Music for Sunway Lagoon Malaysia (The Tale of Mount Berapi)
Updated: Feb 3, 2021
A few years ago, I was approached by Addaudio Ex, one of Malaysia's premier music/audio post-production studios to write the music for Sunway Lagoon Theme Park in Malaysia. It was a pretty exciting project because it was to be the theme park's first ever original musical set-piece based on an original story from the theme park themselves. It was to be a 25-minute long dance extravaganza, complete with fire-breathing dancers, and a man-made 75-foot high volcano, that "erupts" fiery streaks of flames high into the evening sky.
During the pre-production meeting with the Sunway Theme Park people, I learned that the volcano had not been "fired" for quite some time and they wanted to begin highlighting the volcano "eruptions" as an attraction to close out the day at the park. With that in mind, the team developed a story around the volcano, and they wanted the story to be framed by music. They were very specific in that they wanted the music to be based on traditional music of the indigenous peoples of Malaysia, but orchestrated in a way that combined a little contemporary orchestral music so that the result would be something that general audiences could still appreciate.
As luck would have it, Sean Gregory, the creative director for this project is an ex-colleague of mine so it was like old fun times again! He envisioned a musical with plenty of tribal voices and chants but they couldn't be from any one language. It had to give the impression that the language is one that is from this region, but had to be fictitious enough not to be recognized fully. Some words from different languages in Malaysia could be used but not enough to be fully intelligible as any one language in particular.
Another treat for us was, the dance performers from Sunway Lagoon themselves would be offering their voices to give life to the music I was about to write. Aside from being amazing dancers, their creative genius gave rise to the lyrics that were finally used in the final music. And they all could sing so well, which made vocal direction a lot easier for both Sean and myself.
Recognizing that we both had a shared love for snacks while working, Sean brought over a giant bag of nuts for us to munch on while working on the project, which was filled with long hours of mixing, orchestration, and revisions.
I was tasked with writing 6 different pieces of music for difference parts of the story totaling about 21 minutes of music. I was given about 8 days to write and produce the music, after which 3 days would be devoted to the dancers of Sunway Lagoon to work out the "lyrics" and chants that were to be sung to some of the music. The choreographer told me that they had already gotten most of the dance moves choreographed, dancing to tribal-sounding music that they had gotten off YouTube. So I made sure I got the links to all the videos of their practice sessions, specifically for the music, so that I could match my music against the music they danced to, just in terms of tempo. I also referred constantly to the story developed by Sunway Lagoon so that I could produce music that would enhance every part of the story, from the introduction, right up to the climax at the end, where there is a big reveal and of course, the finale of the eruption of the volcano.
Never enough snacks for us
After recording everyone, there were so many vocal tracks to edit!!!
Thanks also to Steven, who helped to mix the music to perfection
Once the music was done, it was time for the lyrics and chants to be developed. This is when the Sunway dancers came to the studio to get acquainted to the new music and to flesh out the new lyrics. It was really fun to see them come up with words that were a combination of Malaysian and Indonesian indigenous dialects that made up the fictitious language of the village folks in the story. After 2 days of "lyric" writing and rehearsals, it was time to record their voices.
Vocal rehearsal time
Production process with Sunway Lagoon's performers, Shahrul Anwar Rusdini, Wadi Ridhzuwan, Angela Low Kar Yee, Munirih Jebeni, Nur Farahien Asrul and Hans
The recording sessions were quite a lot of fun, despite the long hours it took to get all the parts in. Since there were only about eight people, we had to record them quite a few times over, since we needed the voices to sound like they came from a whole village of people.
Sean and I also found out that Munirih Jebeni, one of the performers is an accomplished Sapeh (indigenous lute-like instrument from Borneo) player, and so we decided to include the Sapeh in some parts of the music to add to the Malaysian tribal elements of the music.
Just for fun, I added some good ol' guitar distortion effects on Mun's Sapeh just to see what it would sound like, and it sounded awesome!
After about 2 weeks of work, it was time for the presentation of the music to the management at Sunway, and while Sean and I were a little nervous, we were cautiously quite excited for them to listen to the music. The time finally came for us to press "play", and when the music played, I sneaked some looks at the head honchos from Sunway and their team, to see their facial expressions. This usually gave me insights on what clients think of the music before any comments are even made. If they had slight frowns, and puzzled looks, then I would know that I'm screwed. Thankfully, they were bobbing their heads during parts of the music, with smiles on their faces and to top if all off, at the end of the music, they actually applauded! As humble creative directors and media composers, these are some of the moments that we live for! When the choreographer heard the music with his singing, along with all the voices of his performers, he was inspired to change some of the dance sequences to make it even more awesome.
Sean, Steven and me with the awesome performers of Sunway Lagoon
We were told that the debut of "The Tale of Mount Berapi" would be at the 25th Anniversary Celebration of Sunway Lagoon and they would be having a huge party, and we were invited. We were asked to work with Sunway's pyro engineers to sync the final part of the music to the eruptions of the volcano. It was going to be explosive!
Sean and I checking out the park after our presentation meeting with Sunway Lagoon's management team
The day finally arrived and amidst the amazing party, they introduced "The Tale of Mount Berapi". The performance was amazing and it was a privilege to listen to our hard work coming through the loudspeakers in public for the first time. I am certainly glad to have been a part of it, and I hope they keep this performance going for years to come.
Photo-op time after the performance
The music/audio team with Sunway's performers
With Sean, Steven and Sunway's performers at the end of the performance
With Sunway Theme Parks Executive Director, Calvin Ho