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Now Hear This: Gaybird

The new media artist and composer on his music picks.

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Published: 9 Feb 2021


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New media artist, composer and performer GayBird is well known in Hong Kong for creating exquisite and unique soundscapes, much of it engineered through musical instruments which he makes himself. We speak to GayBird, whose real name is Leung Kei Cheuk, to try to get inside the mind of this boundary-breaking multi-hyphenate.

How did you start composing music?

Ever since I was young, I've always enjoyed music very much. The thing is, I never liked to play music that was made by others, I've always wanted to create my own music that I could enjoy. I guess that was my main intention. I must have been about 10 or 11. 

What were some of your earlier works like?

Back then, dance remix tracks were very popular. I found this very interesting. So then, I started to create my own tracks using a cassette player where I would overdub the tracks, over and over, while adding my own musical elements from my electric organ and other sounds to create my own remix track. That was how I got my start.  

When you first started doing those mixtapes, did you see yourself doing this professionally?

This has always been my dream. I just knew that this was the direction I wanted in life and I had to just go for it! 

Who were some of your earliest musical or artistic influences?

Tat Ming Pair from Hong Kong was a huge inspiration to me as a child. The duo comprises musician Tats Lau and singer Anthony Wong. Their music absolutely opened my mind to new things! They made me believe that music could be made by one person alone with the use of electronic instruments. I remembered watching all their performances on TV and being absolutely blown away by them. To this day, they are still active in the Hong Kong music industry and I'm so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with them as long-time collaborators in music production. 

The other musician who has had a big influence on me would be the Greek composer Vangelis. He is an electronic music composer who also composed for several films. For me, his most important work is the album, China (1979). Because in general, the feeling most people get about electronic music is that it is very cool, mechanical, not human. In this album, he successfully manages to imitate the sounds of acoustic instruments through the use of electronic instruments. By combining this with actual acoustic instruments, this album changed my perception of what electronic music really is. 

You’ve collaborated with film makers to create live performances, and you’ve also composed theme songs for several movies. What are the films and film soundtracks which inspire you, and why?

When I was younger, I listened to a lot of works by the Italian music composer, Ennio Morricone. I like his early work a lot. I also enjoy listening to legendary composers like Danny Elfman and Francis Lai. An album that I have been listening to a lot lately is the album Suspiria (2018) from Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke. Another composer I've been listening to is Daniel Lopatin and his soundtrack Uncut Gems (2019), which has inspired me a lot lately. 

What is your most memorable or challenging project to date?

That would be Emergency Kit & Wishing Pool (2019) which was performed at a swimming pool. This was a site-specific performance and definitely one of the most difficult venues to perform in. For this performance, I used a lot of water elements to achieve different visual effects.  

Also, some of my performers and I had to perform in the water which made it challenging on a lot of levels because we had to solve a lot of technical issues that happened in the water. This was definitely the most challenging project that I have worked on to date. 

You also create your own musical instruments and installations to achieve specific sounds and effects in performance. Is there an instrument you are particularly proud of creating?

There are two main intentions behind the creation of my own instruments. The first is to explore the different possibilities to perform a song. The other, is to find a fun way to express the concepts behind the works.  

In the latest version of the performance, Another Music in Anticlockwise (first staged in 2019), I created an installation which functioned like a clock. To play it, I had to use my body to move the poles around the axis clockwise or anti-clockwise. If I wanted to play the music faster I had to increase my running speed. I really liked this idea because I was not only able create a new performance practice but it also succeeded in expressing the concept behind the work.  

For "Not Only Music in Anticlockwise" at Huayi this year, you’ll be performing to Singapore audiences live from Hong Kong via a screen, accompanied by the Concordia Quartet in Singapore. How will the distance change the experience of this work, and what can audiences look forward to? 

I think it is extremely exciting to be able to perform live while in different countries. I still cannot totally imagine what the outcome would be. This will be a new type of performance created under the limitation of the pandemic.  

I really think that this is the best moment for our audience to break through their traditional ways of thinking and to open their minds to new possibilities. I do believe that this long distance performance will bring about unpredictable outcomes for the performing arts.

You mentioned earlier that this is one of the first few times that audiences can experience your performance across  different time zones and regions, live and in real time. What kind of mindset do you think audiences should bring to this performance? 

I would want the audience to imagine the difference in atmospheres of these two cities and to really grasp the depth of the situation that they are watching a performance that is happening live yet in two different cities. And I hope that they would be able to see that this is more than just a normal performance.  

What are you currently listening to on your playlist?

That would depend on the time of the week. Currently, I’m listening to music from other electronic musicians such as Floating Points from England. He has a new album called Crush (2019) that I like a lot. And the other is American electronic musician, Nicolas Jaar. He has an album called Cenizas (2020) which I have listened a lot to this week.  

Listen to GayBird's music picks here:

A roaring new year

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