Dance of Fire (2008)

for symphony orchestra (3-3-3-3), (4-3-3-1), perc, strings
ca 9 minutes

Reading: May 5th, 2009 by UW-Madison Symphony, conducted by Ching-chun Lai

There are five Elements in the traditional Chinese world view: Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal. These elements hold the power to create or destroy one another. Through their interaction, the world is created, maintained and kept balanced. In traditional Chinese sciences and scholarly writings, The Five Elements are connected to concrete objects or ideas –emotions, weather, animals, or constellations, to name a few.

Dance of Fire depicts the creation and destruction of Fire. Different musical ideas represent Fire, Wood (creator of Fire), and Water (destroyer of Fire). The piece is essentially a delicate dance not just of Fire, but among these three elements: beginning with Wood as the most dominant, giving rise to Fire which reigns the middle section, and Water eventually takes over.

In writing this piece, I devised a musical system inspired by He Tu, or the River Diagram, which is used in many disciplines of Chinese philosophy (such as Feng Shui) to map the five Elements to physical directions and numbers. The piece is divided by duration in several different ways: in 6 equal segments (according to the generation number of Water, as shown in He Tu); 7 equal segments (generation number of Fire); and 8 equal segments (Wood). Musical materials representing a particular element are alternately presented in these segments. While sometimes there are materials of only one element, other times there are multiple elements, or none at all. Furthermore, the piece is divided into 12 equal segments, representing the 12 hours of the Chinese time system. At each hour, the pitch center that governs the musical system changes, affecting all musical materials that are happening. It is through the presence, absence, and interaction among musical materials that I portray the creation and destruction of elements.

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