Interview with Robert Moss, to his creation
Alan – Hi Robert, you are a very well known person, but not with the general public. So introduce yourself to us.
Robert – Well I have a complicated past, but through lots of ups and downs, I always played music. Sometimes that was the only thing that kept me going ... writing music and songs just to stay connected to my reality. But eventually … especially after meeting my wife … I found peace and happiness.
Alan – You've spent most of your childhood with musical instruments. What musical instruments do you play? And what is your relationship with them?
Robert – Composing or writing music was always my main focus. In fact, one of the joys of learning a new instrument for me has always been to be inspired to write new music. I don’t see myself as a virtuoso or even an expert at any instrument, but I played clarinet in youth orchestras when I was young, and I have played guitar, bass, saxophone, mandolin, and keyboards in bands. Though these days I mainly write new music on piano.
Alan – You studied music. What focus? And after your studies, did you focus only on orchestral music? Or other music?
Robert – I learnt clarinet in my school years, the rest of the instruments were self-taught, though I did have electric guitar lessons at Sydney Conservatorium of Music when I was studying orchestral composition at University, but I actually dropped out of Uni when I was young, and played in bands … one thing led to another and I played sessions on various instruments in studios before learning to audio engineer and produce music. This was all learning on the job. Eventually, I ended up earning a living for almost 20 years composing screen music for film and television.
Alan – I asked the previous question for this reason. Your album Desire is really two variations connected to each other. Philharmonic and pop.
Robert – I guess my previous answer shows that throughout my musical life I have oscillated between popular music genres and orchestral music, so I found myself with a whole lot of songs I had never released or finalised and I thought, “What can I do with these songs that will be special and unique?” And the answer that came to me was to create a body of work that, while essentially being in the form of popular song styles, was composed for an authentic orchestra as well, and the orchestra is not masked by a rhythm section or overwhelmed by electronic instruments.
Alan – We'll stick with the Desire album. You have two big names there, Fifi Rong and Martyn Ford. Why did you choose them?
Robert – So I took my idea to Western Sydney University and was accepted into a Doctor of Creative Arts in music composition, which hopefully will be finished in the coming year. My principal supervisor, Associate Professor Bruce Crossman, encouraged me to explore cross-cultural aspects of my ideas, as I had discussed with him how my wife, who is Chinese, had introduced me to the tradition of popular music in China, where they use the orchestra in a similar way to me. Eventually I had the idea of translating a selection of my songs into Mandarin.
Soon after having the songs translated into Mandarin, I met German digital distributor, based in France, Hellmut Wolf. Hellmut was visiting Australia with his wife, who is an old friend of mine. They came to our place for dinner in 2019 and I showed Hellmut my scores and told him what I was doing. He asked what I needed to get the project out into the real world. I said I needed someone who could sing in Mandarin and English with an intimate, modern style, and I needed to record an orchestra. So Hellmut discovered Fifi Rong and put us in touch with each other. Fifi is perfect for my songs. Hellmut also put me in touch with Martyn Ford, who has become intrinsically involved in the project.
Alan – Album Desire is a free continuation of your work. How did you choose continuity?
Robert – I’m not sure I understand the question, but I guess I felt that, as you correctly observed, I had two sides, the popular songs, and the orchestral orientation, and I wanted to bring them together in a meaningful and effective way.
Alan – Going back to Fifi Rong and Martyn Ford. Can you tell a little more about them? Martyn is very close to the Czech Republic and Prague.
Robert – Martyn recommended The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra to me as he has worked with them on a number of occasions. Now I have worked with them a couple of times I can definitely understand why. They are a super-efficient, highly accomplished recording orchestra, and interpreted my music perfectly … with Martyn conducting of course!
While we had a few emails before the sessions and Martyn conducted the orchestra masterfully, Martyn also was the main person I consulted during the mixing process. He always gave meticulous, unrelenting, and accurate feedback on the mixes, and was never happy until the mixes were right. Without Martyn’s involvement in the mixing process, the project would not be what it is today. This is because he has vast experience in recording orchestra in a popular music context. And even though I have a lot of experience in mixing, particularly my film and television music, it was a steep learning curve getting the orchestra and voice to work together in the mix exactly as I had imagined. Without Martyn I really don’t know how I would have done it.
After recording the orchestra, Fifi and I only spent a day preparing, then five days in a studio in London. She usually works on her own in her studio, and we were both amazed at how much we achieved with Fifi being able to focus solely on the singing while I did the engineering and producing. In, that short time we recorded everything, including many of the nine songs from Desire in two languages.
As time passed and I worked away at editing and mixing the recordings back in Australia, Fifi, Martyn and I started to realise more and more how perfect Fifi is for my project, even though it is at the other end of the spectrum from her own almost electronica music style. The strength of her intimate, sensual vocal technique works amazingly well with the power of the orchestra. It is magical. I think the Mandarin has a lot to do with it. I can’t really explain why, but even I, who composed the music, am drawn into the sound of Fifi’s Mandarin vocals, even though I don’t understand the language. The same thing happened when people used to listen to the early Cantopop stars, like Teresa Teng, in Mandarin.
Alan – Regarding your work, where have you presented it?
Robert – Well like I said, much of the work I have done in the past was film and television music mainly for Australian television series and documentaries. Recently, as part of my doctorate, I won an award with the Penrith Symphony Orchestra and Western Sydney University and composed a piece called Sapiens, which was recently performed by the orchestra in Penrith, Western Sydney … in mid 2022. A recording of this is on my website if anyone wants to listen!
Alan – How many times did you have the opportunity to perform in the Czech Republic?
Robert – Well I have had three sessions with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, two in early 2020, which marked the beginning of the Desire album project, and another session in mid-2022, when we recorded the two instrumentals to complete the album.
Alan – How do you relate to the Czech Republic? And feel free to say musical.
Robert – Well really, my main experience there is the three sessions, so I can really only comment that experience … which was absolutely amazing. Their musicianship is absolutely 100% professional. Their approach to the whole process … the quality of the musicians, their diligent approach to performing perfectly on the recordings, the high quality and totally fit-for-purpose equipment, the professionalism of the engineers. I would recommend them to anyone. Especially film composers.
Alan - Show off. Successes in your career?
Robert – It seems that there has been a lot of streaming of the tracks from Desire on Chinese streaming services! But earlier, earning a living for 20 years doing screen music was an achievement! Otherwise, I can mainly point to the screen composition awards I received in Australia, I won the Australian Guild of Screen Composers awards for best music for a Television series and Best Music for an Animation in the early 2000s, as well as the first ever Tropfest Award for original music. I was nominated for other screen composition awards and for producer of the year when I was very young for producing “See You in Spain”, a hit single for the band The Cockroaches, who went on to become The Wiggles.
Alan – What do you have in store for the near future? I don't mean a new album, but a concert performance, choreography and stage set to your music?
Robert – Yes, we are hoping to put on concerts with Fifi Rong and orchestras in Europe in the near future. We are just starting to look at available options, but mainly want it to be awesome! I want to somehow blend the idea of an audience going to listen to classic orchestra with modern lighting and audio technology to create that same sense of orchestral power and vocal intimacy we achieved in the recording. Once we have something definite, Fifi, Martyn and I will record a second album, as so far you have only heard half the material for the concert.
Alan – Thanks for the interview, and maybe Klaus and I will get to see some of your shows.