Zekai Liu – Enigma

Zekai Liu’s work Enigma is one of the works submitted to the Young Composer Score Call.  Take a look at the score here, and listen to the sight-read performance by Transient Canvas:

As you can see, it is a racing whirlwind of rhythm and the A blues scale.   (It is worth noting that the recording repeats measures 17-45, and I am not sure if this is intentional, but it makes the form much more coherent.)

There are a number of elements that make this a successful work.

For example, the opening passage brings the instruments and listener closer to chaos in a very calculated manner.  The marimba’s chordal figure and the bass clarinet interruption have their time signatures diminished, bit by bit, in a subtractive process.  Their dynamics also increase in volume, and the clarinet spells out the A blues scale in ascending order while the marimba does the same.  With a final octave jump, the two instruments collide and move against one another via a squeak and glissandi.

The piece also uses a variety of techniques to retain ensemble cohesion and formal coherency.  The use of dovetails:

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 7.47.31 PM

Meter emphasis:

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And interrupting accents:

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 7.48.56 PM

All combine to make a piece that is well-thought despite its light, fleeting, seemingly whimsical tone and charming ending.

I would encourage this composer to experiment with different scales, eventually creating their own sets of pitches and scales with which they can explore and create new harmonic landscapes.

Additionally, the composer’s sense of rhythm is quite strong, and I would consider making that a hallmark of their work (rhythm is a hallmark of all of my work).

Lastly, I would ask the composer to consider using more sounds outside of notes.  The use of squeaks and glissandi help liven up the piece, and the use of articulations, slurs, and dynamics bring the piece to life.  I would encourage this composer to think even further “outside of the notes”.

I would encourage listening to Xenakis’s Rebonds (A and B), for percussive complexity and unity.  Building on the idea of scales, the songs on the Red Hot Chili Peppers album By The Way utilize just a few chords and simple pentatonic scales (like most of their music), that turn into longer-form compositions.  But, to break out of these scales, I would also recommend that the composer listen to Charles Ives’s Symphony No. 4, which solves some of the problems that tonality poses by using quotation, multi-meter, multi-tempo, and polytonality to create effects much like the composer’s first glissandi and squeak in Enigma.

But I’ve rambled on enough.  What are your thoughts on this?  Let me know in the comments below!

Happy composing,


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