The Chinese Dynamo Project: Week 2
The Largest Chapter
Welcome to week 2 of The Chinese Dynamo Project, where I am in the process of familiarizing myself with traditional Chinese methods of composition in order to be able to incorporate these styles into my own work. Let’s cut right to the chase: this week is probably the most integral to actually creating an original composition. I treated this week’s research as a fundamental basis to what I need to know after these upcoming weeks. In a way, it makes sense. No matter how many forms or structures I follow in writing, replicating Chinese music is impossible without the correct instrumentation. And as I stated last week (with my predictable realization that perhaps there were too many topics to learn in just four weeks), I have narrowed down the study of instruments to four different ones I will be featuring in my piece: the Erhu, the Pipa, the Guzheng, and the Xiao. So this week, I essentially learned the entirety of the basics I would need to know…which was a lot. Of course, I will continue to develop my proficiency in writing for each instrument as the weeks progress, but I feel like I now have a decent basis of understanding on what to write and how to write for each component.
Also, one final note before we begin the rundown of each instrument: this will be a video/website heavy week, so make sure to listen to everything I embed in order to learn along with me!
Instruments of Success
Each instrument that I decided to study (and the multitudes I decided not to study) has such a long, rich history that becomes evident when exploring how these instruments are played or exhibited in modern compositions. So, for the sake of keeping this as a project update rather than a textbook, I will only be briefly going over each of the four instruments in a bulleted format, and then including a few helpful links in order to expand your understanding.
Albeit relatively brief, hopefully that provided a good basis in learning what each instrument is about and how they relate to the orchestral setting in our compositions. One of the most beneficial things I researched during this week was the western equivalent of each Chinese instrument. I felt like this was a necessity for me to actually write the piece for two reasons. The first regarding the softwares I use for notating and writing music: while I have the means of faithfully recreating the sounds of many ethnic instruments in Logic, I do not have the capacity to notate these instruments in Finale. So, for the sake of actually having sheet music, they will be labeled as their western correspondents in the sheet music. The other reason stems from the evident differences between traditional Chinese notations (including the use of frets and numbers to designate notes) and modern orchestral notation (which I thought was much more helpful, in order to know how to incorporate these styles into western film and video game scores). Pictured below is a really cool example of an Erhu piece written in traditional Chinese notation…something I’m not sure I have the time or the patience to learn.
This week was, overall, a very time-intensive yet successful week. From here, we will begin to learn about the structures and forms inherent in Chinese compositions next week, and then tackle the idea of a new perspective on harmonies.