I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man (2001)

John Rea

Yamaha Disklavier, and chamber orchestra

Commission: SMCQ, with support from the CCA

Premiere: March 6, 2002, MusiMars 2002: Les ailes du désir, Salle Pollack — Université McGill (Montréal, Québec)

«Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou**, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly! I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now, I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.»

The butterfly effect — the notion that a butterfly flapping its wing here unleashes a storm there — a fundamental principle in the science of chaos, may be characterized by this ancient bit of folklore:

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost;
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost;
For want of a horse, the rider was lost;
For want of a rider, the battle was lost;
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost.

Small variations at the initial conditions result in huge, dynamic transformations at the concluding events. That is to say that there was no nail, and so, the kingdom perished. And that is the way it goes in my composition.

Man Butterfly was commissioned by the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec, to whom it is dedicated, thanks to a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.

** real name of Chuang-Tzu (4th century, B.C.E.), disciple and proselyte of Tao.

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  • Recording: available at SMCQ’s office

Performances