all the action movies, Transformers and so on," says Ngeow, who was also one of 16 musicians from Singapore's Ding Yi Music Company who recorded music that was later used in Disney's Mulan this year.

Liaw adds: "I was stunned. I would never have thought I would one day get to be part of the recording for a Hollywood film without being actually there."

Bay is known for his big-budget action films such as Armageddon (1998) and the Transformers series (2007 to present).

Songbird, which stars KJ Apa, Sofia Carson, Craig Robinson and Bradley Whitford, has drawn controversy.

In July (2020), the Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists told its members to refuse to work on Songbird, with a spokesman saying the film's producers had not been transparent about their safety proctocols. The labour union, however, rescinded its "do not work" order shortly after.

The film was released on premium video-on-demand platforms this month to mixed reviews. Some people have accused it of being "insensitive" and capitalising on the ongoing pandemic.

Liaw hopes people will watch the film with an "open mind".

Addressing the practice of recording music remotely, she says: "In the past, for film music, musicians would go down to the recording studio to do the recording.

"Covid has shifted the possibilities - this opens up opportunities for musicians worldwide."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.