top of page

among the empty places (Triptych 2) (2015-2017)

I.    distance (11:07)

II.   greater than (5:00)

III.  "...the liquid mountains of the sky..." (8:40)

available from the composer

duration ca. 24:47


fixed media

Program Note

among the empty places is a triptych of related but independent pieces. All three of the works share not only a compositional and aesthetic approach, but also a sense of loss and of our insignificance in the face of a vast and uncaring universe.   Technically, the pieces all develop my technique of massively replicating--sometimes into the hundred thousands--and time-shifting recordings of purely acoustic sounds.  There are no synthesized or computer-generated sounds in any of the pieces.



In a 16 hour train ride from Lanzhou to Dunhuang in Northwest China I was enormously impressed by the landscape: mile after mile of arid countryside with ochre hills, red cliffs and craggy, broken mountains.  The land is ancient, barely touched by humans and indifferent to our existence. The original source material is a traditional Uyghur song of longing for an absent love: ‘Yaru’, (Yearning)  The original was performed by Sanubar Tursun,  who both sings and plays dutar—a two stringed, long necked lute.  I greatly time-stretched this recording, more than doubling it and then massively replicated it.  The 'machine sounds' are the plucked dutar, time-stretched and transposed downward an octave or more.  The result retains vestiges of the original but becomes far distant from it, creating a sense of timelessness and isolation.


greater than

A meditation on transformation, greater than is generated from only two original sound sources—a temple bell with cello, and a marimba.  Massive layering and time-shifting these sounds creates two barely recognizable transformations; they are further transformed with a slow timbral modulation between the two sonic poles.


"...the liquid mountains of the sky..."

In March 2016 my brother passed away, far too soon.  We had been emotionally close, although physically distant—he lived in America and I am in Hong Kong.  Oddly, the extent of my love and respect for him only became clear to me after he had died.  I have a sense of loss that I doubt will ever heal.  This piece is dedicated to his memory.  The title is taken from a quote of Helen Keller, "It's wonderful to climb the liquid mountains of the sky. Behind me and before me is God and I have no fears."


‘...the liquid mountains of the sky...’ uses selections from a recording of my harp solo The Autumnal Mountain recorded by Kateřina Englichová.  The selections are replicated into the thousands and each replication is time-shifted by various amounts.  These massive replications are often superimposed on sections that are far less extensively replicated.  At the beginning, the replications are a background accompaniment to the original solo line, and later, two-, three- and six- replications weave in and out of a much thicker background. 

among the empty places (Triptych 2) was funded by a grant from the University Grants Committee of Hong Kong.  distance was premiered at the concert Traces of Silk Road III - Convergence & Extrapolation on November 1, 2015, at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Studio Theatre.  greater than was premiered at Musinfo-Opus Centrum's Art and Science Days in Bourges, France, at the Cinéma de la Maison de la Culture de Bourges on June 2-3, 2016. "...the liquid mountains of the sky..." was premiered at Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois, on MusicBYTES: Electroacoustic music of Christopher Coleman, March 24, 2017.


Technical Note

The Triptych series was designed to work as a set, with all three pieces in a single Triptych performed at the same time; and equally, as independent pieces that can be programmed separately.

bottom of page