Chinese Songs

1988 16 minutes
Soprano and Magnetic Tape
 ETH, Zurich, Switzerland
 Bern, Switzerland

The juxtaposition of such different holy writings rests on a legendary meeting between the young Confucius (who admired the I Ching and the old Lao Tzu (the author of the Tao Te Ching who was critical of the younger man's philosophy.

I was also fascinated by the idea that in Chinese society it is not uncommon for a person to belong to more than one religion. My Chinese Songs try to show this multicultural attitude - that quite different philosophies can exist harmoniously side by side and that each can live and grow and be aware of the other while still maintaining its own identity.

The texts have been chosen from the fragile and refined Tao Te Ching and the more robust and worldly I Ching. The selection from the former was a personal one and from the latter by chance using the I Ching itself to make the choice.

The music reflects my personal view of the philosophies: sharp but delicate three or four note melodic lines for the Tao texts, and for the I Ching lines determined by chance. The electronic sounds were inspired by analyses of old Chinese instruments. Gong and woodblock sounds were the starting point for the I Ching sections and the chin (a Chinese zither and instrument known to Lao Tzu) was the model for the Tao Te Ching sections.

I am indebted to Franziska Staehelin for the original idea of setting these texts and of course also for her fine voice and artistry. I would also like to thank my colleagues in the Swiss Computer Music Centre (Gerald Bennett and Bruno Spoerri) for their considerable help and the Steo Stiftung for its generous financial assistance.

–Kit Powell, Eglisau March 1988

The work is divided into 4 sections, preceded by a Prologue and finishing with an Epilogue. Here is a recording of Franziska Staehelin singing the Prologue and Section one.

Chinese Songs 1, 2 & 3
Franziska Staehelin Soprano

Tao Te Ching: Forty-two

The Tao begot one. One begot two. Two begot three. Three begot the ten thousand things

I Ching: Fifty A Sacrificial Vessel

Exceptional well-being and rapid progress. Through moderate behaviour and receptiveness the sage will receive insight and wisdom. He should work on the further development of his character.

Tao Te Ching: Two

When all in the world understand beauty to be beautiful, then ugliness exists. When all in the world understand goodness to exist, then evil exists. Thus existence suggests non-existence.