Huayi – Chinese Festival Of Arts 2020

Chinese music meets silent films

Lincoln Lo (left) and Law Wai Lun (right).
Lincoln Lo (left) and Law Wai Lun (right).

The familiar slapstick antics of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin will be set to the unexpected strains of Chinese music in Unspoken Melodies - Silent Film Classics In Concert, the Singapore Chinese Orchestra's Huayi offering this year.

The live accompaniment features original music composed by Hong Kong composer Lincoln Lo and arrangements by his uncle, Cultural Medallion recipient Law Wai Lun.

They first collaborated on a live soundtrack accompaniment at the 2014 Huayi festival, creating a piece for the 1934 Chinese silent film, Goddess, starring Ruan Lingyu.

The Composers and Authors Society of Hong Kong awarded the production the Golden Sail Award for The Best Orthodox Musical Work of the Year in 2016.

Law, 75, says the warm reception inspired them to collaborate again on another live soundtrack project. "We are hoping to break the boundary between East and West, to try to explore the field of early Western silent films, and offer surprises and enjoyment to the audience again."

Shanghai-born Law has fond memories of watching Keaton and Chaplin as a child: "My father, Lincoln's grandfather, owned a small home movie projector and we watched these early silent films at home. It was a childhood treat."

Lo, on the other hand, is not a fan of the legendary silent movie comics and credits his uncle with introducing him to the joys of silent films.

He was more preoccupied with the technical and aesthetic implications of his choices. He says: "The length and content of the clips are key, and I must consider the audience's openness to the films."

The 41-year-old, who has racked up composing credits for more than 200 film and TV projects, was tasked with choosing the silent films for the project.

 
 
 

Besides excerpts from Chaplin's The Adventurer (1917) and The Vagabond (1916), the choices include Keaton's comic segment Rome, from the 1923 film Three Ages, as well as the original 1910 Frankenstein.

Law says the project brings together two very different cultural entities and presents a challenge to the creators.

"First, there is a big difference between Western music and Chinese musical instruments. Most of the movies we watch are accompanied by Western music soundtracks, and Chinese music only occasionally embellishes this soundtrack.

  • BOOK IT /UNSPOKEN MELODIES - SILENT FILM CLASSICS IN CONCERT

  • WHERE: Esplanade Concert Hall, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Feb 8, 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $38 to $88 from Sistic

    INFO: str.sg/JSjQ

"To create better sound effects, certain adjustments must be made according to the specialities of Chinese musical instruments. We have some experience from composing for Goddess. This time, we will try bolder things to exploit the sound of the orchestra."

He is stumped when asked what audiences should expect, but Lo laughs and replies: "Empty your mind and simply let the music lead you into the world of light and shadow in black and white, and enjoy the whole performance."

Ong Sor Fern

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2020, with the headline 'Chinese music meets silent films'. Print Edition | Subscribe