Smoke Rings is about wandering thoughts and idle speculation. The inspiration for this work comes from the 14th century rondeau Fumeux fume par fumee (Smoky smokes through smoke) by Solage. This bizarre and intensely chromatic song is itself a parody of the Society of Smokers, a group of poets and musicians who gathered to engage in “smoky speculation” and perhaps even smoke hashish or opium to induce whimsical artistic fantasies.
Smoke Rings opens with a hypnotically repeating pizzicato over which harmonies drift and transform like a shifting smoky haze. The main motives are obsessively repeated, touching on remote key areas without ever settling into any one of them, building to a passionate outburst, before returning to the music from the opening.
The title comes from another song about idle speculation, from a much later but no less self-indulgent age: “Where do they go, those smoke rings I blow each night? Oh, what do they do, those circles of blue and white?”