The premise underlying The Clash of Icicles against the Stars is the Chinese concept of qi. Qi means ‘breath’, ‘air’ or ‘gas’ and signifies the energy flow or life force that is the fundamental sustaining element of existence. The piece explores the various air chambers of the three instruments for which it is written, with the accordion compressing and expanding its chamber to manufacture sound, while the sheng, China’s oldest wind instrument and the ancestor of the accordion, uses reed vibration in contrast to the reedless flute, whose embouchure hole provides the basis for timbral experimentation.
As the piece was written for the 9th Guangdong Modern Dance Festival’s opening concert entitled ‘Duchamp and the I Ching’, the structure of The Clash of Icicles against the Stars is derived from the mirror systems that lie at the heart of the ancient Chinese Book of Changes. In Lama Govinda’s book The Inner Structure of the I Ching, the mirror relationships within each of the eight houses of the I Ching are mapped, showing the connections between various opposing elements. The routes that map these connections also direct the pitch and rhythmic structures of the present composition. The I Ching thus provides a symmetrical structural base, while Rimbaud’s poem ‘Barbarian’, with its highly emotional imagery, evokes the spatial range and temporal pace of The Clash of Icicles against the Stars.