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A Leaf Falls After, for orchestra


A Leaf Falls After is inspired by my recent memories of living in Europe. In the fall of 2015, I received the Ladd Prize funded by UC Berkeley and had the great opportunity to live in Paris for ten months. This was my first time in Paris as well as in Europe; I experienced intimate incidents of fragile beauty that touched me, but also shocking and terrifying ones during my residence there. I was impressed by the most clear and colorful fall I’d ever seen when autumn leaves fell to the ground, sizzling as if drizzling; I was terrified by the terrorist attack but also touched by the toughness of the Parisians that winter; on a visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, I was fascinated to hear twelve bells constantly ringing, intertwining together as a huge chaotic but illusory whirl; I was stunned when visiting the installation ‘Fallen Leaves’ at the Jewish Museum in Berlin, watching thousands of open mouthed steel metal faces on the ground create, when walked on, harshly grating sounds like the victims’ screams.

Inspired by mixed emotions and diverse sounds, this piece traces the journey of a leaf: a solitary leaf falling with loneliness as described in an e. e. cumming’s poem; a light leaf falling with other leaves in autumn; a heavy metal leaf fallen on the ground. However, no matter what vibrations it has undergone during its falling and fallen time, the leaf will eventually be reincarnated into a rising butterfly, flapping its wings to cause a tornado in spring until the next falling comes. Based on such images, I created a constantly flowing process of different kinds of vibrations along with air sounds to represent falling leaves, fallen leaves, and flaps of rising butterflies’ wings. Besides this, metallic sounds/noises either with pure resonances or with intense pressure make up another important element, which is associated with my memories of the ringing bells and the metal “fallen leaves.”

Structurally, there are three large uninterrupted sections with an introduction and a coda, expressing several different scenarios in sequence: a leaf falls (Intro), falling leaves (Section 1), ringing chaos (Section 2), rising butterflies (Section 3), and a leaf falls after (coda). In the intro (a leaf falls), an image of a huge leaf shaped by multiple linear gestures gently emerges from behind the air sounds but then falls abruptly and heavily with metallic noises. Section 1 (falling leaves) reveals a falling/descending process, starting from pitchless noises and air sounds, gradually accumulating more and more, clearer and clearer descending gestures, and then finished by an very intense dark grating phrase, which is a metaphor of the metal “fallen leaves.” Section 2 (ringing chaos) is a long transition between the previous and the following section as well as from purity to chaos, based on the constant bell-like sounds of chimes as drone and fused with other complex sounds and resonances to shape a chaotic dizzy atmosphere. As an inverted image of falling leaves, Section 3 (rising butterflies) mainly focuses on ascending gestures with vibrations and bright timbre scattering and echoing in different parts to draw a picture of the wing flutters of rising butterflies and the fluctuations of the “butterfly effect.” In the coda (a leaf falls after), the gasp-like breath sounds are not just a kind of struggle in a fading decay, but also a hint of rebirth recalling the beginning gestures: the falling leaf turns over a new leaf in the cycle of transmigration.

A Leaf Falls After was premiered by National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra in Taichung, Taiwan on August 17th, 2017.

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