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Towards a New Musical Hybridity: Applying Traditional Chinese Techniques to Western Instruments

CAO, JIA (2023) Towards a New Musical Hybridity: Applying Traditional Chinese Techniques to Western Instruments. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 10 December 2026.


This PhD composition portfolio explores new approaches to intercultural composition, fusing elements of Chinese traditional and Western contemporary music. My catalogue of eight works comprises compositions for symphony orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo instrument, and voice, entitled Interrupted Dream, The Starry Way, After the Rain and At Dusk, Echoes of Qing, Impressions, Dreamscape, Shadow/Reflection/Silhouette, and Rainflowers. My pieces draw inspiration from diverse forms of music, literature and art, including Song dynasty Chinese poems, kunqu opera, various traditional Chinese instrumental genres, a Western oil painting, and the compositions of other intercultural composers. I have developed my own unique approach centering on the transference of instrumental techniques from Chinese traditional instruments to Western instruments, to generate a wide range of interesting new timbres and effects. Through this approach, I aim to offer a new perspective on cross-cultural musical creativity, opening up new lines of investigation. Specifically, as a fundamental component in my compositional method, I have selected a wide range of distinctive techniques from the erhu (fiddle), guzheng (21-stringed zither), pipa (four-stringed lute), dizi (transverse flute), and guqin (seven-stringed zither), in addition to vocal techniques from kunqu opera. I have adapted them for application on Western contemporary instruments and voice. To ensure that this process of adoption, adaption, and application has worked effectively, my method has also involved detailed research. This research draws from published studies and recordings, and close collaboration with musicians specialising in both the Chinese and Western instruments concerned, via individual one-to-one discussion and participation in workshops. These processes have also helped towards formulating effective means of notation, prompting me to apply an extended range of symbols to conventional staff notation – the latter being my preferred system, in line with the instrumentalists’ existing preferences and the music’s prevailing idiomatic expression.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:instrumental techniques, compositional techniques, Chinese traditional music, Western contemporary music, intercultural composition.
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Music, Department of
Thesis Date:2023
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:11 Dec 2023 10:13

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