Three Poems of the Atmosphere


When wind
And crescents wax
And bring
The earth to blush,
Arbor silhouettes
Wave in gray
And stoic wonder
Land’s terrestrial breast
And heaven’s astral shield


I want to see the lights
The voices of the stars
To my pale, shuttered eyes
They do not speak or sing,
But hum
Through the black
And aching cosmos
Till their stream of constant
Urgings, flickering and rarefied
By years of space and light
Autonomously guide and find
My seeing ears and hearing eyes

I want to hear them
Now, and then
I want to see them


Drenched and drowning
in the sunset’s creamy
bliss, I drift
towards the sea
and clutch my heart.
For all this happens
flowing in the masterpiece
of evening’s swirling palette,

and I’m reminded
that we feel
see and touch
in color

A Vesper, for two cellos

In moments, we plea, reaching out into else, and groaning, humbled, and tired. All possess that potential for despair, when utterances fail, and composure—self-sufficiency—is drawn out, stretched beyond, laid bare, and exposed as a proud veil of guile. We break, and are remade. A Vesper for Two Cellos.

A Vesper for Two Cellos was premiered by Eric Haugen and Alessandra Garvin (featured in this video) in Ann Arbor, MI on December 14th, 2012; it received it’s New York City premiere soon after at The Juilliard School on December 16th, 2012.

Blue Yarn

Blue Yarn Poster

In 2011 I worked with director Chelsea Rebecca and a team of filmmakers in Ann Arbor on the production of the short film “Blue Yarn.” The music I wrote was a combination of solemn piano interludes and early 1960’s country tunes. In addition to composing an original score, I worked on set as a boom operator, and worked in post production as the sound designer and mixer.

I love working with film, and I love being asked to do things that I’ve never done before. I’ll get around to writing more country crooning songs some day, I’m sure. In the meantime, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to collaborate with such diverse and talented artists and technicians.

Although the entire film isn’t available to the public, the closing credits, with music by yours truly, can be found below.

“Blue Yarn” End Credits from Katt Qian on Vimeo.

Five Birds — Three Poems

The Cardinals

I traced the cardinals’ breasts into the canopy
Red strokes, blurred across
The honey locust’s pinnate feather wings
They were hosted in the leaflets
Stunning one another in vermilion sorcery

Head cocked and saffron crowned
The lady up and dove through the verdant stand
And disappeared into the wood
Darting round the knotted copse
And out, into the silence

The Magpies

A pair of magpies
Startled in the brambles
Flapped and rose out
Of thorns and morning dew
And let me see their
Ghostly eyes, dark-cast beads
Of stoic open wonder

Blinding black and white,
I saw chess upon their wings
And after a mocking dance,
Of knight and stalwart bishop,
They sprung up
Through the canopy
And laughed at me
And dawn’s lost stars

The Sparrow

The sparrow’s path
Hooked through the sun’s
Bright and bleeding rays,
Then burst through
A vast and clouded
Tortured teardrop
To undo the
And pain
And seal his love
upon the world

The Glow Within Our Steps

The Glow Within Our Steps - PosterTying up all loose ends post-graduation takes a lot of time and energy, and in the meantime my blog has suffered in neglect. I intend to remedy this within the next few weeks.

For now, however, let me bring an end to my blogging hiatus by posting a link to a full-length video of The Glow Within Our Steps, my doctoral dissertation. Lights, sound, video, choreography, immersive media, live musicians, mobile interactive light stands, octophonic sound installation . . . What more could one want?

The video below documents a public performance which took place within the installation space on May 1st, 2013. It highlights the work of choreographic collaborators Maxx Passion and Brittany Whitmoyer. The installation and performances were hosted by the Gallery in the Duderstadt Center on the campus of the University of Michigan. Program notes, written by myself, may be found below.

Mobile Pillars of Light“In retrospect, my life has largely operated somewhere between two interdependent axioms. The first, after Heraclitus, is that the only thing that is real and true is change itself. The second is that meaning is made, not found.

