Well hello again! Part 1: a 2021 January to July update
Updated: Jul 30, 2021
Wow it's been a while since I've last blogged... I’m not sure if I’d say the last several months were really that physically eventful with this ongoing #pandemic, but very mentally chaotic. I have learned a few more things about myself and have been reflecting lots during a rather #transitional period. It’d be neat to document and look back on some day so here we are! Here’s a look back on what I’ve been exploring and involved with since January, as well as some current thoughts I've had relating to #burnout, #decisionmaking, creating my own #fulfillment, #habitbuilding.
It's been almost 5 months since my last blog post in Feb 2021 and that was when I had decided to start a #podcast centred around #listening! It's actually been very quiet there and everywhere and I'll get into why that is right now!
moved into my current home from Vancouver to… Vancouver
started the second round of #100Days challenge in practicing piano
added a second habit for its own #100Days challenge: practicing violin.
started planning my podcast
explored the software Inkscape
started jazz private lessons with a new (my current) jazz teacher
started transcribing more with pencil on paper
started a prototype of an Instagram Augmented Reality ear training filter series, “Do you hear that?”
April / May 2021
participated in Vancouver New Music’s One-Page Score graphic score workshop
recorded at the Orpheum Theatre?!
reached out more
decided to resign from my position as a fulltime sound designer after figuring out some steps
officially resigned from my two-year role of sound designer in VR
added a third habit for its own #100Days challenge: practicing transcription
dance studios reopened
Westben 2021 Performer-Composer Residency
Video Editing Basics in Da Vinci Resolve online workshop hosted by Vivo Media Arts
A More Descriptive Timeline
Simply stating and describing a series of events and activities is just a part of the whole human experience. With how much of a roller coaster these past few months have been, I wanted to also jot down how it impacted me emotionally so here is a more personal reflection of those events above.
– moved into my current home from Vancouver to… Vancouver
I haven’t moved a ton in my lifetime, and I’m not sure if it was so difficult because of Covid, but my partner and I needed to move because our landlord decided to repossess our unit. We looked at over 70 different places before settling on renting our current place. It’s interesting to observe how mentally draining this process was in additional to our usual full-time lives. I think because I’ve never been that nomadic, I tend to collect material items (like instruments and books!) and memories over time, which made it difficult to uproot a previously settled lifestyle, box everything away and harder yet, to find a new place for all those memories and items in a new foreign-feeling home. Despite this, I think our current home has been a really great (albeit unexpected) change and catch, especially here in Vancouver, that has provided more than enough for our current lifestyle (like space to have multiple desks for both of us to work from home)!
- started the second round of #100Days challenge in practicing piano
I didn’t blog about this challenge when I first started it in late September, so let me briefly explain what it is and how it came about. A friend of mine is very passionate about languages and found a sustainable method to simultaneously maintain them (I think he’s simultaneously practicing > 8 languages?). Rather than spending dedicated hyper-focused periods practicing a single language, he tasked himself with practicing a single different phrase in each language, everyday – a simple (but not easy!) challenge. I think he had been doing it for a year before I learned about it and hearing how pleased he was with his own sense of fluency and progress, I felt encouraged to try it myself with something I’d want to improve in and become more fluent in. It was around 1.5 years since working fulltime 7-days a week (more on that later…). I was certainly looking for “more” than what my life was made up of at the time and decided to pick up a long-lost routine of mine: practicing piano. I’ll have to post a progress summary in a #futurepost but in Jan 2021 here, I started my second challenge round of a 100 days of practice and additionally…
- added a second habit for its own #100Days challenge: practicing violin.
