Having ruminated over the wide range of themes my research question touches on -- sense of self, sense of place, rootedness, and fragmentation -- I have chosen to draft a structure of the piece to use as a framework for organising my ideas.
Thinking about the structure of the piece at this stage also helps mitigate the risk of putting the cart before the horse, or over-intellectualising the music to the point that it becomes aesthetically flat or conceptually overwrought.
In this structure, I have mapped conceptual "characters" onto the elements I will be working with in the piece. For example, the sound of my voice will serve as a representation of "the self," while the live processing will represent external forces, such as the pressures caused by globalisation. The interaction between these elements represent dynamics between the conceptual characters. For example, distortion of the live processing on my voice could be an expression of the distortion that the fracturing of social fabrics caused by globalisation may have on one's sense of self. Organising the concepts in this way gives me a clearer idea of how to craft a story about an experience of transnational existence.
This table or "map" weaves together six conceptual characters – "Self," "Others," "Place," "Occasions," "External forces," and "The Vessel" – in a story consisting of seven vignettes. These vignettes, currently titled "Genesis," "Tradition," "Sojourn," "Rupture," "Distortion," "Gathering," "Dispersal," trace a journey through the phases of a transition from a fixed model of identity and community toward a more fluid, ephemeral, digitally rendered model of existence. The titles hint at the musical qualities of each section, with the earlier parts conjuring elemental music and folk aesthetics and the later parts involving electroacoustic, atonal, and noisy atmospheres. This contrast between the folk style, acoustic yangqin playing toward the augmented sound parallels the contrast between a traditional notion of rootedness and a post-modern conception of mobile identities.
A critical feature of this structure is the role of the yangqin. The yangqin is the center of this piece, and the character I have assigned it is "The Vessel" or "The Mentality." This is the part that transforms the most through the piece, and it represents an element of creation, the small shell/valence/mindset one surrounds oneself with, to stay protected and sustained through the turbulence of modern life. For me, the yangqin is this vessel, it is the literal instrument I use to adapt to an ever-shifting environment. For others, this vessel may be their work, their sense of purpose, their inner narrative. As I create the piece, I will reflect more on the meaning of this aspect of the story.