City Beats (2019)

for harpsichord, electronics and video

  • Premiered by Kawai Chan, harpsichord at Recital Hall, Hong Kong Baptist University on 5 April, 2019 during “The Keyboard of the 21st Century” conference.
  • Awarded winner of “Best Music Video” in Eurasia International Monthly film Festival, Moscow, Russia (April, 2019)
  • Official selection of “Music Video” in Indie Visions Film Festival (April, 2019)
  • Finalist, “Best Music Video Award” in Birmingham Film Festival (November, 2019)
  • Special Mention, London-X4 Seasonal Short Film Festival (Autumn, 2019)

Programme Notes

Written for harpsichord, electronics and video, City Beats investigates on the relationship among time, space, and culture. The harpsichord, which was widely used in the Renaissance and Baroque period, is juxtaposed with electronics sound recorded in Hong Kong in 2019. In the work one could hear MTR announcements, pedestrian voices, audible signal for visually impaired, and many more. Some of these recordings underwent granular synthesis, sampling and filtering, some remained unchanged. The video, filmed in Taiwan by the composer, attempts to reinforce the visual-aural contradiction.


Interestingly, HKBU faculty member Austin Yip’s music City Beats (harpsichord, electronics and video) in the culminating event, Concert 5: Music of HKBU Faculty Composers, was also like a gigantic breath, but with a difference. The work went like a rollicking train of breathlessness, at first jitteringly minimalistic in the manner of Steve Reich—played with steely precision by his friend Kawai Chan—but then suddenly gaining in raucous layers of recorded sound as MTR subway sounds of Hong Kong and
transfigured gamelan gong samples cut across things; it was as if the multi-layers of raucous sound mirrored the rich nine sounds of six-toned based Cantonese language, but in type of spicy Mong Kok food collaboration that we had enjoyed together the night before. The Taiwanese landscape and city imagery in filmic images shimmered over the Hong Kong subway soundscape underpinned by the metallic joy of harpsichord franticness; perhaps a genuinely intuitively life statement, symbolic of a new Taiwanese romantic connection for this Hong Kong based composer. Kawai’s interpretation in both pieces was but a breath; yet it pointed to the roots of East Asian culture in both composers, the distilled mediative breathing of hidden literati scholars in an upper room on the mountain of a Pacific located identity, and the frantic rhythms of strong qi-life, almost symbolic of composers negotiating the density of East Asian life in Mong Kok.

Bruce Crossman, “Blurring Resonances of Compositional Creativity: The Keyboard in the 21st Century at HKBU”

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