In Conversation: Rainbow Chan


Rainbow Chan is the brilliant sound designer behind the world of Golden Blood (黄金血液) by Merlynn Tong. Featuring karaoke, contemporary electronic beats and Chinese ritual music, the soundscape she has created is glorious, expansive and evocative. We sat down with Rainbow to discuss her career, her music and her experience working on the production!

This is your first time collaborating here at Griffin—welcome to the Grif-fam! Can you introduce us to yourself and your work?

Hello! My name is Rainbow Chan. I am an electronic producer, singer and interdisciplinary artist with a background in experimental pop music and performance. I was born in Hong Kong and migrated to Australia at the age of six. My interests are in the politics of cultural representation, the interplay between copy and original, and the diasporic imagination. I am currently based in Sydney on Gadigal land. This is actually my first time composing and designing sound for theatre.

You work with sound and design across many mediums. What is the same and what is different about working in a theatre space?

The process of making music for theatre is completely different to how I would approach music-making in other contexts. When I make pop music or club music, the experience is usually quite solitary and fluid. I like to take my time to massage ideas. That being said, I’ve composed for ads, television and film before so I am familiar with working to a creative brief and to a strict deadline. But what surprised me about working in a theatre space is how dynamic and collaborative the process is. I really enjoyed seeing how production, creatives, cast, stage manager and director all worked together to problem solve, to imagine, to experiment, to bring a completely new little world into existence. You don’t see light for days during tech week and the pile of dirty laundry gets ridiculous, but it’s all worth it when the show finally comes together.

What inspired you when working on Golden Blood? And what were the biggest challenges you faced?

We wanted to create a sound world that would be reminiscent of Singapore but open-ended enough to reflect a broader cultural context. I drew upon various East Asian references including karaoke bars, Teresa Teng, and classic triad movies including Young and Dangerous/古惑仔 and YouTube videos of illicit gang chants. My most specific musical inspiration, which also turned out to be the most challenging, was Chinese ritual music. I encounter this type of music all the time at Taoist temples and have always appreciated the timbre of the drums, gongs, muyu (wooden fish) and the melismatic, bright vocal chanting. The challenge was presenting this music in an abstracted form that could be unconventional and expansive. Whilst brainstorming, I began to see a commonality in the repetitive structures in Chinese ritual music and in techno. Both styles have a driving, cacophonous flavour that induces a state of trance. The music of Golden Blood became a convergence of these two musical coordinates, which we affectionately referred to as “Hell Club.”

How would you describe your work in 3 words?

Existing In Between.

What were your take-aways from this experience and the show?

I now know how to swear heaps in Hokkien and Singlish! All jokes aside, Merlynn and Charles [Wu, performer] are so enigmatic onstage and I still cry every single bloody time at the end of the show. The whole process has made me appreciate the nuances, logistics, teamwork and thought that go into good storytelling.

There is less than a fortnight to catch Golden Blood (黄金血液) at the SBW Stables Theatre before it closes on 30 July. Book now!

Image 1: Zan Wimberley
Images 2 and 3: Rainbow Chan