Leaf (2010)

My first encounter with an hulusi was when I first met Anlin Xu in a Chinese restaurant earlier this summer – before then I had no plan to compose for any Chinese instrument. On seeing the hulusi that day it fascinated me. It is an ancient, pentatonic, double reed instrument that is archetypal Chinese in sound. On hearing it, I loved its plaintive, yearning quality, and I was fascinated by the challenge to compose a work for a instrument with five notes (E,G,A,C,D) and a two octave range that embodied another, very different culture to my own.


Leaf, the title, was with me from day one of my thinking about the composition for I was carrying in my mind’s eye a painting by Howard Hodgkin called Leaf: Hodgkin’s painting with its meditative, abstract leaf-like qualities conflated with my own thoughts. In particular for me, it was the leaf’s tenacity, for it clings to the tree through buffeting weathers and seasons – from its verdant green it slowly browns, hardens, curls, withers and falls.

The work uses a Max5 patch to realise the transposed live ‘canons’ of the hulusi. Alongside the live hulusi is an acousmatic accompaniment built from recordings I have of percussion. The composed hulusi part is not synched moment by moment – although, the hulusi acknowledges the three discreet sections of the piece that are demarcated in the acousmatic.

In the composition and realising of this work I would like to thank Anlin Xu for his guidance and dedication. I would also like to thank his wife Yuhong, who has been a helpful and supportive intermediary.


  1. International Symposium on Experimental Music, Coventry University, UK, on September 25th.