Film Composer Yi-Chen Chiang Earns Awards/Accolades for Music Scores Resonating with Audiences
“I feel the mission of creating music is to use music to tell a complete story, as well as the emotions and meaning that I want to express. Without words I can convey my thoughts and stories through music. So, when my music wins an award, I believe the audience/jury understands what I want to express through the music and resonates with those feelings. This kind of musical resonance knows no borders. I am always quite moved and feel that my music is validated.” — Yi-Chen Chiang
This music composer. Has serious. Heat.
Well, Yi-Chen Chiang just got more validation as she earned First Prize at the 2023 Caneres International Music Competition, Vienna, in the Composition category for her work on Coeur Fidèle (The Faithful Heart). The jury enthused that her “music effectively reached highs and lows and told an effective story.”
Indeed, Taiwan-born but LA-based Yi-Chen has previously been proud to win other awards like the prestigious Jon Vickers Film Scoring Award (2021/2022) and was winner of Best Score/Composition at Montage Film Festival (2023). And two celebrated films she scored, Lanny and The Limbo’s Voyage, have both earned numerous Official Selections at festivals worldwide.
Overall, films scored by Yi-Chen have been nominated in many film festivals, including the International Festival Signs of the Night (Paris), Seoul International Senior Film Festival, Nara International Film Festival, Croatia Diversions International Short Film Festival, and Singapore International Film Festival.
Moreover, Yi-Chen says of her latest honor for The Faithful Heart, “This is exactly the purpose of why I create music — to tell a story with music that conveys my ideas. This award is of great significance to me. I have always hoped that in addition to entering the film and music industry in the US, I can also grow into the European music circle. This award is the key to opening that door.”
“A pleasant and talented person to work with. Yi-Chen is detailed and professional when addressing my creative needs, and she expresses her craft along with my vision.” — Zheng Guan, director and writer for The Limbo’s Voyage,
As for her strengths and what she brings to the “show,” she suggests, “I feel I’m especially good at helping filmmakers and directors bring to life the ideas and emotions they want to convey. I even go through a process with them where we discuss what’s happening in every single scene and what is important to express to the audience. It doesn’t matter what style or genre I have to write in either, whatever the director believes is correct, I can adapt and make something uniquely my own that fits the project perfectly.”
Yi-Chen Chiang spoke to us about her early film inspirations, when she comes in on a filmed project, her strengths and goals, and, more information on the films, Lanny and The Limbo’s Voyage.
— Who were your composer inspirations growing up in Taiwan?
— I grew up watching a lot of anime films, especially from Studio Ghibli, so I’ve always loved composer Joe Hisaishi’s work. Composer Toru Takemitsu is another big inspiration for me, particularly his score for Akira Kumasara’s film Ran. With my own work on The Faithful Heart, Takemitsu’s unique approach to orchestration helped me decide which instruments to use to convey different characters and themes. Both Takemitsu and Hisaishi’s ability to write music that improves a film but can also be enjoyed without visuals inspired me to write captivating melodies and harmonies. More recently I’ve become excited by Justin Hurwitz’s music. I first heard his work on La La Land and I thought it was very moving.
— How does your music contribute to the storytelling in movies?
— When I write music for a film I talk a lot with the writer and director about what they are trying to express in each scene. Music can perfectly draw out specific emotions and even abstract concepts from any given scene in a film. When I was writing the score for The Faithful Heart, I put together leitmotifs (exclusive themes) for each character and I was very deliberate about which instruments I chose to use and when. A cascading piano arpeggio can represent waves of thought in one character’s mind, or a dissonant dance between two clashing melodies can express a complicated relationship between two characters.
— How did you go about elevating the emotion in the film, Lanny?
— Lanny posed an interesting problem. It’s a very melancholic film with a lot of deliberate silence, so I had to be careful not to overpower the narrative. I opted to use very sparse solo piano or guitar for a lot of the film, but that didn’t convey everything that needed to be expressed. The main character, the little girl, experiences overwhelming emotions and I wanted to find a way to musically describe her emotional transformation across the film. I needed something totally groundbreaking, so I used my knowledge of synthesizers to construct entirely original sounds. This was the only way I could portray such enormous washes of complex and battling emotions. But being on set during filming, which is very uncommon for composers, really helped me connect with the whole production team and the actors. I sense this deeper and more personal understanding that I gained is what made this film so popular on the global stage — it was selected at more than 10 different festivals worldwide including a nomination for Best Short Film at the 6th Nara International Film Festival and Best Southeast Asian Short Film at the 30th Singapore International Film Festival, both very difficult events to compete in.
— So, how was the challenge different for The Limbo’s Voyage?
— The Limbo’s Voyage was extremely different from Lanny, and as an experimental film it was a very challenging task to compose just the right thing. Mostly, when you think about experimental art and music, you tend to imagine a more contemporary atmosphere and style that explores alien timbres. For The Limbo’s Voyage though, the director referenced Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” and Mozart string quartets during our in-depth discussions, so we decided to go for a classical approach that would clash and yet bizarrely complement the radical film concept. Notably, while there is a narrator in The Limbo’s Voyage, there is absolutely zero dialogue, so I had to write music that would — unlike Lanny — take the lead and guide the loose narrative without any breaks of silence in the entire film. This all came together beautifully and turned out to be the perfect approach, so much so that The Limbo’s Voyage was also accepted into multiple film festivals — including being nominated for Best Experimental Film at the 2021 Venice Shorts Film Festival, being a finalist in the 2021 Vancouver Indie Film Festival, and receiving official selection at the 2022 First-Time Filmmaker Sessions festival.
— Apparently, you’re a big fan of director Alfred Hitchcock, so which movie stands out for its music?
— The strings in the bathroom murder scene in Psycho are really classic. Composer Bernard Herrmann made the score a “sound effect” that increased the dramatic tension. At that time, film scoring was mostly orchestral, but he removed other parts, such as bass instruments or percussion, leaving only the sharp hiss of the violin, like a sharp blade that keeps falling and piercing deeply, it pulls the tension out of the audience. I think it is the most neurotic soundtrack I’ve listened to. I believe that infamous bathroom scene wouldn’t horrify like this if it wasn’t for Herrmann’s score.
— How does this praise make you feel?
— It’s very uplifting to have my work so highly praised at so many different festivals! Sometimes I doubt myself but it really affirms that what I’m creating is worthwhile. More than anything I’m just happy that people enjoy my music. Right now I want to continue exploring different styles of music to continue developing my style and skillset, and work with more live orchestras to bring my music to life around the globe. One day I hope to work full-time as a film score composer independently — I’d like to run my own studio where I can find filmmakers from all different parts of the world to work with and share my music with vast audiences.
—What’s upcoming for you?
—Actually, “Dream Sequence” from my score for Dancing Man just recently placed in the Top 100 at European Recording Orchestra’s Call for Scores last month, and the full Dancing Man soundtrack will be releasing soon through Petrichor Records on all streaming platforms. I’ve been talking with the director and his team is interested in working with me on a new feature-length film, so I’m very excited to see what that project turns into!