Chinese master of martial arts meets Henry VIII

Crouching Tiger / Hidden Dragon screenshot

Back in 2013 I travelled to Wellington to be part of a recording team of a New Zealand Symphony Orchestra concert. The programme was full of music by acclaimed Chinese composer Tan Dun. The NZSO played three of his soundtracks of martial arts films: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero and The Banquet.

The concert was conducted by the composer himself, so it was with great excitement that I flew down to the capital of New Zealand to meet the man whose music has been a great source of inspiration for me.

Maestro Tan turned out to be one of the most modest people I've ever met. He worked with the orchestra so gracefully and managed to work out the intricacies of his complex music with them in no time. It sounded both so delicate and powerful. It was very humbling to be around the man.

Fast forward a few weeks, when I started working on a soundtrack for the Auckland Theatre Company. The play was a modern take on the story of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. It was written by British playwright Howard Brenton and had a highly successful run at the Globe Theatre in London. And now I was booked as composer and sound designer to work on the New Zealand production of the play. I needed powerful music that could carry the turmoil and struggle between Henry VIII and the pope. It had to reflect the fateful dispute which ultimately led to the establishment of the Church of England. Hmmm, how do you go about that??

Anne Boleyn production by Auckland Theatre Company.
Anna Jullienne and Andrew Grainger. Photo: Michael Smith

Inspired by the raw power of the Chinese percussion that maestro Tan put to use so effectively, I went back to a piece for percussion that I wrote earlier. I packed it with more drama and more interesting and diverse sounds and shaped it to fit the modern staging of the Henry VIII play.

This is how creative work goes. You can take inspiration from anywhere. Just keep an open mind. You know you have the right idea when it talks to you, begs you to use it for your project. Sometimes it can take a long time of searching. Other times it presents itself on a silver platter, as was the case with my 'Chinese martial arts meets Henry VIII' percussion music.

It's a meeting of two worlds that have absolutely nothing to do with each other. But for my purpose it was perfect and it worked like a treat in the theatre.

With all that context in mind, go ahead and listen to my percussion piece. It's called Conflict. I hope you can hear the conflict in the music.