Chi, after Kū for solo viola, is the second piece I’ve written that takes its cue from traditional Japanese philosophy. I make no claim to be an expert in traditional Japanese philosophy and I’m no big fan of musical ‘tourism’, which I find quite banal. In all honesty the music has very little to do with Japan, which I’ve not yet visited, nor ancient modes of thought. What caught my interest was the way the philosophy brings together natural objects and human temperament. Even in translation – always a sure-fire way to misrepresent complicated, socially ingrained thought – there was something immediate about the basic but apparently profound connections I was reading about. Basic analogies between man and nature are commonplace in my own language (and I dare say most others): ‘cunning as a fox’ or ‘blind as a bat’, for example. But there’s something beautifully fundamental about the connections in the Japanese philosophy, even after shoddy translation into English.
This piece of music is less about the philosophy itself and more about my reaction to it – less about the effectiveness of translation from ancient Japanese to modern English and more about further translation into music. I’m exploring the basic qualities at the heart of the ancient ideas in yet another ‘language’.
Chi, which roughly translates as ‘world’, represents solid objects and those things resistant to change. Stones, stubbornness, bone, stability, and gravity are all examples of Chi. My music imposes strict, limiting parameters on the performers and subjects these to minor alterations. The alterations don’t last – the music stubbornly refuses to be affected. Those brief glimpses of potential have their own beauty, tantalisingly suggesting new paths and new sounds before being extinguished.
7 minutes 30 seconds
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