The success of the creative industry, more often than not, lies in its cultivation of talent. Appreciating this, the government in Macao and the community at large endeavour to come up with the best ways to nurture local talent, particularly via various funded learning programmes and scholarships. In this issue, we spoke with three emerging leaders from different arts fields to understand their career paths and their views towards the outlook of the industry.
Lau Chi Keung: The Mastery of Sound
Lau’s passion for sound design and sound effects came from his experience of setting up a band with his friends when he was a high school student. He decided to pursue this as a profession, and successfully secured a place to study sound production at the SAE Institute Singapore. With school fees coming to MOP 300,000 a year, it was not an easy financial responsibility. Lau applied for funding from Macao Foundation, yet the organisation could only support programmes from leading international institutions. In the end, Lau decided to take his friends’ advice and wrote to the Cultural Affairs Bureau for funding. As a result, he secured a subsidy from the Bureau.
“At the beginning, my class had around 30 students. In the end, only seven of us graduated.” The programme was intensive, and with substantial assignments and only 15 days of holidays each year, many students decided to quit the course. Towards the end of their course, they were even asked to hand in an essay on a weekly basis. Lau said: “To train our ear, our professor cleverly tuned up the frequency in the sound mixer, and so we sat there for four hours listening to the background noise of a TV being tuned.”
In Singapore, foreign students are not allowed to take up work, yet this did not discourage Lau, who went on to seek opportunities, and he eventually went on to become the resident sound engineer for the ESO Symphony in Singapore for a year. He also went to Taiwan to interview the sound engineer for the Taiwan Symphony Orchestra. These experiences gave him extensive insights and enriched his thesis. Moreover, they also helped him to gain recognition within the field.
Since Chinese is spoken widely in Singapore, Lau is often taken as a local when he went for internship interviews. However, they soon realised that he is not a native. “I don’t think that the students are much different when it comes to their learning ability and work performance. The only disadvantage, coming from Macao, is that my English speaking ability is less competitive than the locals.” Despite the drawback in terms of English fluency, Lau has a strong will to learn and an indefatigable spirit. “There was a student from Mauritius, and I was very curious to know why he would come all the way to learn sound production. Apparently, there is a lack of sound professionals in his country, and so he has decided to study this subject. Upon his return to his home country, he set up a company and initiated projects with leading artists.”
During his residency, various opportunities such as quartet performances, choral performances, documentary soundtrack, broadened his portfolio. In Macao, sound effects professionals are only needed when there are large-scale concerts and festivals. In Singapore, however, Lau found out that their orchestras have high expectations on the perfection of sound, an attitude for which he much respected.
“The key difference in the music environments between Macao and Singapore lies in the fact that Macao’s orchestras value performance opportunities more than studio recordings, while in Singapore, even small concerts will have professional recordings.”
Singapore’s leading music academies have offered music recording programmes for a long time. The director for the award-winning movie, Ilo Ilo, is an alumnus at Ngee Ann Polytechnic which funded the film shoot. This showed how the local government cared for and promoted cultural and creative arts on a national scale. Lau quoted from the Singaporeans: “You only need to look at the schools and programmes established at the National University of Singapore, you will understand the government’s policy.”
With an established arts scene, graduates could seek advancement in the field once they took up jobs in their arts streams. Lau felt that in comparison, Macao’s creative industry is still in its early stage. While this means the potential for growth where creative practices are involved, the downside is that artists must be proactive in seeking out opportunities “When I first joined the industry, I gained many insights from interviewing veteran practitioners. Our local film boom operator, lighting professionals and photographers do not offer internships. So the question is how do you seek advancement once you have reached a certain level of proficiency?”
According to the provisions of the subsidy application rules, it requries recipients to return to work in Macao for at least two years within five years after they graduate from their programmes. Lau originally wanted to apply for gaming companies, but his schoolmate reminded him: “You might find your talent stifled in big corporations. It’s by far better to venture abroad and to perfect your craft first.” Subsequently, Lau gained the attention of some local filmmakers, and so he was given the roles of sound recording and film scoring for the film Macao Stories 3: City Maze.
On his return to Macao, Lau mainly worked in film recordings, sound production and soundtrack making. His plan is to find time to do some further studies. Smiling, he said that in recent years when he travelled to the Mainland, he had the privilege of meeting peers of remarkable talent. “When I was doing sound production, I came across an assistant who used to work as a sound-making intern. As they talked, he realised how these young interns might know much more than he did.” The Mainland has a flourishing arts scene. Even for an intern, the opportunities to learn are vast, since you’d be dealing with such a diversity of film genres. This meant more jobs for us. I have to recognise that I am nothing but a grain of sand. In fact, this has kept me motivated.