Written by Uyen Ly for Hanoi Grapevine
Photos provided by the artist
Video by Dinh Vu Bao Hoa
Luong Hue Trinh is an artist from the second generation of electronic music / experimental musicians in Vietnam, following Kim Ngoc, Son X and Vu Nhat Tan. Hanoi Grapevine has been following Luong Hue Trinh’s progress since she started practicing under the guidance of musician Son X, participating in music projects in Vietnam and abroad, and most recently, she graduated with a master’s degree of Multimedia composition in Hamburg, Germany with the maximum score given by the examination council. Trinh has become one of the rare experts in Vietnam who is professionally-trained in contemporary music.
Luong Hue Trinh’s music is becoming more and more sophisticated, she creates space and story from rich, lively sounds where let the audience get comfortable to feel and work their imagination.
“…with electronic music, I feel liberated. It opens me up to many more possibilities of utilizing sounds and creating a space for music. It seems like I enter a vast land where these “floating” states inbetween specific emotions, like sadness, sorrow or joy, or the fragile boundaries between the music genres, have been formed and developed over hundreds of years…”
Below is the conversation we had had with Luong Hue Trinh.
Does anyone in your family work in the music industry? Where did your love of music come from and how did it show when you were a child?
Music was nurtured in me from a very young age, because both my parents’ families played music, with western and traditional instruments, professionally and amateurishly. When I was young, I often heard Cai Luong because my mother’s brother and my parents played đàn tranh (plucked zither). When I was 5, my uncle (my father’s younger brother) taught me how to play the keyboard and at the age of 7 or 8, I started performing at the Children’s Cultural Palace in Hai Duong where I was born and raised.
Perhaps thanks to growing up in such an environment, music seeped into me in a very natural way. Like any other children, wearing beautiful clothes, standing on the stage, being applauded for and getting recognized makes me excited and very proud. Later on when I got older, I feel interested in the feeling of living in two different worlds, immerse myself in some kind of wonderland on stage and returning to reality when the show finishes. This interesting, indescribable feeling keeps following me until now.
Was it your decision or your family’s decision for you to enroll into Vietnam National Academy of Music (VNAM)?
In 1997, when I was 12 years old, Hanoi Conservatory of Music sent a number of lecturers to recruit students from the provinces. I registered for the recruitment and was selected to study cello – string instrument. However, when I received the admission notice, my parents didn’t want to let their little daughter go study far away from home because I was too young. Another reason which concerns my parents is that it is tough in this industry. The process of studying for more than ten long years from elementary to undergraduate, and if you haven’t graduated from high school, you must follow both normal and music classes every day, not to mention homework and practicing in the evening. Even when you graduate, it still takes years for skill enhancement and development, and you could barely make a living with this career. That’s too tough. I cried a lot when I knew my parents didn’t want to let me go studying music.
The following year, 1998, I was determined to go to Hanoi to take the entrance exam. This time, my parents must have recognized the strong desire in their daughter so they agreed to let me go to Hanoi. And this time, I got admitted to study keyboard instruments, that I’d always dreamed of.
Have you ever thought of doing anything other than making music?
When I was in elementary school, I used to dream of becoming an English interpreter when I grew up. But as time went by, I realize that I am attached to music and it seems that it is the only path that I want to travel long-term.
Professionally-trained in jazz keyboard, why and how did you start to take interest in electronic music?
In my senior year at Vietnam National Academy of Music (2009-2010, formerly Hanoi Conservatory of Music) majoring in Jazz Keyboard, one of my lecturers was musician/artist Vu Nhat Tan. More often than not, in talent schools in music or dance the curriculum starts when they student are at a very young age and lasts for years. So the way the lecturers and the students address one another is somewhat less formal than in other universities. One day, Tan took the whole class to the rehearsal of a Norwegian duo playing noise music at the academy. Like my classmates, at first I found it very hard to listen to. Gradually, I tried to find a way to relax my ears and myself so that I could feel and welcome the sounds. Not long after that, Tan mentioned a professional software to perform and make music. I found it interesting, so I tried to install it on my computer. Then I started to explore how to use this software and create small segments as an exercise for my ears and my inspiration. At that time, I had no concept of contemporary nor experimental music, because while studying in school I only knew jazz, classical, or traditional music, it was not until I happened to meet Nguyen Xuan Son (SonX) at Vu Nhat Tan’s house that I learned more about other music genres.
With experimental electronic music, what other composing abilities does it allow you to have, compared to acoustic instruments or other types of music, such as jazz?
In my final year at the university studying jazz, every student had to write at least one composition for a band at each final exam. In jazz, using improvisation to express personal identity in music is highly appreciated. However, I still saw something lacking in my compositions, it didn’t make me really satisfied. It’s because there still exist the emotional states I had yet been able to express through the melody, the rhythm and the harmony in my works. But at that time I hadn’t found a way to overcome this.
That was until I approached and started working with electronic music, I felt liberated.It opens me up to many more possibilities of utilizing sounds and creating a space for music. It seems like I enter a vast land where these “floating” states inbetween specific emotions, like sadness, sorrow or joy, or the fragile boundaries between the music genres which have been formed and developed over hundreds of years, and they can be blended together and performed smoothly with enough knowledge and skills.
