By Erin Chew
The world of music composition in America is seldom discussed in the debates around Asian representation and visibility. One of the primary reasons for this is that the faces of music composers are not physically visible in front and/or behind the camera.
For Malaysian-born music composer Joy Ngiaw, this point rings true. Raised in Shanghai, Ngiaw grew up in and around music, especially classical music. Now living in Los Angeles, Ngiaw has spent the past eight years working in film and television. During these eight years, Ngiaw has seen the demographics of the industry change, but this doesn’t necessarily translate to seeing more Asian faces, nor does it translate to Asian names being credited for the music.
“There isn’t a lot of us Asians in this space, but there is more of us than say eight years ago when I started. If you think about the top Hollywood films, you always just see the same names as music composer, because there is still a risk-averse nature in the world of Hollywood music composition. I feel it is time this changes, and I feel it will as more of us Asians are starting to get more into this field”, Ngiaw mentioned recently in an interview with AsAmNews.
Ngiaw’s music can be heard on Apple TV+ and Skydance’s debut animation Blush, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Short Circuit: Jing Hua, and Netflix’s Rescued By Ruby. Most recently, Ngiaw scored the music for the Netflix 10-episode series Glamorous, departing from her usual orchestral works to incorporate a more contemporary, pop-inspired style.
“This was definitely a challenge, but one which was worthwhile and eye-opening. Veering away from my usual musical genre, I scored this music with a fun and light-hearted tone being mindful to incorporate some of the tender and critical moments from the series. I experimented using plug-ins to manipulate traditional instruments like the harp and piano”, Ngiaw expressed.
Drawn to stories that evoke nostalgia and have meaningful connections between characters, Ngiaw spoke about how her compositions are very emotional. This is so the audience can get a feel for what is to come from the film and/or show and gain some thought-provoking perspectives.
“My aim has always been to score and create music that contributes to culturally relevant content that celebrates diversity. I am proud to say that so far all the projects I have undertaken have achieved this. However, this is not something I have achieved alone, and scoring music for film and television is a very collaborative process – in terms of meeting the people creating the film or television show and understanding their inspirations, perspectives and motives for doing what they do”.
Ngiaw also has credits on acclaimed projects including TV shows Legion (FX), Cobra Kai (Netflix), The Night Of (HBO), and films such as Impractical Jokers: The Movie (WarnerMedia), On The 12th Date of Christmas (Hallmark) as well as video games What Remains of Edith Finch.
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