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Art & Life with Justin Yau

Today we’d like to introduce you to Justin Yau.

Justin, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
My life revolves between Hong Kong and Los Angeles; both with the very different music scenes. In Hong Kong, I had to take exams to get certifications in music theory and performing instrument. On the other hand, learning music in the US provided me lots of freedom in expressing my articulations and opinion in music. Growing up, I became proficient in playing the guitar by playing in the classical setting, rock bands, and jazz bands.

In high school, I had the opportunity to take music courses that involves writing in music notation software and performing in front of each other. At first, I dislike writing music and I remember my teacher saying we should ask our parents to buy us the Sibelius software as our Christmas presents. I thought to myself that was the worst idea ever, but now I wish I had gotten it sooner.

In 2014 I studied music for undergraduate, which provided me the very standard university level music training but also exposed me to the world of post production. I studied classical guitar under Christopher Wong. Being under Christopher Wong provided me opportunities to play in masterclasses from virtuosos such as Yang Xue Fei and Thomas Csaba. Playing the music of Sergio Assad and Heitor Villa Lobos is one of my prime inspiration. In school I also studied electro acoustic music, I was able to take advantage of digital audio workstation and use it to my advantage as a composer. Through ProTools, I was exposed to a whole new world of possibilities in terms of audio manipulation. Soon after I was one of the assistant engineers under Ronald Ng, a Hong Kong composer, where I had the opportunity to work with artists and producers. Becoming familiar with the post production set up as an engineer and composer, I made up my mind to create music and sound design for different media.

In my recent years, I came back to Los Angeles to do my master’s degree in Experimental sound practices. During the time in LA, I was able to collaborate with filmmakers, animators and choreographers to expand my understanding of how sound interacts with these kinds of media.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
My expertise is creating foley/sound design and music. I usually experiment with how these independent elements work with each other. In normal settings, composers and sound designers work amongst themselves and might have to compromise their work for the sake of another depending on the scene. Being able to work on both I always strive to grasp the perfect balance between the music and sound design to tell the story.

Another aspect I focus on is creating my sound. I work a lot with analog synths as a way to avoid using presets from plugins. Although it may take more time, the satisfaction in creating my custom sound is worth it. For example, I like to mix the synth sounds with recorded elements, such as choir or street sound as a way to create something unique. Another thing that makes me unique is that I don’t use the piano when composing, and since I’m awful at it, my writing tends to differ from people that rely on the piano. Being inspired by lots of guitar composers such as Leo Brouwer and Sergio Assad these are the few of the composers I take inspiration from. Working primarily on film and animation I can say I don’t have much say in what the message my music portrays, but rather the process of creating my music is what identifies me.

Any advice for aspiring or new artists?
Whether it is with a fellow composer, a friend that is into film making. I would say composers should collaborate with whoever they can find. While not all collaborations are fun, you will learn something, and that’s the fastest way to hone your skills as an artist. It’s the experience that will make you different from other people. Mistakes will be made, but at least you will have the opportunity to reflect and avoid the same mistake next time.

As for me, I wish I took more initiative to learn more instruments when I was a kid, so I can dub my violin, cello, etc. So don’t give up the things you spend time on, because one day you might need it.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
My work is usually attached to a film or animation work. You can usually find it on Vimeo, YouTube or film festivals. One of my most recent works is with a friend Zilai Feng. Her animation Sweater received Vimeo’s staff pick! Feel free to check it out if you have time!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Jennifer Young
Clarissa Liu
Zilai Feng
Chan Wing Sze
Kenneth Kwan

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