Koan Trio

Lucia Mense // Recorders
Chao Ming Tung // Gu Zheng
Carter Williams // Viola d'amore and Live-Electronics

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Schmetterlingstraum // after Traditional Chinese Music

This improvisation is based on a traditional piece for guqin (though also a Chinese zither, not to be confused with the gu zheng).  This ancient and extremely quiet instrument prized for its great subtlety was considered to be an important part of the training of the scholar, and indeed the instrument was traditionally played alone for ones own edification.  The basic technique of the instrument requires the string to be plucked and then the finger glides between various harmonics on that string creating a connected melody, however due to the general lack of resonance these changes of pitch quickly become inaudible.   As the instrument was intended to be played in private this was not seen as a deficiency as the melody continues in the mind of the player/listener, who would of course be familiar with the repertoire.  The guqin repertoire has been preserved in an extremely precise tablature notation which has been in use for over 1500 years.  In this version the guqin stays close to the original text and the other two instruments augment the melody lines and expand the pallet of tone colors.  Finally it should be mentioned that the subject of this piece is a famous text from Taoist philosophy, Zhuangzi's Butterfly Dream (4th century BCE), which raises questions of the philosophy of the mind an epistemology.

Sama // Carter Williams (2007)

 Sama (
سماع Arabic 'hearing')
The title comes from Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam.  Sama is a ceremony involving prayer, music and dance - in the West the Whirling Dervishes of the Mevlevi Order of Turkey are perhaps the most familiar example.  There are however many other examples dispersed through out the Near East and South Asia such as the Qawwali of Northern India and Pakistan.  While regional variations differ in the instrumentation and musical details, they tend to share a common dramatic arch beginning gently and building steadily to a very high energy level which is intended to induce hypnotic states both among the musicians and within the audience. This composition is not based on any authentic melodic or rhythmic formulas, but is rather an attempt to capture the ecstatic energy of these musical and spiritual journeys.  

101 // Chao Ming Tung (2007)

The piece was written in early 2007, while a building construction was taking place in my neighborhood in Taipei.  The symphony of noises accompanied me through my daily life.  As time went by, I began to enjoy the soundscape of the building and attempted to reconstruct it in my music.  Taipei 101 was the highest building in the world and the newest landmark of Taiwan.  In human history, towering architecture symbolized human power and a way to touch the gods.  This can be traced back to the tower of Babel, the classic symbol of human arrogance and suspicion towards the divine.

Sternenjäger III // Ulrich Krieger (2006)

Ulrich Kieger's Sternenjäger III for a variable ensemble is inspired by the connection between music and astronomy.  The pitch system used in this piece is based on the so called planet tones.  The frequency of these tones derived from the orbital periods of the planets in our solar system.  Since the periodic motion of the planets are extremely slow, these frequencies must be transposed upward multiple octaves (mathematically repeated multiplication by 2) in order arrive at frequencies which fall in the range of  human hearing.  The resulting set of pitches lie at unpredictable locations between the conventional equal tempered system giving rise to numerous beatings as well as strangely consonant microtonal intervals, which lend the piece its unique sound world.  In addition to this novel approach to microtonality, a second contrapuntal level is created by rotating the acoustic signals through a kaleidoscopic array of  live-electronic modules.

cum erubuerint - o virtus sapientiae // after Hildegard von Bingen (12th Century)

Hildegard von Bingen is considered to be one of the preeminent mystic of the early middle ages in Germany.  Along with her visionary ideas, which were barely understood during her lifetime and which even today are still revealing many astonishing new concepts,  her musical works were also ahead of her time: her symphonies and antiphons go well beyond the Gregorian style and its Middle German variations.  Her musical style is characterized by virtuosity, overflowing melismas, the use of multiple tonal centers in a single composition and an extremely wide vocal range, such that her music even today is almost exclusively performed by professional singers.  The medieval practice of improvised accompaniment combined with modern elements have inspired our performance of these the pieces.