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Composer Melvyn Tan's "Life" is a magnum opus which took S$80,000 to make.

Local composer brings a one-man orchestra to life

May 8, 2015 5:50 AM

DEBUT efforts don't get any bigger than Illumine Symphony's Life, a full-blown orchestra recording put together by just one man - composer Melvyn Tan.

An audio engineer by profession, the concept album consists of 10 tracks and also features modern instruments such as electric and bass guitars, as well as African percussion.

Taking its listeners on a musical journey from the time of physical birth to the time just after death, Life sounds like legendary English prog-rockers Pink Floyd collaborating with Japanese New Age composer Kitaro in the studio.

Tan says the project was born in 2010, not long after he returned from Hong Kong where he has been working in the film and broadcast industry since 1997. "One of (my friends) suggested that I should do an album for myself - after all, this was what I was doing for many others in the last 22 years of my life," he says, "It got me thinking and ultimately I decided that The Illumine Symphony Project would be my legacy."

Lest that come across as a vanity or self-indulgent project, Tan explains it's actually "a one-man crusade" to rally artists from different fields and disciplines together. "If from within this project, I / we could help and gather artistes - not just musicians, but dancers, choreographers, producers, directors and others to be involved - we could start a new movement in support of the countless artistes who have basically no avenues to start, let alone flourish."

He adds, "The Illumine Symphony Project does not lack talent - we lack the support of industry, funding and recognition (so) we hope that as we grow, recognition would come and subsequently the support would follow." The master plan is for Life to eventually be extended into a performance art piece, backed by a full philharmonic orchestra, a chorus of operatic singers, a ballet troop and special stage effects.

The emotive composition has a cinematic scope which Tan hopes will help listeners imagine their own narrative while listening to it. "There is a portion where (they) should question if the protagonist committed suicide or killed someone else," he says.

With the exception of some vocals which had to be recorded in Russia and Spain, Tan took on every other aspect of making Life on his own, including mixing and mastering, plus raising the S$80,000 it cost to make the album.

Summing up Life's sonically ambitious and epic scope, he declares, "If something is worth doing, it's worth over-doing."

Illumine Symphony's Life concept album will be released digitally on 22nd May 2015 on all digital distribution platforms. A preview of the opening track can be streamed here: