in conversation with Chloe Chung from the Dreambox collective

Our last Women Write Now Interview for year is so exciting that we couldn’t wait to publish it. Even if that means we’re a week ahead than the usual scheduled posting! This interview was something I personally was very passionate about. When I learnt about the work and projects of our wonderful interviewee the fact that I had to share it with our wonderful and dedicated audience as soon as possible seemed unquestionable.
Cue that drumroll please….

Our featured artist for this Women Write Now interview is the tremendously multi-talented and driven-dreamer, Chloe Chung.
Chloe is based in Sydney and has asserted herself as a freelancing cross-cultural flautist. Alongside her activities as a performer, she also teaches the flute and dizi (Chinese Traditional bamboo flute) and the Alexander Technique at various locations around Sydney, including the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Australian Institute of Music (AIM), and the Sydney Alexander Technique School. Sydney became ‘home’ for Chloe when she migrated in 2000, and she holds a vibrant cultural identity of being Malaysian-Singaporean-Chinese-Australian (“in no particular order”). Having moved around a lot when she was young gave her an “an appreciation of small and simple pleasures that [she] could rely on… these include music, reading, writing.”

We had the honour to ask Chloe about her creative practice, identities and her very special project What I Know About Love with the Dreambox Collective.

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Photo credit: Eduardus Lee

Phoebe from Women of Noise: Tell us a bit about your background. Was there a point in your development/career where you began to feel that your culture, music and values began to coalesce and inform each other?

Chloe Chung: I think growing up, there was so much dissonance and confusion and sadness for me generally, especially the transition of moving countries – I barely ever talk about it, because I just found it really difficult, and I must have been a really tragic child for my parents, literally crying every morning and begging not to go to school. I think I was really ashamed and acutely aware back then of being on a different, physical, mental and emotional plane from everyone else – and I was also under the impression that either I was an alien (with my family) or I was living in a classroom filled with other aliens that I didn’t understand (I had previously been in a Chinese school in Singapore, then moved to a primary school on the North shore in Sydney).

It wasn’t until I met my first friend in my third school, at Cammeray Public School, Laura Main – or I should say, until she introduced herself to me and we fell into a lasting friendship – that I really start to have continuous and clear memories. Coincidentally this is also the age I started to learn recorder, and certainly when I actually started to talk aloud more and began to express myself just a little more. Music is a very easy way to connect with other people, and requires the bare minimum of talking!

I would say that the coalescing started then!

I remember doing everything in my little human power to get myself to the Con High (Sydney Conservatorium of Music High School) when I was told that such a place existed.

Similarly, when I realised I really wanted to learn traditional Chinese flute (in a more formal way) in my third year of undergrad degree at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, I just kind of obsessively looked for opportunities to do so! I appreciate that my journey of learning dizi (traditional Chinese bamboo flute) has taken me on adventures in many other places, like back to my hometown in Singapore, to Shanghai, Hangzhou, and well, to Melbourne where one of my dizi teachers lives.

So yes, my music practice since when I was young has completely been the vehicle in which I have been able to understand, learn, navigate, and make sense of so many other things like people and culture. I don’t want to be too corny but it definitely is a universal language, and certainly makes me feel at home, no matter where I am in the world.

Looking back, I feel very grateful that I have been able to deepen all the lines of inquiry that I’ve been curious about, including cultural inquiry, my interest in whole-person health (physical, mental, emotional, social health) and more recently, my interest in whole-planet health. And I’m eternally grateful for my family and friends, teachers and educational institutions who have supported me, and continue to support me.

I hope I can continue developing these lines of thinking, and continue to ask questions and seek answers into the future!

Perhaps I should mention now I’m more introverted-old-lady than a noisy woman? But it can be an aspiration for me definitely!

Phoebe: In 2020, you will be launching What I Know About Love, a new community-building concert series. Can you tell us more about this project?

Chloe: What I know about love is my debut concert series. The series is a way for me to have my own creative space where I can forge some connections which I see as being absolutely VITAL right now in our community. Instead of being employed by some-one else on their musical ‘thing’, it’s my own playground, and I get to shape the conditions present and to some extent the musical and artistic context, which is a real privilege!

With this series, I’m wanting audiences and artists alike to specifically reflect about what they want for each other, our shared ‘home’, the land, and feel included and invited into conversations that are otherwise scary to be in. As a collective, we’ll be writing and performing works that respond, raise awareness and create dialogue about climate emergency and social justice issues. All profits from our ticket sales next year will go towards these causes.

About the title… “What I know about love” is a question I often ask myself for fun, and Dreambox Collective was literally my imagination’s way of answering that question. It didn’t quite come to me in a dream as such, but I was lying in bed at 3am and in that weird space between night and day, I had time to swirl quite a few things around till the idea seemed quite whole and complete.

Dreambox Collective
Photo credit: Kat Choi

Phoebe: You’re launching the series alongside 13 of your musician and artist friends, The Dreambox Collective. Who are they and why are they integral to this project?

I knew that if I wanted to make this project sustainable, I’d essentially want to be working with the people around me that I already regularly play/ed with, and who would be willing to spend time with me to get deep into the subject matters of which we aim to explore. I would essentially be asking them if they were interested in joining me in researching and learning together, in facing some of the uncomfortable realities of living in our world right now… asking them to reflect and create with me within a space of unknowing as the starting point.

