Tuesday, 7 December 2010


By: Zacquine Miken

Whenever I walk past a music school or music store with its beautiful glossy piano displays, I find myself walking down memory lane as a four-year old little girl, beaming with excitement at my first trip to a music school upon the sight of those beautiful shiny black bodies and ivory-black keys. I had seen adults play the piano on TV before, and heard the beautiful melodies that resounded at the touch of the keys and in the theme songs of my favorite anime series and films in the 80’s. Straying away from my mother, I proceeded to play the theme song from my favourite Hayao Miyazaki anime films ‘Castle of Cagliostro’ and ‘Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind - 鳥の人’. I fumbled a little on the keys at first, but as I got the hang of the notes to the keys and matched the keys to the melody in my head, I found myself beginning to play the songs and imagining the scenes of the animated films in my mind as I played. I felt as if I was taken away to another magical fantasy world. It was just then that the Principal of the school walked up towards me and asked me where my mother was. I realized that I was lost and a public announcement was broadcast for my mother to find me. When my mother came to fetch me, the Principal had a word with her and told my mother that I had a natural gifting in music, and urged her to sign me up for piano lessons to nurture my talent. Disbelieving at first, my mother finally signed me up with the school after I replayed the song for her on the piano.

Hayao Miyazaki's film ‘Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind - 鳥の人’ below:

Youtube video of the theme song for ‘Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind - 鳥の人’ below:

Youtube video of the theme song for ‘The Castle of Cagliostro’ below:

I never owned a piano, and it was only after I proved myself to my mother by jumping to Grade One ahead of the older children that she was convinced to purchase my first piano for me (what she would otherwise regard as an expensive useless thing that would only fulfill its sole purpose of being played by a child). To me, it was clear that music was my passion, and that first encounter with the piano had ignited a deep love for music in me. Music did reveal a little rebellion in me from such a young age, but I believed that it was a sort of rebellion that was worth fighting for – something that I truly believed in. Throughout my childhood, I continued to self educate myself in the multi-genres of music like Electronica, Indie, Alternative Rock, Ballads, Disco, Funk etc, with my first love still very much ingrained in Fantasy and animation music. I would rush back from school each time to catch my favorite TV programs like the ‘Jane, Rod & Rodney’ show from the UK where the trio sang and danced to their original song compositions, and I would whip out my cassette tape recorder and start recording the songs and work on my ‘mix-tape’. Sometimes I would also sample in my voice with a mix of songs from my favorite TV or cartoon shows.Whenever there was any nice music video on the MTV channel or ‘Channel V’, I would always have my VHS tape on standby in the VHS recorder to record down the music videos.

You may not believe this, but music (& TV too) formed such an integral and large part of my life, to the point that my entire life depended on it. I amassed my wealth in knowledge in the realms of languages (lyrical studies certainly helped a lot in spelling!), science, math, general knowledge, relationship-management, creative-writing and poetry, literature, history and political science and more. Contrary to what the educators, adults and schools taught, the more I watched TV and listened to music, the better my grades at school became! My mother was not too happy with my addiction in TV and music (I even carried this addiction to the bath room where each bath-time session was spent using the shower head or shampoo bottle as a make-belief microphone, as I crooned away to songs), however, my grades proved her otherwise. Studying without music was a chore, as I needed music to prep up my mood and aid me in my mental state. It was times like these that I fully agree to the lyrics of the song 'The Sun Always Shines on TV - A-Ha'. I would encourage myself with songs to suit different situations. For example, if I was down or feeling dejected, I would sing 'Don't Worry, Be Happy' or 'Dream - Disney Robin Hood theme song' or 'Wonderful World'.

Growing up in my teenage years, my rebellion struck again when I secretly self-enrolled myself into design school (which had both animation and audio-engineering/music modules in the Interactive Media Design course). Even though my mother did not regard art and creativity too highly (she felt that it was an utter waste of time and that art, design and music did not have much prospect), I chose to follow my heart and pursue my passion. I never regretted my decision and I became one of the better students in the faculty; I even topped audio-engineering class, under the discipleship of the German DJ John Kompa. I moved a step further and formed a band in design school and became an active member of the Campus Music Club. An avid fan of the Japanese J-Rock singer Nanase Aikawa, I wore the same hairstyle of heavily layered and textured hair in bright red streaks, and was regularly spotted clad in Rocker-chic street wear on campus grounds. Being in the design school and the Campus band meant that I was constantly exposed to new forms of eclectic and outrageous music styles. It helped all the more with multi-national friends from around the globe, where I raved over Dance and Electronic music from Iceland, France, Japan, USA and so on. Tunes from Electronic, Trip Hop and Indie bands/artistes like Gus Gus (Iceland), Bang Gang (Iceland), Bjork (Iceland), Towai Tei (Japan), Ken Ishii (Japan), Jazztronik (Japan), Portishead (UK), Moby (USA), Fat Boy Slim/Norman Cook (UK), Chicane (UK), Massive Attack (Bristol, UK) constantly filled my Discman back then (we did not have MP3 players during that era), and my leisure times were spent together with my equally crazy ex boyfriend (who was a trainspotter - bedroom DJ) scouring the aisles of Tower Records in search of new vinyl 12-inch records and CDs. I later moved on to start new bands (my current band being the Goth-Alternative Rock band ‘Scarlet Resonance’) after my graduation, and took part in gigs, performances and songwriting/band competitions. It gave me a sense of self-fulfillment whenever I won an award, but even if I did not, I walked out from that experience learning something new.