Sound resources are also richer and can be utilized more thoroughly, even on musical instruments. Musicians and performers alike are all looking for new sounds and techniques right on the instruments with which they have been practicing and performing for years. Therefore, the most accurate name for the music I compose and perform should be electro-acoustic music, meaning a combination of acoustic and electronic instruments.
Luong Hue Trinh performing in “Music from shy & sophisticated souls” at Hanoi Rock City vào ngày 23/2/2019:
In all of experimental musicians in Vietnam, why did you choose SonX as your mentor?
Because I am extremely impressed with Son’s music. I was deeply moved right from the first time I heard it. At that time, I was unable to sleep all night and even keep those tracks on repeat. That never happened before when I listened to the works of other musicians, and perhaps haven’t happened again up until now. After that, I asked Son if he could be my mentor. In fact, at that time, apart from knowing he was a musician and a performer, I didn’t know much else. It was only much later that I discovered that Son is one of the pioneer artists in Vietnam’s experimental / contemporary music.
And although he praised and encouraged me when listening to the music segments I made, he refused to accept me as a student. He also didn’t forget to include a long list of the difficulties that I will face if I follow this path. Not to mention that his strict personality would be a big challenge as well. Still, I insisted asking him to be my mentor with the reason that I need a strict teacher to forge my discipline and thus produce quality works. After a year of “persistent refusal”, Son had to give up and agreed to accept me as a student. But the joy of being accepted didn’t last long because after about half a year later, Son “disappeared”. And then a year later, he contacted me again and said: “The past year has been my challenge for you, to know if you have enough passion to follow this tough road and to see whether you would continue if there’s no one to push you. Now that you’ve passed, we can continue to work together. ” See, just the process of getting admitted as a student was already very difficult for me (laugh).
And, despite the “warning”, indeed, Son’s perfectionism and requirements for quality made me extremely stressed, and at a time I even fell into depression. Son is not only strict in music but also in life and in art in general, so being scared witless when practicing, or crying until my eyes got swollen because I was scolded happened to me every so often. But now I’m less scared because I was a little bit “bigger” than before (laugh).
For what reason do you think you were awarded the a full DAAD scholarship by the German government?
DAAD is a scholarship fund for academic exchange programs around the world funded by the German government. That means competition is extremely tough. After sending my application to Germany, I completely forgot about it because I didn’t think I had the chance to receive this scholarship. So I was very surprised when I got the admission email. Then when I went to Germany and talk to several professors, they told me that the education system in this country is aimed at students who have their own identity and personality in music or arts. And they will only admit students who, after having gone through training programs, be able to show their growth potential. So I think that’s somewhat related to why I got my scholarship.
How did studying in Germany change you and what differences did it bring when you were in Vietnam?
During my time studying and participating in performing projects in Germany as well as in Europe, what I saw from my classmates and colleagues was an open-minded, perfectionist spirit; the way they work persistently, attentively and always love to try new things (with themselves). For me, these are so important to create quality work and to stimulate curiosity and creativity.
Combining different art forms and utilizing technology to create the result you want is also something that I learned in school, while studying multimedia composition under the guidance by Professor Georg Hajdu. Having been fortunate to be in such a good working environment, I could gradually push myself to try what I have never dared to do before back in Vietnam. One of the “biggest risk” I took is the graduation project for my master’s degree in Hamburg which received the maximum score from the examination board. I did almost everything myself like composing, asking for sponsorship, accounting, engineering, staging, designing, writing text, practicing and performing live with the musicians… in a multimedia concert. This concert would be introduced to Vietnamese audience on March 16, at 20:00 at L’Espace – 24 Trang Tien, Hanoi with the sponsorship of the Goethe-Institut Hanoi and L’Espace – Institut Français de Hanoï, with Hanoi Grapevine as media partner.
Women constrained by Confucianism serve as your inspiration for the show VỆT (STREAKS) on March 16, how do you describe that with music? Could you help explain it to our readers a little bit? Maybe about sound properties, or the way you use the musical instruments….
The theme of the concert is my observation of women’s and children’s role in society in feudal as well as modern time, with a strong influence of Confucianism on Vietnam’s culture and society. It has left its mark on many generations. Today, its impact on family and social relationships is somewhat not as strong as before, especially with younger generations. However, there are still things that are deeply carved into the subconscious mind of Vietnamese people, which modern thoughts and feelings are still not be able to remove.
VỆT (STREAKS) is a multimedia concert with focusing on my 5 compositions, each with a different approach, from the rigor in a standard piece of music to versatility in the forms of general graphic, or the boundary between creative skills and improvisation. Elements of traditional music are blended with electronic sounds, combined with photography, videography and texts in order to address complex relationships filled with loneliness and torment.
For me, music does not have a descriptive function because for that we have literature and realism in visual arts… Music is an abstract type of art with its own language. Of course the sound materials and properties in composition and performance are all placed in a certain connection with the theme. But that’s what’s in my mind, that’s my imagination in the process of creating the work. In contemporary art, each author has a different style of expression and of conveying a message. Therefore, not everyone gives a specific, clear message through each work, but mostly they just want to mention an issue to evoke certain thoughts from the audience, depending on each individual’s knowledge, cultural background and even life experiences. I think that’s exactly what helps create vitality, diversity and multi-dimensional perspective for every contemporary artwork.
Thank you so much for helping us understand more about your work and contemporary music at large.
Listen to Luong Hue Trinh’s music here: