Chou Wen-chung

An Introduction to Chou Wen-chung’s Water Image Symmetry


The inherent structure of direction-sensitive and order-specific elements of the modal complex is a result of the interplay between the non-change/change duality. The construction of the initial subject naturally reflects this inherent structure as well, as shown in Figure 2. The changes of melodic intervals are realized by applying the pien tone or by inverting the melodic direction to its corresponding variable mode within the modal complex.

Figure 2: Chou Wen-chung, Streams (2003). Inherent structure of the initial subject.


Looking once again at the initial subject (C, A-flat, B, B-flat, E, D, D-sharp, F-sharp, G/C-sharp, F, E-flat, D, A, A-sharp, B, G, F-sharp), it will be noted that the three dyads of the Mountain mode in bold (B-B-flat, D-D-sharp, F-sharp–G) are in reverse order of the three bold dyads (E-flat-D, A-sharp-B, G–F-sharp) of its corresponding Thunder mode, as shown in Figure 3. The remaining pitches C, C-sharp, E, F, G-sharp, and A are partitioned into two augmented triads (C-E-G-sharp and C-sharp-A-F). Triad C-E-G-sharp of the Mountain mode and C-sharp-F-A of the Thunder mode are both in the order positions of first, second and fifth of the subject. The dyadic pairs are placed in order positions of third-fourth, sixth-seventh, and eighth-ninth. It is this order-specific factor upon which exchangeability and interplay of the dyads and augmented triads taking place that contributes to the melodic directional sensitivity of the subject. Hence, it creates the water image symmetry of the subject where the process of change is reflected in the exchangeability and interplay of the three pair dyads and augmented triads.

Figure 3: Chou Wen-chung, Streams (2003). Order-specific dyads of the initial subject.

The application of water-image symmetry in actual music refers to changing musical parameters in temporal and/or spatial relations in both micro- and macro-levels in order to create a sense of instability within symmetry. Similarly, this change will affect the state of equilibrium and will result in movement between polarities of instability and stability, flux and stasis, asymmetry and symmetry.

This is only one example of Chou’s to show how the aesthetic principle of water-image symmetry in the I-Ching is transformed into musical parameter of pitch through the constant interplay of the yin and the yang, which serves as the internal logic motivating transformation and change. The yin-yang polarities also gave rise to Chou’s system of variable modes with six-tone scale, however, it is expandable to include nine-tone, twelve-tone and to the fifteen-tone scale. Unlike Schoenberg’s serial approach of fixed sequential intervallic relationship of the tone-row; [sic] Chou’s modal system aims at providing both pitch continuity and melodic flux in local-level. Using traditional principles of the I-Ching, “water-image” symmetry, and a logical exploration of the expressive potential of the hexatonic scale, Chou’s effort as a “re-merger” has elevated the contemporary music up to a new level by successfully injecting Eastern elements into it. This is truly the author’s view of his contribution to the world music.

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