| Warning Colors

Program Notes


**Composer Fellow at Intimacy of Creativity 2016, Hong Kong**

**Winner of Paul and Christiane Cooper Prize in Composition (2014) from Rice University.

While composing Desert Miniatures: Insects for bassoon trio in the summer of 2012, I was studying various insects and writing character pieces based on each insect’s attributes.  A butterfly called the Arizona Red Spotted Purple employs mimicry, a survival technique whereby the physical appearance of the insect evolves over time to resemble another species of butterfly, the Pipevine Swallowtail, which is noxious to its predators.  The Pipevine Swallowtail communicates its toxicity to predators through its colorful wing pattern or “warning colors.”  The Arizona Red Spotted Purple mimics the swallowtail’s warning colors to avoid being attacked or eaten.  This concept of mimicry, evolving to appear harmful, was incredibly intriguing to me.  Even more so was the thought that the predator chooses life or death, sickness or health, when it attacks a butterfly with these warning colors.  Mimicry is employed by hundreds of insects, reptiles, and invertebrates such as the “mimic” octopus.  

Warning Colors employs three types of musical mimicry.  The first is harmonic mimicry in which a stable harmony is presented in either the winds or brass.  The strings mimic the harmony by sliding around it using microtones.  These moments of harmonic mimicry serve as structural pillars.  The second type of musical mimicry is rhythmic in nature and can be categorized as heterophony.  A melody or line is performed simultaneously against itself, the mimicking melody having different rhythmic values.  The two lines intertwine rhythmically, come into unison, and break away from each other.  The third type of musical mimicry is rhythmic as well but also related to melodic contour.  The original line or source is performed.  Two or more lines mimic the source by matching its contour but are not the product of a simple transposition as they retain their own internal intervallic characteristics.  The concept of mimicry informed many of the musical characteristics displayed and heard in Warning Colors.


Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra,

Jerry Hou, conductor at Stude Hall

Alice Pratt Brown Hall, Rice University

Houston, TX


Hong Kong Philharmonic, Bright Sheng, conductor at

Multipurpose Hall, Cheng Yu Tung Bldg.

Hong Kong University of Science and Technolog

Kowloon, Hong Kong


Hong Kong Philharmonic, Bright Sheng, conductor at

Hong Kong Cultural Centre

Kowloon, Hong Kong


Audio - Score Sample