Considering the proposition that change is the only constant, I value activities which manufacture meaning, thereby temporally fixing the fleeting moments of our lives by affording us the luxury of locking onto sentimentality in midst of an endless flux; I value the phenomenological emphasis on subjective experience as opposed to the ostensibly objective things which populate our experiences; I value events, rites, and rituals that transform the otherwise mundane into consecrated endeavors; I value the surface formality of activities because, in the end, it is only our instituted formalities which separate the ordinary from the extraordinary; I value the process of meaning making, because if we excel at generating meaning for ourselves, we can then craft and share unique meanings with those around us. Assuming control over meaning allows one to overflow with optimism in the face of struggle, to exert patience in trying times, or to express compassion as opposed to passing judgement. Making meaning in our human sociality requires an empathic imagination.
The Glow Within Our Steps explores this. Here is a gallery, in a building, but I have strived to make it something more. With invocations of light and darkness, sound and silence, flux and stasis, I have endeavored to highlight the contrasts of simple things in order to generate a psychological place for the profound. We fill this space with our own meanings, and, ultimately, our own experiences. We are the ones who are capable of transforming a vacuous space into a meaningful glowing place. There is a Glow Within Our Steps.”

Poems: A March Triptych


at least oblivion
offers peace,
an unvoided contract
of open sky
and blue bliss
earned by so many
but reached by so few

in that space
between each step

in that space
between each breath

don’t blink

in that space
between each heartbeat
the moment glows

do you see it?


oh, the sinister muse
who takes me away
and shocks with,
demands a sacrifice.
all that it promised
is all it asks
in return.
The mimetic pain
following trails of
the Father of us all

in my hollow core
somehow I am full
or so I hope . . .
and hope
in the end
is all that can fill
and all that fills



In the trees
I hear the wind
even though it’s still
on the plain
I stand stop a peak
and the stars
hang and glow
in the night sky
even though it’s day
the grass greens
beneath us
and curls around
our toes
even though it’s cold
and winter,
and the ice melts
even as it’s made

earth, light, and air
speak to minds
who see and hear
beyond the moment
and there are whispers,
secrets to be told
if we will them in
and release
our imagination’s silk into
that wind
to wisp and glide through
arbor’s arms,
past peaks,
celestial glows,
flowing water,
and verdant, curling, grasses

The Allegory of The Love Doctor

Fascinated with the emotional, social, and expressive dimensions of one of the most complex and ubiquitous human concepts, Philo set out to learn more from one of the earth’s self-proclaimed masters in the subject of Love. Having received numerous degrees from prestigious schools, and having written and published dozens of very well-received books and articles in well-respected publications, the Doctor of Love, or “Love” Theorist, as he called himself, happened to live, teach, and work at an institution of higher learning just a few cities away. The trip was worth the time and energy, as Philo’s passion was understanding the phenomena of Love, its meaning, its uses, its difficulties, and its infinite complexities, and if there was one individual who could help him understand the inherent beauty and inner workings of such a seemingly impenetrable yet pervasive subject, then it would surely be this Doctor of Love.

The plans were set, the trip was made, and soon Philo was shaking hands with and sitting across the desk from this ostensibly brilliant individual. After getting comfortable in the worn leather chair, and exchanging warm salutations with the Doctor and his bushy brows, he eagerly asked the question that he had traveled so far to have answered.

“I’d like to understand Love,” Philo began, rubbing his child-like and humble hands together as he spoke. “I have felt it, I have expressed it, I have given it, I have received it — but how? Why? What makes it tick?” The Doctor was used to responding to such superficial generalities, as there were few other than those in academia’s upper echelon’s who could speak with authority about such a complex subject. He began slowly and meticulously, shaping each phrase as if it were his last.

“First, my son, you need to accept that this is no subject that one can master in a single afternoon,” he flatly stated as Philo nodded his head and scratched his chin waiting for more, “but I see that you are ready to understand this thing called Love, so let’s get to the details.” With that introduction Philo scooted forward to the edge of his seat, his eyes glued and ears cocked, ready and willing to learn. “Let’s dive right in, shall we?” said the Doctor.