I’ve been gathering both quantitative and qualitative data from these challenges and like my friend, organized them on private Instagram accounts with small family/friend followings to use accountability as a useful tool to keep us going when our discipline fails. I’ve collected these accounts at this link here, although they are all private – nothing exceptional to see but here’s a look at my current format:
– started planning my podcast
…but never released anything as seen in my last post
- explored the software Inkscape
This is a free open-source vector graphics editor I’ve heard about for some time and finally got around to playing with. I created a logo with my initials using it, and have a huge appreciation for the level of detail that graphic designers are tasked with. Besides my first round of #100Days with piano being complete in Dec 2020, I think this logo was the first personal project I finished which felt really good! You can see it as a favicon on this website and as a home-returning button on the top right! I’m no professional designer but I was really pleased with what I learned in the process and the result! Here’s an Instagram post with a bit of my process and thoughts from then:
On face value, I would say it doesn’t look like I created very much this month, but I often found myself sitting still and alone, reflecting for long periods of time, trying to keep track of lots of new thoughts and rabbit holes relating to my personal relationship, current standing, and history with music. There’s no way to confirm, but I have a suspicion that these periods of introspection came about when I…
– started jazz private lessons with a new (my current) jazz teacher
Some background: I started taking jazz lessons near the beginning of October, rather impulsively actually. I had just picked up self-practicing piano from my previously mentioned #100Day challenge, but then conveniently saw an ad (targeted marketing is frighteningly accurate some times!) for a term of local group jazz classes for adults that started the very next day!
It was a really great introduction to the genre and I decided to continue with lessons privately and biweekly starting in January. There was some shuffling around with some students in March, which became an interesting pivot point. I received my lessons from a new teacher starting March, and I wholeheartedly believe this had a large impact on me during this period and now as well. I think it has something to do with having someone to speak with about music, with music, and in-person, but also with just how inspiring his passion about jazz and his approach to helping me learn jazz was. It was truly refreshing to be in a space to have conversations and ask questions related to music, and as a registered student again – a role I found I really missed and enjoyed! I certainly felt a spark of excitement re-ignite and curiously this period correlates with some practice spikes and “upward” trends (see the yellow "weekly practice time" line) moving forward, seen in my graphed #100Day piano practice experiment.
I know, I know... my axes don't have the same spacing and it's embarrassing but we're not aiming for perfection! The top Day 1-100 graph's vertical axis ranges from 0-120 minutes of practice, whereas the bottom Day 101-200 graph's vertical axis ranges from 0-180 minutes of practice. The horizontal axes are also different as I changed some of the rules of my experiment with regards to weekly practice frequency (5x/week vs. initially every day). It's not a perfect visual comparison but gets enough data across in one picture for now I think.
Coming from a primarily classical background in piano, jazz was (and still is) new territory to explore but it opened up a unique mindset and approach to music that I never really had before! (More on that later as well…)
- started transcribing more with pencil on paper
As a result from the previous, I started listening more, albeit mostly of different versions of the tunes I was learning – both for training my ear, but also to hear multiple interpretations by masterful musicians to further my learning. If you’ve looked around my blog, I started this blog with more transcriptions, and in software. I transitioned over to try pencil on paper which has been different in many ways. More thoughts on that in another #futurepost!
- started a prototype of an Instagram Augmented Reality ear training filter series, “Do you hear that?”
