sudden sculptures of the wind (2018)
for shakuhachi, sheng, cello, guqin, guzheng, percussion, piano
Commissioned by AIR Contemporary Music Collective
-Performed by the AIR Contemporary Music Collective, cond. Jinyu Shen, Central Conservatory of Music recital hall; Beijing, China, July 2019
“...I lose my shadow,
through intangible forests,
sudden sculptures of the wind...”
-Octavio Paz, Blanco
In many of my works, I aim to create, through particular physical approaches to gesture and a ritualized sense of time and breath, a determinate performance practice rooted in ancient Chinese aesthetics—an attempt to access a world of micro-gesturality (one that is traditionally not notated but taught as an oral tradition) through the quantization or materialization of that which is merely intuitive for the cultivated literatus guqin musician or the pipa virtuoso. These are manifest in a particular kind of parlando gestural inflection, in the materiality of sound arising from friction and residual noise, in the structural role of breath and resonance, etc. The realization of these aesthetic functions in Western instrumental contexts requires a very specific and, indeed, non-traditional approach to instrumental writing and gestural design. sudden sculptures of the wind, however, takes advantage of a battery of non-Western instruments (a first in my opus) to directly embrace this otherwise elusive performance practice; although the concrete gestures and pitch material are of course not native to ancient repertoires, they embrace these repertoires’ particular gestural mentalities.
Thematically, the work is an amalgam of various influences and inspirations, particularly (and obviously) the dream-flow of the poetry of Octavio Paz (Blanco, but perhaps even more East Slope); Bi Gan’s debut feature film Kaili Blues (which influences aspects of the piece’s temporal organization); and François Jullien’s text on the “metaphysics” (or lack thereof) expressed in Chinese landscape painting, and particularly the strange similarities between Jullien’s prose and Paz’s poetry. Such a potpourri of influences hardly suggests a unified intellectual endeavor. Indeed, I usually write with far more concrete conceptual objectives in mind; sudden sculptures of the wind is a rare indulgence in the heterodox, unified by the anchoring force of traditional performance practice.