冥紙 Ming Zhi (“Ghost Money”) (2010)

FOR 2 GLOCKENSPIELS + HARP
View Score Sample

View Score Sample

Ghost Money, or 冥紙 (Ming Zhi), more than anything, is a memory game wherein the progression from start to finish is nonlinear and instead quite jagged. Its structure exploits simultaneous sections of the work, which are superimposed and condensed back down for the 3 players.

The choice of title was prompted by a sister piece I was developing alongside 冥紙. This other piece, Hell Money (for piano solo), deals with many of the same issues and processes as 冥紙 but uses entirely different material and a somewhat different approach. Both are derived from the same source of Benjaminian aesthetic problems and address them according to different compositional methods.

At the heart of 冥紙 the essential developing mechanism is the constant projection of new pitches onto the same sets of durations. In Hell Money it is the use of constantly remote material, often quoted, exploited and juxtaposed in close proximity. Both pieces reflect on recent trends in musical aesthetics, and like the burning of ‘ghost money’ to honor one’s ancestors, they stand in homage to the innovators who came before. But since it deals in a more traditional technique than the other—that of reinventing musical material within the same piece—冥紙 earns the title it deserves.

I was impressed by this burning of paper for the dead. The carefully designed bank notes are of great value to some Chinese-speaking families, but the entire ceremony is so remote for me as a foreigner that it is difficult to understand its value, especially given the environmental threat. (Recently, activists in Taiwan have spoken out against the burning of joss papers for their gaseous omissions. Online versions of this paper can now be ‘burned’ instead.)

The analogy for modern music is taken a step further. The papers represent scraps of real value for their users, but they are produced only to be destroyed from their use as sacrifice, echoing the great question of meaning and value in music: We continue this tradition of composing as a search for new musical syntaxes, a cry for new forms. But is this music valueless? Are we producing near-identical scraps, that we impose great value upon (which at best is the value of tribute, mimicking the work of past composers no matter how “original” they may seem)? And is this value destroyed immediately at the moment a new piece is first heard?

 

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