Experimental composer Ying-Hsueh Chen: ‘Denmark’s relaxed, non-hierarchical vibe feeds creativity’

From Taiwan to Juilliard and ultimately to Copenhagen, Ying-Hsueh Chen’s journey is a captivating tale of artistic exploration and cultural fusion.

In our My Copenhagen series, international creatives give us their impressions of the Danish capital

Ying-Hsueh Chen, a percussionist and composer, has lived in Copenhagen for the past 17 years.

But she grew up in Taiwan, close to a wood factory whose ‘noise’ she credits with inspiring her lifelong fascination with experimental music.

Chen started playing the piano when she was six, and the marimba in the school orchestra when she was ten. At just fifteen, her life switched track when she was recruited to a music school in California.

After that, she never returned home. 

Chen’s percussion skills are complemented by her talent for composing. She calls her latest work of ‘sonic architecture’ a ‘profound meditation between sound, materials and space’.

She holds a Bachelor of Music from Juilliard and a Master of Music and Soloist Programme from the Royal Danish Academy of Music. So, with such an international journey, what keeps her in Denmark?

It’s the peace, relaxation, simplicity and satisfaction of Danish life, she says.

How would you describe your creative DNA?
My mission is not to sell millions of records. I want to create something that is real, genuine and primitive. I want to use my music to connect the past and future at the same time. Music for me is not something commercial, but what stems out of a pure human need.

What do you look to for inspiration in your work?
Musical experiences inspire me. Recently, I went on a musical anthropologist trip to the Stone Age Center in Ertebølle in Northern Jutland. There, I witnessed how our ancestors made musical instruments out of leftover foods like bones and shells.

We assume that they must have also used plant and skin instruments too, but those instruments can not last that long. It is this pure human need to still make music that keeps me going, and I aim to take these experiences to my audience.  

I settled in Denmark because
… the attitude of trust made my nervous system relax and allowed more space for creativity instead of spending my energy on competition and perfectionism.

If you ask me if it was love at first sight, I would say… I had a very strong feeling that it was the place I would stay. I was just amazed by the instrument collection of the conservatory. I liked the general vibe the country, it was more relaxed and less hierarchical, which opens the door to more creativity. 

My favorite observation about the Danes is that it takes … time to get to know them. But once you get close to them, they are very genuine.

In Denmark, I never get used to … just how expensive public transport can be. Sometimes it’s cheaper to fly than take Danish public transport.

Jeg kan tale … I can speak Danish fluently. For the first five years I was a student and hence didn’t wasn’t too motivated to learn Danish. But once I started working, I realized it was an advantage to know the language, and then I started really learning it. 

My perfect 24 hours in Copenhagen would be … listening to music or podcasts in the morning, then going for a walk for coffee. Then I go to my practice room for a couple of hours, see a concert in the evening and spend time with friends. 

Something I’m excited to explore is … buildings with a long echos for my current project called the Sound Sonic Architecture.  

Name: Ying-Hsueh Chen
Age: 39
Profession: Percussionist/Performer/Producer/Composer
Moved to Denmark: August 2006