Soft Cells was conceived as a kinder, gentler counterpart to its older sibling Hard Cells, a work composed 8 years earlier. Hard Cells (on the CD New Music from IU, Vol.1) is a steely, tough piece based on a unyielding, relentless 16th-note pulse and sharp-edged bits of material which move in space but generally resist any re-shaping. By contrast, the motives of Soft Cells , while retaining their definition and character, are allowed to rhythmically expand and contract; tempo changes are frequent, and irregular beat subdivisions become an obsession. Dynamic shapes ebb and flow as well. A harp has been added to the 14-piece instrumentation of Hard Cells, and the general sound world of Soft Cells is more post-Impressionistic than rock'n'roll.
In the midst of the predominantly rich harmonies and textures of Soft Cells, two leaner, more linearly driven sections help define its overall structure: one, marked "appassionato," occurs in the middle of the piece, providing a temporary rest to the surging activity of the first half; the second is a non-sequitur sudden sunset which abruptly halts a culminating flurry and brings the work to its close.