In the same vein of ear training as transcribing, I noticed I was weaker in recognizing certain intervals and chord/scale qualities and wanted to target these but found it difficult to do so in a structured way on my own. I could definitely transcribe music (which of course involves practicing identifying those intervals), pause the music, check if my notes/intervals are correct… but knowing my more specific weaknesses, it didn’t seem as efficient of targeted practice. This observation sat with me for some time, causing me to reflect on how I previously learned and practiced other stronger musical recognitions, how that could’ve been easier and more efficient (and don’t forget fun) if done today, and eventually got me thinking how I could apply these questions and address them for the younger piano students I currently work with. I decided to explore an augmented reality (AR) tool with these thoughts in mind and create a fun filter series surrounding ear training. Like many other dabblings during this transitional period, I haven’t finished it (an initial prototype), but I intend to come back to it; more details can be found at this link here! https://www.ahywong.com/practice-tools
Also also also, speaking of listening, I’ve noticed that recently I’ve become more and more aware how music is so much more than just something that is heard (more on this later too!). Perhaps it’s a late observation; I don’t think I was unaware of this, but the non auditory aspects of music certainly have come up more often these days – perhaps its simply because I started thinking of it more deeply and more often. Despite this, auditory perception is certainly a large part of the musical listening experience and I’ve been really interested in exploring this more too - the subjective experience of hearing. Different people can be presented with the same things, but hear different characteristics, and likely have different subjective appreciations (or lack thereof) for something heard. Heck, I – a single person – could be listening to the same thing at a different time and have a different experience. There’s a lot going on when we listen! This was supposed to be something I wanted to get into on that podcast which I still want to re-start (more on that later too! I’m trying to somewhat organize my thoughts… it’s a bit of a messy multi-track these days).
April / May 2021
A couple things happened in these two months so I’ll start with the fun ones!
– participated in Vancouver New Music’s One-Page Score graphic score workshop
This was such an amazing experience; I was certainly craving a place to experiment and missing interacting with other sound enthusiasts (I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but I was the only person in the sound department at my fulltime job. My coworkers in other departments were great but there were definitely lonely periods!). Even just writing this out, there seems to be some irony with how seemingly easy it is to fulfill that craving – I could always experiment on my own and I can always call up some other sound lovers I already know. It’s strange how much easier it is to do something you enjoy when something is already structured. No epiphany here - just an interesting observation that being proactive and finding ways to address these desires is something on my general “get-better-at-in-life” list!
I’ve participated in previous graphic score workshops hosted by Vancouver New Music before (which you can see if you click on the graphic notation// heading here). I’ve always loved how accessible this workshop is – it’s presented very elegantly by Vancouver New Music director, Giorgio Magnanensi: a history of various graphic scores and contexts from around the world, notable works, contemporary examples, but also the beautiful reality that really, anything visual (intended as a graphic score or not) can be approached in life from the perspective of a sound-maker and certainly become a score for something audible! It’s about using your sonic imagination and taking a moment to ponder about something. Those are some main moments I remember from when I was a participant in early pre-lockdown 2020 anyway.
A particularly unique aspect of this specific workshop (remotely in April 2021) was that the scores were created by a group of 40 students ages 13-15! It was so inspiring to see something novel – what are graphic scores? – shared with such an imaginative group and discovered for the first time! I had so much fun discussing the scores with other sound artists, and of course recording and mixing an interpretation of one of the 20 resulting scores. I think the highlight of this experience was upon receiving a forwarded email from the students’ teachers and organizers that contained a list of comments from the students about their subjective experiences. It was incredibly special and beautiful to read what impact it had on these children – that it was a series of events they looked forward to and enjoyed – during what turned out to be a rough period due to Covid-affected education and learning. What a beautiful way for a group of strangers of eclectic backgrounds and ages to collect together, and through a themed activity, not only learn and appreciate old and new artistic works, but also brighten each others’ lives. I’m not sure if the human experience really gets any more fulfilling than that. A touching and memorable experience indeed!
– recorded at the Orpheum Theatre?!
This was yet another incredible experience. I play violin in a local adult orchestra – I think I joined around my last year in university to move the fingers again after several years of not playing at all, which makes it about 3 years playing with this group. Somehow, the music school was able to coordinate with the Orpheum theatre to have groups of their students and ensembles record there! We had a couple hours of booked time and played a few takes of Mozart’s Symphony no. 29, and then it was over so soon! I believe the video is still being edited but what a privilege to experience those acoustics from the stage! There was definitely some adjustment in our playing as we sat even further spread apart to socially distance within the larger available space. Hearing the cellos on the other side of the stage required more attention than in our usual rehearsal space, and it was suggested to really play out and project our playing because of the vast acoustic space. Architectural acoustics is such a neat field; one day, I’d like to read up on the designs and considerations gone into building certain performance venues. #futurereading
- reached out more
After a year of pandemic-home-living, my introverted self started to feel the effects of social isolation, so I reached out even more around this time to create more meaningful interactions with people in my life (new and old!). It certainly helps get me outside of my own head and experience the “bigger picture” of life by seeing inside someone else’s world.
