Category Archives: Program Notes

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.