Born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Fung Chern Hwei has studied the violin since he was eight years old. As a musician he is both technical and fiercely improvisational. He is currently the first violinist of Sirius Quartet, a string quartet based in New York City that tours and performs extensively internationally. His list of collaborators is a who’s who of innovative musicians including Uri Caine, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Stanley Clarke, Tony Bennet, Bobby McFerrin, Steve Wilson, Elliot Sharp and more.
Hwei and I have played together in our band, Djinn, and he's been a personal inspiration for his fearless playing, commitment to his discipline. and encyclopedic knowledge of kung fu movies. When he's playing you can see something, a creative state, assume control of him. There's a genuine physicality to his performance that you rarely see in musicians.
Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere, from the surroundings, people, the music I listen to, books I read, movies I watch...
Where are you when you have the most a-ha moments?
Good question. Usually in the subway. And that’s usually when I don’t have my music pad with me, and the ideas just flew away when I get home. True story.
What do you do to maintain a creative flow?
I need to work on that.
How much do you rely on feedback from others to help shape your ideas?
I usually try not to ask for opinions when I started developing an idea. It’s dangerous. I would only ask for feedback when I’m quite ready with the development of ideas.
Do you still practice? If so, what do your practice sessions look like?
I do, of course, but not as frequently as when I was a student --- well, thinking back, I wasn’t that diligent either. I have little time to practice for hours, so I would usually pick difficult spots of some new repertoire and then shed on them. In practicing my kind of music, I very often need to stop and count the rhythm out loud like a mad man so that I can understand what is going on in the music. Not a very pretty sight, I’d say.
What is the greatest obstacle to creativity?
The opposite sex. HAHA! No, I’m serious. So I guess it’s a good thing in a way that I don’t get to date anyone. Other than that, procrastination is definitely it.
When you complete a project, how often does it resemble your initial concept or conceived idea? How important is this for you?
I don’t like to spend too much time on a work, otherwise I will lose my flow. Most of the time the outcome is pretty similar to the original idea, but there are definitely times that I distracted myself and went another direction, which isn’t a bad thing either. Sometimes you can surprise yourself. It doesn’t really matter to me, I trust my instincts more than my rational thinking.
How do you know when you’re done?
When I start looking away.
How do you resolve creative differences with clients or creative partners?
Sometimes I take one step back. Sometimes I reason. But, reason in music is a bit weird. What is “reason”? You just do whatever feels good to you. So I guess we’ll find a common place that we all feel good.
What keeps you motivated even if you don’t connect personally with the project?
Money. Sue me.
What do you do when you are stuck and have some sort of deadline or other pressure?
Nothing like that occurred to me so far. Thank goodness.
How do you achieve your creative vision with a limited budget?
That’s what friends are for. Oops.
What are the top 3 tools in your creative tool kit? ie. software, pencil, paper, journal etc.
Garage Band in my computer, staff papers, pencil, my phone’s recording app.
What are the top 3 creative habits that have proven to be the most useful for you in your career?
I only have bad habits, let’s not talk about it.
If you could offer a single piece of advice to a budding professional, what would it be?
Keep thy mind open, keep thy eyes open, keep thy ears open, keep thy heart open. Is that one piece or four pieces?