Sound moves through time and space. That is a given, but how can you shape these parameters in music? Mold, stretch and compress them? And how do they alter the experience of reality? Shih-Wei Lo tries to stretch the boundaries of what is real and fictitious in his music.
“I like composers who can use time in a malleable manner, as if they could hold time in their hands and shape it.” This is why the third year of college was a turning point for Lo, for it was his first time being exposed to computer music, which significantly changed how he perceives time in both instrumental and electronic music. “I started composing officially in my junior year, mostly because general studies like mathematics and science had been my primary focus since I was young. I come from a very practical family with a background in medicine and business, which directly impact people’s lives and well-being. Such a background once made me wonder in what ways my music could be meaningful to other people.
With Things Hoped For, Things Unseen, for electric harp, electronics, and video, Lo tried to bridge this gap between his music and society. It deals with the death penalty in Taiwan. “I am not trying to preach or provide answers. Music can be a medium for people to contemplate and connect, a space to listen and think about these issues in society. I think composers express what they experience in life. It is a way to project thoughts about the world around me.”
Another aspect of his music deals with its own existence, how music points towards itself. Lo uses the literary trope metafiction, a technique in a work that draws attention to the status of the work itself. He took it from Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire. “It is actually a poem, preceded by an introduction and followed by a very extensive annotation. The book has an interesting dynamic — it folds back on itself.” In Madhye II, for example, Lo superimposes a recording of his preceding choir piece Madhye on top of a group of six singers. It works like a time capsule. On one hand it refers to another piece. On the other hand the recording becomes part of a new composition. It is like a matryoshka doll: a work in a work in a work.
Photo © Anna van Kooij