Born in Vietnam in 1962, P. Q. Phan became interested in music while studying architecture and taught himself to play the piano, compose, and orchestrate. In 1982, he immigrated to the United States and began his formal musical training at the USC Thornton School of Music and the University of Michigan.
Phan's music has been performed around the world by groups such as the BBC Scottish, Cincinnati, and Seattle Symphonies and Ensemble Modern, and he has received numerous commissions. The Kronos Quartet has recorded his Tragedy at the Opera, and guitarist Michael McCormick has recorded his Nights of Memory; a new CD includes Unexpected Desire, Banana Trumpets Games, My Language, Rough Trax, Beyond the Mountains, and Rock Blood. Phan is currently composing music which integrates the musical aesthetics of Southeast Asia and the West. He is an associate professor of music in composition at Indiana University at Bloomington.
The composer has provided the following note:
Like electric currents, AC/DC (2002) represents both alternated and direct flows, harmonically, structurally, and rhythmically, in two contrasting sections. The first section, AC, is composed with a fixed harmonic language, one which is derived from an alternately expanded "row" of a five-tone cell toward upper and lower registers. This section is divided in two subsections where the harmonic languages are based on the two different modes. Each subsection then elevates itself with a transposition according to its mode. At large, the AC section explores possibilities using fixed harmonic derivations from different modes and harmonic elevations. This section also displays variations of rhythmic alterations among instrumental families. It expands a wide range of organic expansions based on a small musical cell.
Like AC, the DC section's structure is also based on and expanded from a motivic idea. However, the approach and growth of this section is direct. The piano part forms a skeletal structure for the entire section. Its harmonic language expands from simple to more complex sonic combinations. In parallel with the piano, the percussion part outlines transitory sonorities from low to high, and from dark to bright. Other instrumental families display harmonic spectra, which derive from one or more tones in contrapuntal realizations triggered by the piano. These partials alternately reinforce the upper or lower partials. Quartertones occasionally serve the facilitation of producing just intonation. The string section complements the piano's skeletal structure with harmonic reinforcements. The strings relate to each other through applications of harmonic spectra. In some sense, the DC section reflects part of the Vietnamese traditional concept of using natural harmonic structures in music.
Aesthetically speaking, AC/DC represents the composer's cultural duality. Although the musical aspects from the two sections of AC/DC are different, they complement each other. They are almost incomplete within themselves; however, they are fully enriched because of their coexistence.