Twenty-Eight Star Mansions: North-7 Bi (2010)

for solo viola va
ca 4 minutes
commissioned by Martina Skalova

Premiere: April 10th, 2010 by Martina Skalova; Madison WI


Astronomers in China had studied, recorded, and mapped the stars carefully and meticulously centuries before their Western counterparts. They divided the night sky into twenty eight areas, each called a “Star Mansion,” in which Star Of?cials (personi?cation of constellations, each has its own personality and duties) live. In accordance with many other ?elds of traditional Chinese science, each Star Mansion is linked with one of the Five Elements (Metal, Wood, Water, Fire, Earth). In fortune telling, each Star Mansion is also represented by an animal, and has their individual symbolic meanings, as the Sun, the Moon, or the planets traverse through the Masion.

“Star Mansions” create the image of luxurious palaces or dwelling places for the privileged Star Of?cials, though ironically these mansions are also represented by fantastical creatures and sometimes fearful man-eating monsters. To me, this suits the current social situation in Hong Kong: all the new apartment buildings are tall, deluxe and wonderful from the outside, but are so expensive and unobtainable for most citizens. In composing music for the Star Mansions, I am not romanticizing the idea of heavenly houses; rather, I consider them as portraits that paint a broader picture to these fanciful dwellings.

My project of the Twenty-Eight Star Mansions will eventually be a collection of 28 pieces for solo instruments. These pieces aren’t programmatic; but they will borrow all the imageries that are associated with the corresponding Star Mansion. Whereas each piece can be played on its own, eventually they can be combined freely as various semi-improvised chamber pieces. Conceptually, this will be achieved by adding notation and instruction for combination points among pieces (which is not shown yet in this piece).

North-7 is referred to as “Bi” (pronounced BEE), which means wall. Six Star Of?cials dwell in Bi: Wall (or Library), Thunderbolt, Cloud and Rain, Celestial Stable, Sickle, and Of?cial fo Earthworks. Its element is Water. Its representing animal is Ya Yu, which is cannibalistic, and has a red cow-like body, human face, and horse hooves.

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