Composing TIONG BAHRU

Kavin Hoo composed the music for TIONG BAHRU.

Born in Malaysia in 1975, Kavin began his musical training at the early age of 5 and studied at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. Kavin now lives in Los Angeles, where he runs a music production company, Earthtones Studio, producing and arranging for artists such as Tanya Chua, and co-producing with Corrinne May all of her records.

Listen to Kavin’s music, accompanying the production images of Samantha Tio and Alecia Neo, below

Recounts Kavin:

When Joe & Christine first approached me to work on their new film TIONG BAHRU, I had already seen some of their previous Civic Life works and I knew I would be in for a visual treat. I was not disappointed to say the least. TIONG BAHRU is an incredible film, with sweeping unhurried shots of people adjusting to life and changes in one of Singapore’s earliest community center.

Working on the film has been a very enriching and rewarding experience to me as Joe and Christine are both so talented and precise with the vision that they want to put forth. While the initial spotting session was done in Singapore with Christine, most of the bulk of our communication on the project was via Skype with Joe, due to the fact that they were in UK and I was back in Los Angeles.

I think such a collaboration would have not been possible 10 years ago if not for the technologies we have now, what with video teleconferencing and the ability to send and transfer huige critical music files online.


Originally, the idea I was floating around was to do a more intimate type of score, but Joe & Christine had the idea to go the other way instead. They were looking for a more traditional orchestral score that is lush and big. One thing that stuck with me about what Christine said was to think of the music, the audio aspect, in equal footing with the visuals, and not to be afraid to be more dramatic and bold with the score.

Because the film is short, with 3 major characters and their stories to be told, we thought that rather than to have separate themes for all of them, we would have a theme that binds all of them together. I introduced the “kantele“, a traditional plucked string instrument to bring some intrigue in the beginning of the film, and to re-use that element for the story within the story about the baby found in the woods. I think it creates an instant mysterious and otherworldly sound that creates so much intrigue and drama.

Throughout the whole process, Joe and I would hold daily Skype conference to review our progress, him at the end of his work day and me during my late mornings owing to the time difference.

What amazes me is that Joe & Christine are both very musical people, and their comments to me have always been very on point and easy to grasp.

The music for TIONG BAHRU is truly a collaboration between us as they bring as much to the table as I did. While we accomplished a lot in terms of fine tuning each scene musically, it was also the banter and the rapport that I will cherish just as much.

You can find out more about Kavin’s work, here.

Read more about our production photographers Samantha Tio and Alecia Neo, here.

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