A Q&A with Multi-Genre composer, Min He

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  1. As a multi-genre composer, you’ve been involved in the production of over 70 scoring projects, including major titles like The Protégé, How To Get Away With Murder and Into The Night  to name a few. What are your main takeaways from these experiences?

    I’ve been extremely lucky in that I’ve had projects to work on pretty much continuously since 2015. In that time period I’ve scored four feature films, dozens of video games, 50+ short films, two TV series, and a number of commercials and trailers. In the commercial world, I’ve written and produced several pop songs as well. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work as an additional composer on the titles that you mentioned during my time collaborating with composer Photek. As you can imagine, it can be a serious challenge trying to compose for such a huge variety of projects in a wide range of genres. Sometimes I’ll be working on completely different projects at the same time! One of the things I’ve had to learn is how to break up my time between the different projects according to my mood at different times of the day. For instance, I may wake up in a horror score mood in the morning, then feel more like writing comedy music in the afternoon, and round it out with some epic orchestral scores at night. I believe that regardless of the genre of the project, the most important thing to remember is that music is a tool to help audiences connect more deeply with the story. It’s also very important to understand the history and language of whatever genre you may be asked to work on, and to do justice to it, which can take a lot of time and energy to study and get right. I really hope that I’ll continue to have opportunities to work in many more styles in the coming years, because I’ve discovered that I really enjoy this process!

  2. Having written for dozens of video games, is your creative process different when approaching interactive media projects in comparison to narrative projects?

    In my experience, there isn’t much difference in the way I approach narrative vs. interactive projects. They both require me to immerse myself in the world of the film or game for a time to fully understand its feeling and tone before I ever write a note of music. However, I do find that the interactive element of video games impacts the way that the music is experienced by the player. Each player will experience the music in a unique way. For instance, often a piece of game music will be designed to loop, because different players will spend different amounts of time in a particular environment in the game. Because the music can be heard looping over and over for an indefinite amount of time, it actually gives me an opportunity to write music that is more interesting and engaging than what I might write for a scene in a movie. Movies are linear and fixed, and I have to take dialogue and sound effects into account when creating the music for them. I don’t have to be as concerned with these elements when writing game music, which allows me to concentrate even more on capturing the essence of the story, characters, and gameplay.

  3. You’ve composed music for dozens of video games, most recently you composed Chinese traditional wedding music for EA’s video game The Sims 4 – Wedding Stories. Coming from a Chinese background and heritage, do you feel your music is influenced by Chinese culture, and if so in what ways?

    Yes, absolutely! Composing music for The Sims 4 – Wedding Stories was such a blast! The EA music team afforded me so much creative freedom and trust; it was a great experience and a really fun project to work on. I grew up listening to so much Chinese folk music, Chinese opera, and Chinese orchestral music that it’s now a part of my DNA. A lot of times I can actually tell which region of China a tune is from based on small nuances in the way it’s constructed. So when EA approached me to write traditional Chinese wedding music for The Sims, I was thrilled because for me it was a dream project! One scene in the game depicts an ancient Chinese wedding ritual where the bride is carried to the ceremony in a red bridal sedan. The sedan would be carried by four men, and the men would often playfully tease her by shaking the sedan and making her feel like she’s going to fall out! As part of the ritual, the bride would cry to show her sadness at leaving her parents to live with her new husband. The sedan would be surrounded by a band of folk musicians who would play loud music with suona as the lead instrument. For the scene in the game, I wrote a piece like this, in which I tried to capture the uplifting and festive nature of the event while trying to include some quirkiness and bit of that sadness of the bride.

    Another scene in the game showed after the ceremony, when the bride and groom would enter a room decorated with red candles where they would spend their first night together. I composed a romantic, intimate piece for this scene. I used all Chinese traditional instruments, including suona, erhu, dizi, sheng, yangqin, guzheng, pipa, and numerous Chinese percussion instruments, which I recorded with some of the finest instrumentalists in China. Hopefully my music was able to help give players the authentic experience of an ancient Chinese wedding!

  4. What makes you excited about composing for film and television?

    When I write music for film and TV, I feel like an invisible actress, using music as a magic tool to influence the emotions of the audience. As Goethe once wrote, “Music is liquid architecture,” and I thoroughly enjoy the process of building it: figuring out the dramatic function of the music in a scene, trying a number of musical ideas until I hit on the right tone and pacing, refining the idea until it really sings, and finally marrying it to the picture. When you think about a scene where the characters are talking, there are so many decisions that need to be made! How active should the melody be? How thick should the accompaniment be? Making these decisions truly makes you feel like you are a major part of the creative process on a film or TV project. I find this to be incredibly exciting and rewarding!

  5. What are you looking forward to, and what are you hoping to achieve in the next 5-10 years?

    Composing is an ongoing journey, and what I really hope to accomplish in the next 10 years is to continue developing and exploring my personal musical style, and to continue to improve on my ability to tell stories through music for all types of visual media and beyond. Also, I plan to nurture and take care of myself, body and soul, so I can have a long and fruitful career as a composer.

    Check out the AWFC profile for Min He.

    Interview by Nami Melumad

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