chapter  3
38 Pages

Variable Modes

Chou began to formulate his system of variable modes in the late 1950s, after an intensive period of study of Chinese philosophy, music, and drama. In an earlier study, I identified the evolution of these variable modes as consisting of three stages-Prototypes, Type I, and Type II.1 These three classes of modes are the foundation of Chou’s compositional structure, for they form the core to which earlier, more primitive experiments of the modal system are directed and from which newer constructs are derived. The theoretical basis of these modes is the eight trigrams of Yijing and their various transformations (Figures 3.1 and 3.2).2 As discussed in Chapter 2, the Yijing is one of the most venerable ancient treatises of philosophy and metaphysics in China; its ideas permeate various social and cultural dimensions of the Chinese people, be they religious, philosophical, or political. The first type of variable modes, the Prototypes (ca. 1958-59), represents Chou’s earliest systematic application of Yijing principles to music, whereas Type I (ca. 1960-69) and Type II (since ca. 1963) are two later developments that share a concern for the total chromatic but are different in internal organization (Example 3.1).3 Instead of duplicating a discussion that has been documented elsewhere, I summarize in Table 3.1 the structural features

1 Eric Lai, “The Evolution of Chou Wen-chung’s Variable Modes,” in Yayoi U. Everett and Frederick Lau, eds, Locating East Asia in Western Art Music (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2004), pp. 150-54. In the cited essay, Type I and Type II are referred to as Aggregates I and Aggregates II, respectively. The changing of nomenclature is intended to avoid confusion in the following exposition of the development of the variable modes. Although the final forms of Types I and II are aggregate structures, their primitive forms are not, and as I will cite examples from these primitive forms, calling them “Aggregates” when they are not may cause confusion for the reader. Finally, even though the structures of Prototypes, Type I, and Type II will be discussed in this chapter, the reader is encouraged to familiarize him-or herself with the more in-depth explanations from the cited source.