Sophie Koh

'Book Of Songs'

Music | April 6 2017

“Book of Songs” is inspired by western styles but has eastern beginnings, a blurry bridge of East and West, in search for simplicity. It contains the female inner dialogue and ponders over the imagery of home and heritage. This is a background story, my pop symphonic tone poem.

Paper Kites

I attended my late maternal grandmother’s funeral in Malaysia when I was eight years old. Yellow-gold fake paper money (Joss paper) were being thrown in the fire, as an offering to the afterlife. I have strong memory of this joss paper, melting into ashes whilst in mid-flight, like paper kites. It is the only traditional Chinese funeral I had ever attended.

Yellow Rose

A strong visual of me, walking through bare open desert, a monochrome scene, sweeping clouds, in search of home. And a sense of yearning, mother for child.

 

During the writing of this album, I was reading a lot of translated poetry by early Chinese women poets, by courtesans, palace women and priestesses, many of whom were emotionally, intellectually isolated.

 

Obligation and duty had kept the mother away but they are finally reuniting. There is a sense of finally coming home. Yellow Rose, a symbol of youth and hope.

Tiger not the Hare & Tiger not the Hare (reprise) – instrumental

Musically, Tiger Not the Hare was inspired by one of my favourite classical composer, Bela Bartok. He wrote in a quirky but accessible rhythm, true to his Hungarian folk roots. My challenge was see how I could integrate that into a modern pop song. Narrative-wise, this song is loosely based on 2 characters of the Chinese horoscope, the Tiger and the Rabbit/Hare. The song with about female empowerment and not apologising for letting your inner-tiger surface for all to see.

Tiger not the Hare is the first ever music video that I’m not in! I had always imagined someone dancing to this song, like my previous clip Lo-Fi (www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjHgQKycu0g) . I was post-baby so it couldn’t be me! But I kept it in the family with my talented cousin, dancer/choreographer, Lilian Steiner standing in. Coincidently, her mum is Chinese and father Hungarian so it just all came together!

This clip was done on a tiny budget with director/cinematographer Tom Chapman and Cesar Rodrigues at the helm. We shot it overnight at the beautifully ornate Mischa’s Boxing Gym in Footscray, next door to industrial warehouses and fisheries. The 4pm till 7am shoot was hard on everyone. I’m not sure how Lilian kept dancing. Tom, Cesar and the crew still had a smile on their faces by the end. My baby had a serious viral illness and had to be hospitalised the night prior so I hadn’t slept for 50 hours. Luckily I was only in charge of the catering. I just kept making sure everyone kept drinking coffee…Ah, the life of an independent musician.

Once a Little Girl

Every time I sing the chorus, the multiple voices in unison reminds me of a group of women, working hard in the rice fields, casually singing along as they harvest rice. Another song inspired by women Chinese poets. The meditative nature of the outro is one of my favourite moments of this album. If you listen till the end, you’ll notice I’m trying to sing like a Chinese Erhu!

I Want to Dance

The style of this song was heavily inspired by my Grade 1 Piano book, by John Thompson. This book was favourite when I was a little girl playing piano. There were plenty of black and white illustrations, and song lyrics you could sing along to whilst you played.

A little girl, alone, like a ghost, in full skirt, dancing in and empty hall. Like this picture taken from the book!

Play with Gold

This is an old song that never fitted into my other albums. I love the instrumentation of this song, just cello, viola and voice. The cello only plucks (pizzicato) throughout. And I love how the viola weaves around the lead vocals, like it’s singing a duet with me.

Gan Lan Shu (Olive Tree) 橄榄树

My parents are both one of 12 children. Growing up in Malaysia, they were musical people but never had the opportunity to learn instruments. So they made do with a lot of karaoke. They sang this old folk song a lot and I knew one day I would record this for my own album.

 

This is a famous Chinese folk song, by Taiwanese musician, San Mao. Most Mandarin speakers of any country (Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, China etc) would know it.

It has been covered by MANY artists. The lyrics translate to:

“Don’t ask me from where I have come,
My home is far, far away.
Why do you wander so far?
Wander so far, wander so far?
For the little bird flying in the sky,
For the blue brook running in the mountain,
For the broad meadow green and wide,
I wander, wander so far.
Then, is there more?
Yes, for the Olive Tree of my dream”

Green Bird on the Maple Tree

A love song of apologies, regret and the ultimate surrender of letting go. Imagery inspired by a painting of the same name, by Chinese artist Yu Fei’an.

Ta De Mei (Her Beauty) 她的美

This is a new version of an old song of mine called ‘Somewhere’, which featured in my previous record, Oh My Garden.

This is my first ever original song in Mandarin! I worked on the translation with the lead singer of the Beijing band 16mins. Her name is Jiao Siyu (Sindy. I toured China for the first time in 2013 and Sindy was our support act and tour manager.

Translation:

Someday
Quiet the night
You left me, go far
Go where?
Tell me why
What is not said to me
I’m afraid
I’m having a hard time

Her beauty, where is it hiding exactly?
Maybe its with her mouth, her shallow smile
Maybe in her gentle palm/hands
I understand
We are all looking for love
We are the same
I understand

Through your eyes
I see her
You’ve never said
She is in your heart
Her beauty, where is it hiding exactly?’
Maybe its with her mouth, her shallow smile
Maybe in her gentle palm/hands

Gold Noodle

Yamaha Pianos lent me a gorgeous C5 grand piano for one month to record this album. This track is an improvisation as I was doodling on the piano in the middle of a recording session.

Song for the Birds

Whilst on a picturesque train journey from Barcelona to Valencia, I scribbled down these lyrics inspired by a Catalan patriotic folk tune of similar name, “Song of the Birds’. A lament.

You can listen to ‘Book of Songs’ here


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