The music of Chin Ting (Patrick) Chan is as sonically adventurous and ambitious as it is visual and captivating. After five years composing, studying and teaching in Kansas City, Chan very recently left the area to teach at Ball State University in Indiana. In this interview, Chan illuminates his creative process, how he approaches the many different aspects of music composition he works in and what he appreciates the most about his time in KC.
Please introduce yourself. Where do you live and work?
My name is Chin Ting Chan. I also go by Patrick. I am originally from Hong Kong. I have been residing in Kansas City for five years, teaching at the Kansas City Kansas Community College (and previously at the University of Missouri - Kansas City and Bowling Green State University in Ohio). I am a composer of acoustic and electroacoustic music. I travel frequently both nationally and internationally to attend performances of my music. Besides being a professional composer, I am also an audio engineer. I have mixed audio works for professional CD publications as well as live sound re-enforcement. I will be taking the position of Assistant Professor of Music Theory and Composition at Ball State University in Muncie, IN beginning this Fall of 2016.
You're a multifaceted and prolific composer who's tackled everything from large ensemble, to chamber, solo and electroacoustic works. What do you see as the creative challenges inherent in each of these disciplines?
Different instrumentations create different compositional problems/challenges as well as possibilities. Usually, the larger the instrumental combination is, the more complex colors a composer can create/combine with; it, though, does not necessarily mean that it is harder to compose. I often find it harder to write a convincing solo piece than, say, a large chamber ensemble piece. For orchestra pieces, it is a whole different genre, as it has such an abundant amount of repertoire before us that we need to be aware of, which could then become the most challenging aspect of writing it; and also, the time it involves to write such a large piece is massive: one has to be able to stretch his/her creative process over a long period of time to finish a piece like this, and it is this time-consuming/consistently-banging-the-music-in-my-head aspect that makes it particularly hard for me. Also, when you work on the same piece for a long time (a lot of the time spent on formatting the score, orchestrating sections, etc), you could confuse musical time with actual time, which makes it more even time-consuming and difficult...
I especially enjoy writing small/medium-size chamber pieces the most as it could give me enough instrumental/coloristic variety without having to waste too much time on sectional orchestration.
With electroacoustic pieces, it heavily depends on the theme and technical specifications I'd like to work with. When you have enough materials to work with, the creative process could come quick; but it is often scary as electroacoustic music basically encompasses any sound in this world (I record my own samples); it could be daunting if you don't start with some limitation to the sounds or some sort of inspiration or themes.
What tools do you use for composing? What may surprise a listener about how your music is created?
I usually only have my mechanical pencil and a bunch of staff paper with me. It may be surprising that I often do not use a piano because it is not portable - I cannot bring my piano to a coffee shop to compose.
As for electro-acoustic music, I record samples of everyday-life sounds, process them on my computer and compose in my studio at home with a good pair of speakers/headphones, mixer and interfaces.
How do you move beyond or through creative blocks?
When I encounter creative blocks, I usually stop working all together, take a walk outside and do something completely unrelated - it could be something non-creative, or something creative like taking photographs to stimulate my creativity again.
What inspires you the most about the Kansas City classical music community?
Kansas City has such a diverse group of audience. People go to all sorts of concerts and are willing to accept different musical styles and interact with the artists. The art scene here is also vivid, with lots of inter-disciplinary collaboration opportunities. The classical music community is also very supportive, and we have different organizations (Friends of Chamber Music, the Kansas City Symphony, to name a few) bringing in world-class musicians - it's never been a better time to be a musician living here!