for female cellist and two digital soundtracks

Joy Kirstin, text 

Wings of Fire incorporates a reading by Ellie Epp of the poem Wings of Fire by B.C. poet Joy Kirstin. In the work, the lover addressed in the poem is personified by the instrument which is also the source of all the material used to create the tape part. This material consists only of short fragments of bowing on the bridge of the instrument, natural and artificial harmonics, snap pizzicato, and col legno attacks (using the wooden part of the bow to hit the string). The sounds on tape that resemble bowed notes are in fact synthesized using digital resonators that model the behaviour of a string, each tuned to the pitch of one of the cello's open strings. These resonators are used to process both the cello sounds and the text such that at certain moments the voice and instrument merge as one. Wings of Fire was commissioned by Vancouver New Music for its 1997 Canadian tour.

The masculine counterpart to Wings of Fire is Androgyne, Mon Amour for male double bass player, based on poems by Tennessee Williams.


Wings of Fire is available on the Cambridge Street Records CD Twin Souls (performed by Frances-Marie Uitti) and the Mexican CD Voces Electroacusticas (performed by Iracema de Andrade). A complete documentation analysis of the work is also available on a DVD-ROM.

Spectrogram Analysis from the fourth section of the work, which is part of the author's Documentation Analysis DVD


Wings of Fire is performed with dexterity and imagination by renowned cellist Frances Marie Uitti, for whom the piece was written. The performance is warm and sensitive, a perfect match for the subtle, varied spoken texts, delivered by Ellie Epp and written by British Columbia poet Joy Kirstin. We are told the "lover" is the cello, in a dialogue with its idealized electronic partner - very insinuating and a pleasure to listen to. - alcides lanza, Computer Music Journal 27(2), 2003, p. 119.

I found it depressing that anyone would set a love poem [Wings of Fire] by pairing a live performer with a tape ... (Tamara Bernstein, The Globe and Mail)

Wings of Fire was "Cited for Quality" at the 2003 Hultgren Solo Cello Works Biennial.

Wings of Fire


This air that is my breath,

this circling of wings that rises in me.

All I know to be true, all that I am

awaits you.


Sapphire moon, blood of the angels,

on rivers of blue fire, bone and body

are beginnings. In the stillness,

we pause at the quiet wells,

the deepest waitings

where we quench our thirst.


There is fire in this union.

In this crucible, we forge each other,

molten chaos and sharp edges. Passion

slices open understandings.

That which cuts can cure.


Your tongue speaks truths

I've never known, tempers me

with words from languages I've never heard.

Venomous and blazing, your kiss

leaves me paralyzed. Pausing between sabotage

and treason, honey lingers on my lips

and I learn anew the wonder of desire.


We cross continents to weave our future,

stars and sand and soil

and feathered threads

that twirl and spin

beneath our touch.


With wings of fire, I shall embrace you.

You who are my nemesis

and my becoming,

the fertile ground below me

and the night sky

pierced with visions.

- Joy Kirstin © 1994


Joy Kirstin's poetry has appeared in the anthology, Breathing Fire: Canada's New Poets, and in many Canadian and American literary journals. She has won several poetry competitions, including the League of Canadian Poets 1993 national poetry contest.
Technical note

The work was realized using the composer's PODX system which incorporates the DMX-1000 Digital Signal Processor controlled by a PDP Micro-11 computer with software for real-time granular synthesis and signal processing developed by the composer in the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University. The sounds were recorded on 8-track tape and mixed down in the Sonic Research Studio at SFU.