Eight Colors for String Quartet
was the first piece I wrote after coming to New York in 1986. It shares the same dark ritualized singing, dramatic form, and attention to tone color and dynamic with my pieces written in China, such as On Taoism
, but still goes beyond it in many ways. This string quartet (together with In Distance
and Silk Road
) marks the period of my first contact with the concentrated, lyrical language of western atonality. From it, I learned how to handle repetition, but otherwise responded in my own way, out of my own culture and not following the Second Vienna School method. I drew on Chinese colors as well as from the techniques of Peking Opera -- familiar to me since childhood. The work consists of eight very short sections, almost like a set of brush paintings, through which materials are shared and developed. The subjects are described by the eight interrelated titles and form a drama, a kind of ritual performance structure. Not only timbre but the actual string techniques come from Peking Opera as well as vocalization of opera actresses. Buddhist chanting can also be heard. Although a shadow of atonal pitch organization remains in some sections of this piece, I began to find a way to mingle old materials from my culture with the new, to contribute something to the western idea of atonality and to refresh it. I believe a risk in later atonal writing is that it becomes too easy to leave oneself out of the music. I wanted to find ways to remain open to my culture and open to myself.