Category Archives: Program Notes

Microcosmos (小宇宙) : for a Percussionist (2010)

commissioned and premiered by Shih-San Wu 吳思珊, Jun. 2010, Taipei, Taiwan

Program Note:

This musical piece is inspired by Microcosmos: 100 Modern Haiku, a book of poetry by Chen Li (a contemporary poet in Taiwan). Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry, consisting of 17 syllables, in three phrases of 5, 7, and 5 syllables respectively. However, Chen Li adds contemporary interest to the traditional poetic form, attempting to explore new possibilities for modern poetry. In these three-line short poems, the poet conveys an abundance of ideas and stimulates readers’ imagination with refined and concise language. Within the restricted form, every modern haiku in the book is very much like a microcosm rich in tremendous energy.

In this piece, the composer borrows the concept of Microcosmos mentioned above. In musical material, the two elements of “motion” and “motionlessness” dominate the whole piece; in instrumentation, only the timpani and the Zheng (a Chinese plucked zither) are employed. The composer attempts, by using simple and limited material, to explore multi-acoustic effects, exploit new possibilities of music, and create a simple but substantial musical microcosm.

The composer selects three short poems from Chen Li’s Microcosmos as the original concepts of the three sections of this musical piece. She transforms the energy she has felt while reading the poems into material to develop musical motives. The three sections are developed by using two materials in contrast to each other, which can be viewed as a process of the inter-transition and the rise and fall of accumulating musical energy and intensity.

The three haiku are not necessarily or absolutely related to this musical piece, though the inspiration originates from them. The purpose of listing the three poems is to provide the performer and the audience with greater room for imagination and association.

A swift and downward glissando:
someone puts a ladder
against my childhood window.

I wait and long for you:
a turning die in the empty bowl of night
attempting to create the 7th side.

Silent soybean milk: day after day
from my bowl to my body flows
the blank music.
















© Lily Chen 2013-2018. All rights reserved.

Rambling (蔓生): for Flute, Clarinet, Trombone, and Double Bass (2012)

performed by Eco Ensemble, May 2013, Berkeley New Music Project (Berkeley, CA, USA)

Program Note:

The inspiration of this piece comes from rambling plants, which to me are symbolic of vitality, with their long shoots putting out, growing, and extending over walls or other plants. Through interweaving and mixing lines of different parts as well as developing and transforming the materials, I attempt to represent the process of the plant spouting, getting exuberant, blooming, and then withering and fading. My ultimate end is to create a rambling atmosphere in music.


© Lily Chen 2013-2018. All rights reserved.



Fusing, Refusing, Diffusing: for 9 instruments (2015)

performed by eco Ensemble (conducted by David Milnes), Dec. 2016, Berkeley New Music Project (Berkeley, CA, USA)



Flute, Clarinet, Bassoon, Piano, Percussion, Harp, Violin, Viola, Cello

Program Note:

The title of the work, “Fusing, Refusing, Diffusing,” reveals the central idea I intend to express in the music. I choose the three words with the same root “fuse” to represent three phases of the timbral orchestration I’d like to explore: to fuse varieties of timbre by finding their similarities, to refuse the unity of the sounds by emphasizing the uniqueness of every single instrument, and to diffuse the hybrid or independent timbre to expand the texture, the idea, and the tension.

The idea is related not only to my research interest in the manipulation of the timbre, but also to the current situation of my country. In March 2014, many students and citizens in Taiwan occupied the parliament to protest against an illegal under-the-table approval of the trade treaty with China and prevent the government from destroying the democracy and selling Taiwan to China, which intends to aggress upon Taiwan economically and politically. Therefore, I try to transform the political issues into music to express the intention to refuse the gradual fusion and the diffusion of the refusal as a tribute to the brave protesters in Taiwan.


此曲曲名《Fusing, Refusing, Diffusing》(中文意為:融合,反融合,擴散) 即為我企圖傳達的中心意念。我選用三個擁有相同字根「fuse」的英文字彙,表達我欲探索的三種音色運用面向:融合不同的音色(尋找不同音色的同質性),拒絕聲響的統一(強調個別音色的獨特性),擴散發展聲響素材以擴大意念、織度與音樂張力。



編制說明: 長笛,降B調單簧管,低音管,擊樂(註),鋼琴,豎琴,小提琴,中提琴,大提琴

*註:擊樂編制為:小型定音鼓(timpani),吊鈸(suspended cymbals)(一只置於定音鼓上),古鈸crotales,顫音鐵琴vibraphone,管鐘(chimes),雷片(thunder sheet)


© Lily Chen 2013-2018. All rights reserved.