Since this is a pretty big ask, I turned to my musical and artistic friends who I have known for quite some time. The musicians and artists belong to different spheres, and even time-periods in my life; for example, some are classically trained and others come from various other musical traditions… Amos Alexander, our pipa player (Chinese Lute), and I met in Shanghai whilst I was doing my exchange and only moved here at the beginning of this year, and I am deeply in love with playing with him in the Sydney Conservatorium Chinese Music Ensemble where we both teach, but I also know that it would be fun for us to play and experiment with joining forces with other instrumentalists of different backgrounds…

Amos and Chloe.
Photo credit: Kat Choi

Another couple of notable mentions: I think Alice Chance (composer) was the last one to join the collective as she had been coming out of her musical Fan Girls and I wasn’t entirely sure if it was going to work out time-wise in her busy schedule… And Pavle Cajic (composer, pianist) was the first one on board the collective, being my duo partner, and all-round supportive boyfriend! The others, Brad Gill (percussion), Carlo Antonioli (composition/conducting), Deepka Ratra (voice), Ivan Zavada (composition, multi-media design), Jolin Jiang (composition), Katarina Grobler (piano, trumpet), Shaun Premnath (tabla), Sandra Rose Brand (visual artist), Edward Essing (visual artist), Georgia Shine (cello, voice) – are all people who have either drawn upon their cultures to inform their musical practices, or have an idiosyncratic style that resonates with me.

Bringing these already diverse musicians, artists and composers together gives me a lot of joy and excitement.

I’d also love to mention and acknowledge that the collective has more members in addition to the artists! Jess Xu (concept), and Natalie Saar (UX design) – long-time high school friends, work with me behind the scenes and are contributing their skills to help me in the launching and marketing aspects, which I’m so thankful for!

Pavle Cajic and Chloe

Phoebe: How can we help make What I Know About Love become a reality?

Chloe: Thanks for asking! We are currently in the final days of our crowdfunding campaign to fund this entire project- and excitingly, we are very close to making it happen!

By pledging, you are joining our likeminded community at the very beginning of this exciting journey, and we are giving opportunities for beautiful meetings and encounters with our collective over the summer holiday: we’ll be writing and sending love letters, making artworks, origami animals and/or actually meeting you for a fun introductory music or language lesson (all levels welcome).

I’m genuinely so excited to invite everyone into our project, and we see this as a community-building, and enriching process for us as much as for our future audiences!

Phoebe: One last question! You are “passionate about stimulating cross-cultural, interdisciplinary connections within the local and global community.” Can you tell us about some of your past projects and experiences with this focus?

Chloe: The most amazing thing about music to me is that it rarely exists alone – it’s a connective thing that sooner or later will get you in touch with someone (a dead or alive composer who had something to say at some point in time). Then there’s the people you’re playing with, someone to play for, an event where more people join in on the experience…

I was at Yoyo Ma’s community day of action last month (in partnership with Urban Theatre Projects) where he described the ‘perfect circle’ of a relationship between the performer, the music and the audience.

This has been true in my experience, and I love thinking about how to essentially create my own imperfectly perfect circles where I sense gaps and disjunctions. I think to a large extent, a lot of what I do right now is about connecting or expanding circles in the community so that everyone can feel connected. Because I’m lucky to work/play within several worlds – Western classical music, Chinese music, improvisatory music; and various educational institutions, including the Sydney Con, AIM and Sydney Alexander Technique School – I see my current and future work as building, or strengthening bridges of understanding across different communities, so we move towards serving our lives and our world.

A recent local experience that comes to mind is when James Humberstone, senior lecturer in Music Education at the Con, approached me to improvise over a track for a hip-hop song using the dizi featuring Aboriginal Youth in the Northern territory as part of the Ilyawe Project. The aim was to explore what it means to be a contemporary Australian… ‘our diversity can define us, but it does not divide us’. Through the production of the song that I was a part of, I felt that music served as a vehicle and a means for greater communication, empathy and understanding for all the people, musicians, recording engineers, and film-makers involved, myself included. The communication and storytelling sparked new conversations, and the positive feedback and excitement from the collaboration, which technology played a huge part in, connecting us through virtual space-time, was extraordinary, and a fulfilling as an artist.

Another performance which was pretty world-colliding for me was my first experience of improvising live at the Global Music Workshop in Indiana. It was one of the nightly performances where we performed a quasi-improvised and co-created a piece called Wild Seed which I performed with five other musicians I had only met four days previously. Danny Mekonnen, a wonderful Ethiopian-American saxophonist, improviser, educator, and ethnomusicologist facilitated our rehearsals, and final improvisation, in a thoroughly sensitive, provocative and moving way and I’ll never forget how safe and held I felt in that space of the hall holding all of our unique sounds mingling.

Post performance after “Wild Seed”. Julia Watson (viola), Juliano Vendematti, Danny Mekonnen (saxophone), (rabeca, brazilian fiddle), Louise King (cello) and Chinling Hsu (crystal bowls).
Photo credit: Global Music Workshop

For more on Chloe and her projects like her Facebook page, hear her recordings on her website, and support and make ‘What I Know About Love’ a reality by donating to the Pozible campaign.

Don’t forget to ‘follow’ Women Write Now to be the first to read about creative women and non-binaries around the world.  Twice a month we’ll be in conversation creatives across the globe, and taking a deeper look into their perspectives and the work they are doing in their communities and beyond.

Are you a ‘Woman of Noise?‘ We are welcome to suggestions for who you might like to see featured in Women Write Now interviews. This could be you, someone you know, an artist you admire, anyone! Drop us a line and we’ll be in touch!

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