Vicious Circles explores a number of cyclical musical ideas, each looping back on itself. The title refers to a chain of events where your response to a problem only causes that same problem to be worsened, resulting in an endlessly repeating loop. An example from The Little Prince:
‘I am drinking,’ answered the drunkard lugubriously.
‘Why are you drinking?’ the little prince asked.
‘In order to forget,’ replied the drunkard.
‘To forget what?’ enquired the little prince, who was already feeling sorry for him.
‘To forget that I am ashamed,’ the drunkard confessed, hanging his head.
‘Ashamed of what?’ asked the little prince who wanted to help him.
‘Ashamed of drinking!’ concluded the drunkard, withdrawing into total silence.
The piece opens energetically with a 22-note looping tune that forms the basis for a series of colorful variations. With each repetition, the tune strays further from its original contour, expanding in register and becoming more embellished with internal loops and melodic insertions. After a dramatic turn and exciting buildup, the tension eases and a more lyrical theme emerges. After a few detours, these two main musical ideas reappear towards the end of the piece, stacked on top of each other and building to a climax that leads to the piece’s eventual close.