– decided to resign from my position as a fulltime sound designer after figuring out some steps
This was a hard decision I went back and forth on (if, when, and how to resign) for even several months before April/May. In general, I was feeling monotonous with my work and craved opportunities to learn more, try new (related) things (e.g. middleware software like FMOD, Wwise; more purposeful, meaningful, and cohesive audio design…), and improve the quality of my work. It seems perhaps of its commercial nature, and understandably so as a business, choices need to be delicately made with a business’ benefit in mind. I was unable to convince how I felt more thoughtful audio design would be worthwhile, and similarly unsuccessful with conveying the value from using certain tools. I won’t really know but it could’ve been due to an inability on my part to communicate the potential impact from these audio improvements, or just poor timing with what was needed and seen as priority (or not) at the time, especially within the realm of audio among the grand scheme of things.
I think the difficulty in this decision is my perspective on what jobs are, what they provide, and what I expect from one. While I certainly hope to find meaning in my work, I think it’s realistic to expect there are times and aspects in every job that will not be enjoyable or even fulfilling. I reflected a lot on what was important to me in a job, and if I could change any aspects I was displeased with, including my own expectations and desires. I think what I concluded was that having this fulltime permanent 9-to-5 job had several lifestyle factors I appreciated: a schedule, somewhat regular payments, and some sense of stability for the future. There were also of course many career-related and technical factors as well: experience in an organization including various learning opportunities - collaborating between departments, production cycles, having management and structure, being part of something larger (than something I’d do just by myself)… Aspects not unique to fulltime permanent jobs that I valued seemed to include opportunities to collaborate with other people and disciplines, opportunities to grow a set of skills, feeling valued as a human being vs. a machine, creating (and being able to show something from that creating process), and a sense that the work itself was meaningful (to at least myself if not more than myself). Because my position satisfied so many of these areas, it certainly made me question my dissatisfaction and if perhaps I was just “being too picky” or expected far too much from any job, adding to my indecision of resigning and if so, whether I should resign with or without the next fulltime job lined up. The feeling of defeat I felt at the end of this role was certainly not felt during the excitement and many new experiences presented at the beginning of this adventure, which made me really ask myself what had changed? I certainly look back gratefully for having had this experience, but think perhaps want had changed was my desire for, well… change.
I tried to find ways outside of work to find those meaningful learning/creative opportunities but discovered quick it’s really hard while balancing multiple jobs and all other important aspects of life – relationships with friends and family, mental and physical health… so I was caught in a strange limbo of not knowing how to incorporate the exploration I felt was important to me. Anyway, initially not wanting to resign without having another full-time job lined up, this was a period of lots of #jobhunting and #applications. Not just for jobs, but also for other growing opportunities including residencies, grants, as well as their accompanying research and info sessions (e.g. on specific grants/grant writing…). It was both an exciting and daunting period of #uncertainty, as the result of certain applications would change not just what I’d end up doing, but what country I’d be in. #Grants were particularly interesting and new to me, as it seemed a good way to fund and make part of a living while pursuing my own projects – and I have many ideas I want to bring to fruition with dedicated focus and time. This period of “seeing what’s out there” was very eye opening! I had no idea all the neat things that were happening even just locally in the community – like 4D VR theatre, VR opera, but also non-VR events and projects! It was rather inspiring to discover so many interesting avenues local artists were pursuing.
