As part of Performance Research Journal Volume 24 Number 1, On Song, fertile fields was created.

This is an ongoing exchange with performers engaged in music, voice, and song.


An offer of a song structure composed of four Chinese characters.

There is no endgame.

It lives through the process of doing and experimentation.

As it continues to grow, the artists’ interpretations will be displayed here and @fertilefields

For more information or to contribute, select the mail icon at the bottom or direct message @fertilefields



Dorian Wood

Geo Wyeth

Lu Yim

fertile fields (2).jpg
fertile fields 2.jpg

一 (yi, one)

一 can be understood as a single unit to be sung as pronounced, or as a different sound assigned by the interpreter.

Taiwanese poet Chen Li’s ‘War Symphony’ employs only four characters in Mandarin Chinese to depict the temporal and physical space that war occupies – a battlefield run rampant with onomatopoeic explosions and soldiers followed by a series of hillocks where buried bodies lie. The song above draws inspiration from ‘War Symphony’, taking advantage of the pictographic nature of Mandarin to simultaneously create a song through the text itself, and through the image as a whole. The notated score serves to highlight the capacity for pictographic languages to influence song in ways that alphabet-based languages might not.

上 (shang, up, above)

上 could suggest going up a note/row/block from its precedent.

As the West began to influence the Chinese language, Mandarin, traditionally written from top to bottom and right to left, can now also, without prompt, be written and read as one would the English language – from right to left in descending rows. Therefore, the interpreter of this song can enter the song in a largely omnidirectional manner. Due to the limited notation, non-Mandarin speakers can follow the legend as provided or interpret the imagetext as a perceived whole. For the Mandarin speaker, certain nuances begin to appear, as 一下 could be read as ‘one down’ or ‘for a short duration’, 一下下 ‘even shorter’ or in some vernacular reference 上一上 could be viewed as ‘up a bit’ or even ‘attempt’ in specific instances.

下 (xia, down, below)

下 could suggest going down a note/row/block from its precedent.

A single monosyllabic character can speak volumes with meaning embedded in the character itself – a purpose that rides beneath the surface.  Each character contains one of 214 radicals that corresponds to the meaning of the word. The word 界 (jie) is composed of its root radical 田 (tian, field), and the character 介 (jie, to lie between). 介 points at the line between four individual squares that constitute the field 田. The implication of this suggests that not only can a character be viewed as a signifier of meaning, but it also acts as a visual mnemonic device. (界 contains two meanings: border and world.)

卡 (ka, to be stuck)

卡 could suggest an abrupt pause or a guttural shift.

This song is the beginning of a research process that will engage Mandarin and non-Mandarin speakers in interpretation, examine the potential of pictographic language as a form of non-lyrical song, and offer an alternative to standard musical notation.

上下 (up, down) are combined to form 卡 (stuck), with 一 (one) being shared between the two.  

There is an inhabitable space implied within the above and below,

a fertile field within the space of unmoving.