Interview with composer An Tôn Thất — Composer & Songwriter
Interview originally conducted in 2017 with Vietnamese composer and songwriter An Tôn Thất, who worked on numerous movies and theatre productions including most recently Ash Mayfair’s The Third Wife.
MOXIE How would you describe yourself to an unknown audience? Where would you begin?
AN Well, I would say, it is like going to an unknown country… Not what one might expect or imagine. And I prefer not to set any frame. Better go there and be surprised. So I’d say that it is a very personal journey.
MOXIE When you say “what one might expect”.. Explain that part more.
AN When it comes to something we don’t know, we usually need references. When seventeen years ago I went to record companies to present my first album, they would always need to find references. “Oh, your music is something between this and that”.
MOXIE Ah, I understand where you are coming from. They needed a category to slot you under.
AN Exactly. But as there was no Asian artist in the western pop music market, they were at loss. Now, I enjoy that. To break people’s expectations.
MOXIE How long ago are you talking about here? I am sure the market has changed and shifted. I’m just guessing.
AN It’s still the same now. Can you name any Asian artist that has been launched in Europe or the U.S.?
MOXIE I think Rain tried to break in years ago, but failed in doing so.
AN Rain is from South Korea… He would never have been able to even have a career, if he were living in the U.S. Anyway, since then, I have developed as a composer for the stage and film, so I don’t really care anymore. I just write songs for my own enjoyment.
MOXIE So, stage and film… How did that come about? Did someone seek you out first? Or did you approach them?
AN I started writing for theatre. I was approached by people who had seen me on stage with my band. Then one thing led to another….
MOXIE I didn’t know you were part of a band.
AN Yes, I was in a band. You can only see snippets of it online – and as you know, it cannot replace the real experience. By the way, NINA, my first important work with Jo Kanamori, a Japanese choreographer, will be performed in Hong Kong this Autumn.
MOXIE That is very good news to hear!
AN We are on an Asian tour with that piece.
MOXIE I would love to see that.
AN Hong Kong, China, South Korea and Japan. That piece was created 12 years ago. And has been everywhere around the world.
MOXIE The music to that dance piece is very aggressive… So the music came first and then Joe adopted it to a dance?
AN No… It was quite a magical process. I saw Jo’s work in Paris and literally fell in love with it. I wrote to him. Then one year later, I was in Tokyo and asked to meet him. His company wasn’t based in Tokyo but in Niigata. So I went there and introduced myself and my music. He was very surprised, as that had never happened to him before. Three months later, he asked permission to use one piece from the CD I had given him. He was developing ideas for choreography and realised that my music would be perfect for a big-scale dance piece he was to do later that year. Of course I accepted. I was overjoyed.
To see the entire interview, please purchase Moxie 03.