Commissioned by Unheard-of//Ensemble, “Underneath//Emptiness” is inspired by the sound heard in Hong Kong MTR/ New York Subway trains and stations, two of the world’s busiest underground transit system. I have always been fond of sounds heard underground, perhaps it was influenced by one of my childhood favourite, Haruki Murakami’s novel “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World”. The novel is about two parallel worlds, it was written in the year I was born, and I am now right at the age of the narrator in the novel.
I always wonder if there is another civilisation underneath our surface world.
Philosophy ONE – Microsecond (2018/2020)
“Philosophy One, Microsecond” features on the microscopic level of an audio extract, which, through granular synthesis, extends from a dot to a plane. In “Philosophy One, Microsecond”, a 3 microseconds recording of an iconic Hong Kong traffic light sound is being used as the source material. It is then being manipulated, distorted, and juxtaposed with other manipulations of the original sound recording. Notable features of this work include 1) the multimodal analysis of sound and motion, which eventually leads to a new synthesis of rhythmic gesture, and 2) the highlight of sonic residue—in some sections, partials (in spectrum analysis) of over 50 microseconds in the original recording is filtered out, while the remaining, which is normally unheard, is amplified to an audible level.
The video is made during the global lockdown due to the coronavirus in 2020. The main object could be interpreted as the traffic light, which transforms back and forth between red and green; or it could be interpreted as our earth, which has come to a halt.
Violin Concerto No.1: Generation (2019)
Violin Concerto No.1: Generation is written for violin and symphonic band. The three movements work, bounded by a short “Prologue” and an “Epilogue”, depicts people of the Generation Z, Y and X in Hong Kong respectively. The first movement “Generation Z” is gloomy in nature, it depicts the difficult situations young people have at the moment. It is followed by a very busy second movement “Generation Y”, who are now at their thirties, working day and night for survival. The third movement “Generation X” has a mixture of moods, it begins and ends with quotations from the famous Cantonese opera Dainuifa, reminding the composer’s childhood memory of his parent’s musical interest. All the movements are played without pause. Sometimes, an optional cadenza, “Omega”, is played before the “Epilogue”. Violin Concerto No.1: Generation is co-commissioned by Hong Kong Festival Wind Orchestra and violinist Dr. Patrick Yim.
The chamber theatre work “Koto” is initiated by a commission from Rosetta, a Kyoto based contemporary music ensemble, in 2019. The idea behind the concert is to investigate on the possibility of “without framing”, which challenges on the traditional concept of music being a “framed”, or “bounded” art form. The commission came with two questions to address,
1. How can this flexibility of public be adopted into musical concert?
2. Musical work itself usually has a time frame of beginning and end. How can we deframe this tradition?
In composing the work, my main concern was how to get rid of the “frame”. The idea of “frame” has always been a key element in defining the meaning of “music”. John Cage, for example, has attempted to challenge the concept of “music” by providing a frame of 4 minutes 33 seconds to his work 4’33”. The common feature between these two works and most other musical works are quite clear—the framework, and in this case, the duration. Cage has attempted to challenge the concept of “music” later by composing 0’00”. If music starts and ends at the same time, is it still regarded as music? Does it even exist? This clearly resonates with his famous line, “I have nothing to say, but I am saying it.” Cage’s maximalistic approach in 0’00” arises a question for myself—is it possible to write a work of infinite duration, i.e. it only has a beginning, but does not have an end? Here one would only need to start, and once it started, it will keep on forever.
This question retains while I composed “Koto”. Eventually, rather than drilling myself into an infinite loop of philosophical challenge, I decided to compose many short pieces, which some has fixed duration, some has time flexibility, some are purely improvisatory with no fixed duration at all. These short pieces are compiled as a collection, and they could be played, unplayed, or even play repeatedly. The performers may follow the order (i.e. from I to XXVI), or can play them in random order. This would make each performance of the work more flexible, and thus somewhat blurs the “frame” of a “bounded art form”.
“Koto” is a collection of 26 small works, while most of them have no fixed duration, some are written in the traditional format. All the movements are inspired by dialogues from Yasunari Kawabata’s novel of the same title, published in 1962. The novel was cited by the Nobel Committee as a part of decision to award Kawabata the 1968 Prize for Literature. The story is about Chieko Sada’s life in Kyoto, where she lived with her adopted parents, and later on met her long lost twin sister Naeko.
The 26 dialogues function like a condensed version of the novel, with most of them spoken by Chieko Sada, and a few by other characters. To perform this work, there are a few general guidelines,
1. This is a location-specific work, it would be best to perform in Kyoto, by musicians who are related to Kyoto, and musicians who can speak native Japanese;
2. Most pieces do not have a fixed duration, and they are left for the musicians to decide how long and short they want them to be;
3. The number of repetition, unless otherwise notated, are free for interpretation;
4. Some works are written in C score, some in transposed score, please make sure to read the asterisk in the bottom;
5. All players should play from full score;
6. Even though the work is preferred to be played in order, it is acceptable to skip, or to repeat any movements from before and after;
7. Between movements one may decide to give a full stop before the next, or may start without stop. In some occasions, two movements may overlap (e.g. VI and VII);
8. This piece may be performed with all the pages printed out in either A2 or A3 size in front of the audience during the performance, as a kind of visual artwork;
9. Have fun.
p.s. One interesting fact about Kawabata’s novel and this work—Kawabata’s novel was completed on 14 June, 1962, while this musical work was completed on 21 June, 2019, just a week and 57 years later.
City Beats (2019)
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.