Cycle of Sixty

Cycle of Sixty

(2003)
 for string orchestra, two percussionists,
 and komungo solo


Cycle of Sixty parallels the collection of 10 characters and 12 animals that make up what is called the "cycle of 60" in Chinese culture. These 10 characters - called the 10 Celestial Stems - trees (wood), hewn timber (wood), lightning (fire), burning incense (fire), hills (earth), earthenware (earth), metallic ore (metal), kettles (metal), salt water (water) and fresh water (water) - include the five basic elements, and are paired up with 12 different animals - called the 12 Terrestrial Branches – rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, serpent, horse, goat, monkey, cock, dog, and boar. Each one of the 22 string players has one of these 22 characters/animals (10 + 12). A character meets with others unexpectedly (I ask each musician to interpret and play the written music in their own unique, personal manner). In Chinese culture, a complete cycle of pairings of "stems" with "branches", each pairing lasting one year, is formed after 60 years.

The traditional Korean instrument Komungo has both frets and moveable bridges. The sounds the instrument produces are determined both by the length of the strings (as is the case with guitar or violin) and by the unique playing technique. Once a player fixes the length of the string by the placing of the finger, the string still must be pushed towards one side in order to determine the specific pitch. This playing technique is called Yuk-an-beop (literally: ‘heavily pressed playing technique’) and exists only in the traditional music of Korea. Because it is played by striking the string with a bamboo stick, the Komungo has a sound that is more percussive than that of other string instruments, which are plucked or bowed. Only two strings out of six are used to play melodies; the rest are used to create a drone.

This piece was commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation for the San Jose Chamber Orchestra and is dedicated to Barbara Day Turner.

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