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秋塞吟   Qiu Sai Yin (Song of Autumn beyond the Frontier)

This piece is related to (some books say “the same as”) two other qin pieces, Shuixian Cao (“Water Spirit Melody”) and Saoshou Wen Tian (“Scratching Head, Question Heaven”). Qiu Sai Yin is said to describe the desolation of Wang Zhaojun, a Han dynasty court lady sent beyond the northern frontier as a peace offering to a barbarian chief. She has been associated with the pipa (a lute-like instrument imported from the Middle East) since the Tang dynasty. However, another, more qin-related story concerns the ancient qin virtuoso Bo Ya who, having reached a certain high standard, was taken by his teacher Cheng Lian in a boat to meet his teacher on a deserted island. After communing with nature in solitude for a week, Bo Ya was picked up by Cheng Lian in the boat. Cheng Lian asked if Bo Ya if he had met the teacher, and Bo Ya said, “Yes.”


普庵咒            Pu An Zhou (Pu An’s Mantra)

Pu An Zhou, or The Mantra of the Monk Pu An, is unusual in the qin repertoire for being an openly Buddhist piece. Even though we know that the qin was used by Buddhists for meditative purposes, and some Buddhist qin players were very highly regarded, the qin music we have today is more closely associated with Daoism. During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), there was a marked shift away from foreign influences, including Buddhism. Qin books from the time often singled out Buddhists as improper qin players. Nonetheless, this piece (and a related one, Shitan Zhang), survives, not only as a qin piece but also as a popular melody. And of course Chinese Buddhism is still very much with us. Pu An was a monk who is said to have attained enlightenment through chanting; this performance seeks to follow some of the ups and downs of that path. The present-day version has been developed from the central part of a larger, chant-like piece, Shitan Zhang (“Stanzas of Siddham”), which first appeared in the Sanjiao Tongsheng Qinpu, or “Qin Handbook of Three Religions”, in 1592.  


梅花三弄            Meihua San Nong (Three Variations on Plum Blossoms)

The story of this piece goes back to the 4th century. It mentions two literati, Wang Ziyou and Huan Yi, a famous musician. Meeting by chance while travelling, both got off their carts to talk to each other. Wang said that he had heard that Huan was an excellent dizi (bamboo flute) player, and asked him to play a piece. Huan responded by taking out a flute and playing the melody Meihua (“Plum Blossoms”). This was later adapted for the qin, with the flute melody repeated three times in harmonics.

The first performance here uses the electric qin with some custom signal processing. The result is, in many respects, radically different from that of a traditional qin, just as an electric guitar is different from a classical guitar. However, like an electric guitar, it is quite capable of playing traditional music, with a traditional technique.

梅花三弄            Meihua San Nong (Clean)

This second performance uses no processing; it is just the sound of the acoustic instrument mixed with the unmodified signal from the pickups.


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