“Love consists of L-O-V-E,” he stated with punctilious perfection, clearly hoping to get an enthusiastic rise out of his student right from the start. Any rise, however, was that of fawning educational zeal transforming into skepticism. With hope, however, Philo edged forward waiting for more. The Doctor continued.

“L, you see, is the 12th letter in our English alphabet. O is the 15th. V is the 22nd. And E, ohh! E . . . is the 5th. In fact, let me show you . . .” he said as he leapt out of his chair with a bubbly grin and approached a blackboard to the left of his desk.

“Here!” he said as he drew an L on the blackboard. “Look at the angle of this letter . . . uh huh . . . do you see it? It’s 90 degrees! And this O right here!” he mused as he, like Giotto incarnate, completed the perfect curvature of the letter’s circle. “The V is nothing but a transformation of the L, but turned counter-clockwise 45 degrees,” he remarked, and then suddenly fixing his beady and increasingly maddened eyes on Philo, revealed, “That’s exactly half of 90 degrees, you know . . .”

Philo, couldn’t believe his ears, or his eyes, for that matter. When the good Doctor began waxing about how the numbers corresponding to the alphabetic position of the letters, when summed together (for a grand old stinking total of 54) and divided by their own arithmetic mean (which was 13.5, by the way) gave you 4 (naturally!) he was beginning to shift around in that well-worn leather chair looking for a hidden camera in the room. Was this some kind of joke? Had he strolled into the wrong office and struck up a conversation with the department jester?

“Ergo. . .” the Doctor stated with an emphatic pause, “LOVE!”. He exhaled lovingly in a way which Philo found ironic considering the circumstances, and it cooled his own fuming temper for just long enough to let good ol’ Doctor Lovey Dovey start up again.

“Now, let’s venture to the word’s origins, shall we?” he said, lifting his luxuriant academic eyebrows up and down with such vigor that Philo swore he felt a draft. With that statement Philo actually thought that they might be getting somewhere productive, somewhere insightful, somewhere that would make his journey worthwhile, somewhere that would seal up all of this pseudo-scientific tommyrot and thoroughly defenestrate it.

“First, the Old English: ‘L-U-F-U’,” the Doctor continued, and with that Philo arose and stormed out of the room. “Don’t you want to know about the Greek?!” the Doctor called down the hall after him, but it was too late.

Philo grumbled to himself as he buttoned his coat and walked down the frozen ivory-white steps of the building. After a brief sojourn of city-hopping, he had returned to his home, having puzzled along the way, and was still dumb-struck at how utterly irrelevant the dear Doctor’s professorial postulations were as compared to the experience and act of love in the real world. “Surely, he must realize this,” Philo mused. “Surely, the personal anecdotes and garnered aphorisms of a layperson would be more descriptive, explanatory, and insightful than . . . than THAT.” He sighed heavily, and sunk into his chair, beginning an evening of hypnagogic travel-induced lucubration, eyes focused on the blank wall in front of him, continually passing between sleep and wakefulness.

Philo came to, stood, and began the walk to his bed. While climbing up the stairs, it occurred to him that Love was meaningful to him; he loved love; he loved the feeling; he loved the commitment; he loved the chivalry, the niceties, the traditions; he loved the symbols; he loved the ever-changing newness of it in conjunction with its aging mythic prominence; he loved that everyone loved differently, and that love itself meant different things to everyone while simultaneously being a quintessentially shared phenomenon, to which so many of us could ostensibly relate. In contrast, the explanatory trajectory of the professor, was so unique that it bore virtually no resemblance to the meanings of Love within contemporary culture — or any culture outside of the Doctor’s building, for that matter.

Philo, considering all this, was exhausted. He loosened his tie, collapsed on his bed, and dreamt.

— Composer, Theorist, Conductor, Collaborator, Filmmaker, Writer, Artist