My 'Nanase Aikawa' image back then:

My band 'Scarlet Resonance'

Having gone through this whole journey of musical discovery, I have learnt that after all this; going back to the basics is still the key. With all that clutter of information that I had accumulated over the years, my songwriting began to reveal the signs of clutter as well. In my quest to make my music sound better, I kept trying to add on layers and effects, instrumentation, samples and other stuff, and ended up losing myself in the muddiness of it all. There was one time when someone commented that he did not know where my focal point in the song was, and he felt that the instruments and vocals were clashing with one another. He told me in all honesty, that he had much preferred my earlier works, where things were kept simple but beautiful – whereby the lyrics, melody and crisp vocals could be clearly heard and conveyed the emotions and story of the song well. Another time, I was too focused in making the music sound good, that I neglected the lyrical aspect, and the end result was a song idea (it wasn't even fir to be considered a song!) that did not execute the true expression and emotions of the lyrics. When I reflect back on the theme song of ‘Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind - 鳥の人’ and what made me fall in love with that song when I was four years old, I realized that I had been captivated by the simplicity of the song, and its expressive simple strings and piano despite the lack of lyrics. It was then  I truly knew, that in order to write a good song, one has to be true to oneself – to be genuine and not pretend to be something that he/she is not. What is the mood that one is in? What is that one belief? What is the message that one wants to bring across? It isn’t such a complicated thing – life’s pleasures lie in sheer simplicity. Take my favorite Chocolate Truffle cake for example. It looks just like a simple chocolate cake but when I bite into its soft yet rich and light texture, I feel as if I am in heaven. Any additional decoration or icing on top of it would further enhance it, however, icing on a distasteful cake does not do much to make it a better cake.

My music video where I played the piano and sang the cover song 'Storm' by Lifehouse

My first Mandarin Song Composition, song titled '黑暗光明 - Darkness To Light' (Lyrics written by Chen Lin, Melody and Vocals by me)

I would encourage others to believe in themselves and to persevere in their dreams and beliefs, no matter how others try to put one down. Every dream starts with a conception: an idea, thought or plan. But like a pregnant woman who is conceiving a child, one day, this child has to be birthed, thus, an action plan has to be tied to every conception of a dream. Never let negativism or other dream crushers pull you down – always think Positive. Even though music is still very much my interest/hobby, rather than my profession, I am still working on this passion of mine, with the belief that it would take me somewhere in the future. Concentrate on the small successes and take it step by step, and as for my case, I see myself moving nearer to my goals as I take part in more competitions and win awards, or writing better music, getting involved in more gigs/performances, and actively looking for opportunities. Opportunities do not come to you in perfect conditions, and often times, you have to create/search for the opportunities. Do not let your dream become dormant, for time waits for no man, and when the time has past, would you be able to live in the regret for not having done the things that you wanted to do?

Lastly, I would like to end with a few inspirational quotes and words of advice from world-renown guitarist Steve Vai, below:

Steve Vai's 'Words of Advice' Video

"Whenever u get discouraged, go back to the big original picture. That's where u regain back the excitement & eventually u will receive your reward."

“Identify what is it that you really want. Cos whatever it is that you really want – that’s what’s gonna come out. The things that you are most comfortable with, that you do the best.”

“Work on your strengths, not your weaknesses. I don’t work on my weaknesses, I ignore them, and I cultivate my strengths.”

“The level of achievement that we have on anything is a reflection of how well we are to focus on it. Cos the only thing that is holding you back is the way you’re thinking”

“Pick a song in your head that you would like to play, that you would like to achieve. PICTURE yourself playing it, imagine what it sounds like, keep visualizing. See yourself playing it from beginning till the end. The more you see yourself crystallizing that vision, the more it will become a self-realization prophesy.”

“There’s no work involved, becos it’s all a joy. Cos u know you’re reaching your goal. There are challenges, but never struggle a day in your life.” – Think Positive

“So you break it down piece by piece by piece, bar by bar. Eventually you will be able to play that piece of music. That’s where you keep sticking on it, until you own this piece of music – then it flows. Then you will become the music.”

1 comment:

  1. Zacy's life story is really interesting :)
    I love the inspirational quotes by Steve Vai at the end!