- officially resigned from my two-year role of sound designer in VR
It was a lot all at once to find opportunities, put together portfolios, and put my best thoughts and heart into applications while maintaining that standard in my fulltime work, never mind the required time-management for all those tasks. I felt stuck in this between-jobs state for some time; I think what really pushed me towards a hard decision was actually doing some calculations with my finances. I discovered I was able to afford certain necessities (e.g. rent, groceries…) with just my part-time job, which at the very least gave me a sense of financial relief from immediately needing a full-time job. I would certainly not be putting away as much into savings, but decided because I was in such a fortunate position to not work full-time right away, that it was worth taking the time off to properly figure out my next steps. I gave my two-weeks’ notice, returned all my equipment and I think one of the first things I did was finally deep-clean/vacuum/hand-wash my car. XD Is it just me, or do certain life things like this just pile up from not dealing with them in a timely manner? I certainly took time to re-calibrate and re-discover how to be a more functional human being again. Honestly, I think I’m still doing this (and realistically, this will just be a life-long cycle and process of improvement). I certainly never feel like I know how to live life “properly” and I have a feeling that most people are also “just figuring things out” ... it’s just life! This is life… right?
- added a third habit for its own #100Days challenge: practicing transcription
Day 200 for my piano practice #100Day challenge came and went! So I added a third habit recently to practice and develop some more regular ear training! It’s been going slowly but as always, habit building takes time and I certainly have been reminding myself to be patient and focus more on long-term goals vs. short term setbacks.
We finally made it to present day.
- dance studios reopened
Last summer, I started going to some Chinese #dance classes (I’m not sure how to describe it: it’s in the style of Chinese folk dance? Different ethnic groups’ dance styles are main influences, but they are not exact traditional dance choreographies?). I’ll have to perhaps post a picture or video some day. I’m not exactly a graceful dancer but it has been a great way to get myself out of a chair and allow my body to move and learn some #proprioception while enjoying Chinese music. I’ve really loved having this activity and having spent an entire undergrad studying the importance and benefits of human movement, I really didn’t need much convincing to return to it when dance studios re-opened with limited capacities. Because the community here speaks Cantonese, and the classes are taught in Mandarin, I also find it’s a great way to practice listening and speaking these tonal languages.
- Westben 2021 Performer-Composer Residency
Back in March, I applied for this residency after seeing an ad for it on my social media (my ad algorithm must be on point since this is also how I discovered those group jazz classes)! I was so pleased to hear I was accepted a few months back. I think that alone, is a great reason to just apply: sometimes schedules don’t line up and not everyone opportunity can be experienced, but I remember what a great feeling of #assurance it was to receive as an #emerging artist. It certainly gave me this “maybe I can do it after all” which can be so important during low periods of certainty and self-efficacy.
Anyway, this residency started early this month and is about to end next week. 48 individuals around the world (which first of all: dang. What an honour to be one of the selected!) were grouped into various quartet ensembles to collaborate and explore together between various time zones and countries to create a work up to 15 minutes to be digitally premiered this week! A few works have already been premiered and you can find them here at: https://westbendigitalvenue.ca/
- Video Editing Basics in Da Vinci Resolve online workshop hosted by Vivo Media Arts
Lastly, for the past couple Wednesdays, I’ve been taking part in an online workshop to start learning Da Vinci Resolve, a free video editing software I’ve also been wanting to learn (it never ends!). It was a great way to get started looking around the software with an experienced professional and I’m excited to see what I end up using it for! I think first and foremost I’ll need a more powerful computer for video work, but good to know for when that comes up.
Which brings us to… now?
Before I jump too quickly into moving towards the future, the next project, the next step, the next.. next… I wanted to sit in this place of hindsight longer and document not just what I felt and what activities happened as I have here in Part 1, but also how these activities affected each other and how I moved/am moving forward. I found there were some interesting reflecting themes between activities that occupied my mind for more than just a few days, and what better way to process it all than to write it out in actual written word? I’ve decided to tie all these experiences and thoughts together in a Part 2 blog post so all those “more on that later” comments? Yeah, you can find them in Part 2!