a word about compilations

On the occasion of the release of the cassette compilation of experimental music, “There is no music from China” (published simultaneously in China and New Zealand by Zoomin’ Night 燥眠夜 and End of the Alphabet Recordings respectively), I wrote this text expressing why I think the compilation format is so important. Where it occurs the experimental music scene in China is truly vibrant, but doesn’t have many outlets for expression, is under pressure as it often antagonises authority in any number of ways, and so can be difficult to locate and understand for outsiders. So for the artists in China a compilation such as this is really helpful for creating visibility for their activities, which in turn cements their own practices in relation to their peers.

Compilations are great. Where before there was an amorphous set of individuals working away on their respective projects, whose relationship to their peers and their history was far from amounting to the self-understanding of a distinct grouping or a “scene”, along comes a compilation and magically makes concrete those relationships and gives form to those potential arrangements. This works well both for the artists, giving them a sense of identity based on relativity, and also for the audience, who perhaps were unaware such connections existed. And hence a scene is formed. It’s something of an illusion, of course, but serves as a useful public face for those involved.

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Critical Music 6: Interview with Li Jianhong and Wei Wei

Critical Music series: This series of posts focuses on individuals, groups, or organisations that have played notable roles in the history of critical music practices in China. These practices appear in many different guises, often related to concepts such as “experimental music” or “sound art”, although neither term is entirely satisfactory in describing the practices which often exist in many hybrid forms. My adoption of the term “critical music” (following the writings of G Douglas Barrett) attempts to avoid the limitations of these terms, while highlighting the active nature of the sound component of the practices. These posts will primarily take the form of interviews, each one aiming to place the subject within the general history of critical music practices in China, and contextualise their current practice within their overall development.

Welcome to the sixth interview in this series, and the last for a while. It’s a real pleasure and an honour to be able to publish this interview with Li Jianhong and Wei Wei, the couple who in their various ways have been central figures in the experimental music scene in China for many years. Originally from Hangzhou, Li and Wei Wei were both involved in the music scenes in that city before coming to Beijing around 2011. Since then they have been highly visible with their solo projects as well as performing together under the names Mind Fibre and Vagus Nerve. This interview concentrates on their early musical development, the 2pi Festival that Li founded in Hangzhou in 2003, and their thoughts about improvisation and the state of the experimental music scene in Beijing.

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Critical Music 5: Interview with Ambra Corinti and Rong Guang Rong

Critical Music series: This series of posts focuses on individuals, groups, or organisations that have played notable roles in the history of critical music practices in China. These practices appear in many different guises, often related to concepts such as “experimental music” or “sound art”, although neither term is entirely satisfactory in describing the practices which often exist in many hybrid forms. My adoption of the term “critical music” (following the writings of G Douglas Barrett) attempts to avoid the limitations of these terms, while highlighting the active nature of the sound component of the practices. These posts will primarily take the form of interviews, each one aiming to place the subject within the general history of critical music practices in China, and contextualise their current practice within their overall development.

Welcome to the fifth interview in this series. This is an interview with Rong Guang Rong (A Rong) and Ambra Corinti. In 2010 A Rong and Ambra founded Zajia in Beijing, an influential arts space and bar in the Gulou – a very traditional urban area in the centre of town, characterised by the network of hutong (thin alleyways surrounding the imperial palace in central Beijing). For Zajia, these hutong provided an everyday community setting far from the more or less segregated art districts of Beijing. Zajia became an important hub for experimental music performances, amongst many other things. Its story demonstrates how such physical venues appear and survive, and ultimately how they reach the end of their lives – giving insights into many aspects of how the community and infrastructure for critical music is developing in China. In the latter part of the interview A Rong talks about his activity as a documentary film-maker. He recently won an award at the Rotterdam International Film Festival for his most recent film, and he has various ongoing documentary film projects that will survey experimental music and sound practices in China.

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Critical Music 4: Interview with Zafka (Zhang Anding) (part 2)

Welcome to the second, and final, part of this interview with Zafka (Zhang Anding). Here he discusses China Youthology, the brand consultancy he co-founded, as well as his involvement in Yao Dajuin’s Revolutions Per Minute exhibition of sound art in China, working with the rapper J-Fever, and his recent performance with Sheng Jie for the Pixel Echo series of concerts. Finally Zafka discusses his thoughts on the political significance of sound and the current state of experimental sound in China.

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Critical Music 4: Interview with Zafka (Zhang Anding) (part 1)

Critical Music series: This series of posts focuses on individuals, groups, or organisations that have played notable roles in the history of critical music practices in China. These practices appear in many different guises, often related to concepts such as “experimental music” or “sound art”, although neither term is entirely satisfactory in describing the practices which often exist in many hybrid forms. My adoption of the term “critical music” (following the writings of G Douglas Barrett) attempts to avoid the limitations of these terms, while highlighting the active nature of the sound component of the practices. These posts will primarily take the form of interviews, each one aiming to place the subject within the general history of critical music practices in China, and contextualise their current practice within their overall development.

Welcome to the fourth interview in this series. Today I am honoured to be able to publish the first part of an interview with Zafka (Zhang Anding), an experimental musician, sound artist, and founder of the brand consultancy, China Youthology. Zafka’s story takes us from the early practices of experimental music and sound art in China in the late ’90s, his first bands through to his investigations of field recording to tap the political power of sound, and his more recent work on sound in relation to social media and online platforms. Over the years Zafka has been involved in many of the important festivals and exhibitions related to sound art held in China, including Revolutions per Minute, Get it Louder, Mini Midi, and Pixel Echo, and in this interview provides a critical perspective on a wide range of aspects of the development of sound practices there.

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mattin on improvisation

“Today, our crisis is not only an economic one but also a cultural one. If there is a practice that should acknowledge this, and be able to take this crisis as potential in its extreme fragility, it is improvisation. Out of this it will need to generate a form of agency that goes beyond the improviser’s self. It could resemble the general intellect that Théorie Communiste mentions, one that constantly questions its own parameters and undermines its own conventions without shying away from confrontation. Rather than experimenting with instruments it would be experimenting with our own selves, material conditions and broader social relations. This negative improvisation would accelerate situations to the point of mirroring our impossibilities and our limitations by producing situations where one is confronted with the negativity of our times. Out of this negativity this improvisation will try to generate a form of agency that would link freedom with collective rationality rather than with individual expression.”

—Mattin, “Improvisation and Communization”. In Marysia Lewandowska and Laurel Ptak (eds.), Undoing Property? (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2013), pp.53–67.

Critical Music 3: Interview with Ake

Critical Music series: This series of posts focuses on individuals, groups, or organisations that have played notable roles in the history of critical music practices in China. These practices appear in many different guises, often related to concepts such as “experimental music” or “sound art”, although neither term is entirely satisfactory in describing the practices which often exist in many hybrid forms. My adoption of the term “critical music” (following the writings of G Douglas Barrett) attempts to avoid the limitations of these terms, while highlighting the active nature of the sound component of the practices. These posts will primarily take the form of interviews, each one aiming to place the subject within the general history of critical music practices in China, and contextualise their current practice within their overall development.

Welcome to the third interview in this series. Today I am very happy to be able to publish an interview with Ake 阿科, the Beijing-based experimental musician. Ake is a young (born in 1990), self-taught artist, who has only been performing for a couple of years but has become a regular participant in experimental music events in the city. While initially working with violin drones, she has recently started investigating manipulated field recording. I interviewed Ake because I think she represents a new generation of artists in China whose practice is developing within a relatively stable environment for autonomous experimental work, an environment that does not depend on the “regular” music scene to provide it with outlets and reasons to exist.

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