Hypochondriasis (憂患) : for Chin Solo and Live Electronics (2014)

premiered by Lily Chen, Berkeley New Music Project (Berkeley, CA, USA), May 2014


the New York Times (Review: A Mix of Sounds at the New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival): “Lily Chen turned gentle strums of the chin, a Chinese zither, into roars in her ‘Hypochondraisis.'”

Cycling ’74(Collective) Artist Focus: SEAMUS 2017 

chin_setting  chin_perform2

Program Note:

This piece is my first experimental work for electronic music. Chin is an ancient Chinese traditional 7-string zither, which is also a very personal instrument due to its soft volume and subtle timbral changes. Since it is not able to make sounds of great volume, amplification becomes an important element and thus creates a new kind of environment, an augmented chin. Such an augmented environment gives me inspiration for the piece. The necessary amplification and the electronic sounds both expand and even exaggerate the original instrumental sounds, which reminds me of the syndrome of the hypochondriasis, a tendency to fear or imagine that one has the illnesses that one does not actually have. The sufferers of this psychological illness normally augment their pain and exaggerate their physical conditions.

In the piece, I pretend to be a hypochondriasis sufferer who exaggerates and distorts the sense as if viewing things under the microscope or doing some ritual. By associating this emotional activity with music, I intend to find an appropriate role that the electronics plays, to build an intimate relationship between acoustics, amplification, and electronics, and to create different scenarios and multiple layers of musical environments.

I want to express my special thanks to Prof. Edmund Campion, who leads me to the world of electronic music and helps me create a good environment for the composition, and to Jeff Lubow, who helps me complete the concert patch and solve the technical issue of this piece. This piece is dedicated to my mother, who had a hard time taking care of my father, a hypochondriasis sufferer. It is also dedicated to some activists in my country Taiwan. To me, they are the hypochondriasis sufferers who have foreseen the crises hidden in the current situation and are fighting hard for the well-being of the country.

© Lily Chen 2013-2018. All rights reserved.

Phase Transition (相變) : for Prepared 21-Stringed Zheng Solo (2008)

Performed by Yi-Chieh Lai, Transformation: Contemporary Taiwanese Zheng Music, 2008

Program Note:

In physics, “phase transition” refers to the transformation of matter from one phase to another. In this work, the composer tries to represent the three states of matter (solid, liquid and gas) and their transformations (melting, vaporization, condensation, freezing, and sublimation) by means of timbral and textural manipulations.

The composer chooses 21-stringed Zheng, a Chinese traditional unfretted zither, as the solo instrument, which has been prepared. The player also has to play with different tools——bow, superball, paper, and clips, for example——to make variant sound effects in the performance. Through these performing devices, the composer hopes to create timbral diversity and to seek the new possible sonorities out of the traditional instrument.


© Lily Chen 2013-2018. All rights reserved.

Soundscape (聲景) : for Violin, Percussion, and Piano (2012)

Performed by eco ensemble (conducted by David Milnes), Apr. 2012, Berkeley, CA, USA

Program Note:

This piece is inspired by ‘Three Poems in Search of the Composer/Singer,’ written by Chen Li (a contemporary poet in Taiwan). The work is composed of three visual poems with the subtitles of “Starry Night,” “Wind Blowing over the Plain,” and “Footprints in the Snow.” Each visual poem creates a scene and atmosphere full of imagination, which motivates me to transform the images into music.

I employ three main materials with different characteristics to represent the poetic scenes. I hope, by means of the timbre of music, to shape and interpret the landscapes of the starry night, the blowing wind, and the footprints in the snow. Instead of following the poetic form and dividing the piece into three individual movements, I merge the three landscapes, recombining and interweaving them, in order to create my own “soundscape.”




© Lily Chen 2013-2018. All rights reserved.