This is the second and final part of the interview with Sheng Jie (aka gogoj), discussing her activities as a visual artist and experimental musician in China. Link to the first part of the interview.
This is a new series of posts for this blog focusing on individuals, groups, or organisations that have played notable roles in the history of critical music practices in China. These practices appears in many different guises, often described as “experimental music” or “sound art”, neither of which 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.
Sheng Jie (aka gogoj) is a visual artist and musician based in Beijing. Much of her current experimental music and sound work reflects her study of the violin and cello, as well as of video and performance art. Since returning to Beijing from college in France in 2005, she has been developing various forms of audio/visual performance using these elements. Recently she has begun incorporating a gesture-based computer interface that allows her to “manually” manipulate her video and audio signals on stage. In this interview she talks about her practice and how it has developed, her relationship with the music and art worlds in Beijing, and why she adopted this gesture interface. The interview covers a lot of ground, and so has been split over two days for convenience. Part two will be published on this blog tomorrow.
In the final interview for this series of posts about the DIY scene in Osaka, Japan, I spoke to Kazuma Sasajima who runs an “independent culture shop” called Nice Shop Su from his tiny apartment in the attic of an old residential building not far from Umeda (one of the major commercial districts of Osaka). Nice Shop Su was established by Kazuma and his partner Kaori Nakao in 2013, and sells many different types of artist-produced bits and bobs. One thing that interested me about Nice Shop Su was that Kazuma deliberately chose to locate it in an area without a strong art community. This approach provides a contrast with the development of the community of artists in Baika, which was discussed in the first two interviews in this series (with Go Tsushima and Kaori Yoshikawa). For this interview Kazuma and I were joined by Kazuma’s friend, the graphic designer Daisuke Minami, and the artist Makiko Yamamoto, who acted as guide and translator for my visit and to whom I am hugely grateful.
Previous interviews in this series:
- DIY Osaka part 1: interview with Go Tsushima
- DIY Osaka part 2: interview with Kaori Yoshikawa, Noooooooooooo Kitty
For the second part of this three part series of posts touching on DIY/alternative cultural practices in Osaka, Japan, I spoke to artist Kaori Yoshikawa who set up Noooooooooooo Kitty last year with her teammate Snoo. Noooooooooooo Kitty is an artist-run gallery and events space that they opened following the closure of their previous space, named Bar Kitty. The latter was located in the suburbs south of Osaka, while Noooooooooooo Kitty is located in the Baika area in the west (around the corner from Go Tsushima’s home/studio, who I interviewed in the first part of this series). Over the past few years Baika and its surroundings have become popular for artists and musicians, and a number of small galleries and live venues are also located there. In this way a certain informal cultural community appears to have developed in this area, which Noooooooooooo Kitty is now part of and benefits from in various ways. In this interview Kaori goes into detail about their motivations for the move to Baika, and how Snoo and her artistic practices are reflected in their plans for Noooooooooooo Kitty.
Over the last year I’ve been fortunate to be able to take three short trips to the city of Osaka in Japan. While I’ve been in the city, and time permitting, I try to learn about the music and sound communities there. Last July I published some first research from these trips here on this blog, and last month I was there again for a few days. This time I was able to interview several people who represent various aspects of the alternative or DIY scene there. They are the musician Go Tsushima, Kaori Yoshikawa at the artist-run gallery/event space Noooooooooooo Kitty, and Kazuma Sasajima at the “independent culture shop” Nice Shop Su. Over the next three weeks I’ll be publishing these interviews on this blog.
First up is the interview with Go Tsushima, a musician who lives in the Baika area of Osaka. I visited him at his home/studio and we talked about his background, the music that he produces, and the Baika area in which he lives – an area that is quite special for Osaka (and maybe for Japan generally).
A little bit of background to Baika: Baika and its adjacent areas are apparently seen as unattractive, perennially unpopular due to geographical and social reasons. I have been told—and I should stress this is pure anecdote—that because Baika is in a low-lying area near the port, it is susceptible to flooding were there to be a tsunami, thus discouraging development of the area. Perhaps related to this, I was warned by one person that this side of town is the “rough” part of Osaka – although when I visited I didn’t particularly feel this.
In any case, because of this unpopularity there is perhaps an added impetus for the property agents to actively promote occupation of the vacant commercial spaces, or for local property owners to provide affordable residential accommodation. Consequently there has been a small, but possibly significant, influx of creative people and grass-roots arts organisations visiting or putting down roots in Baika. This situation has created an opening for less commercial activities, leading to a tentative community forming with, I think, great potential.
Despite the closure over the last few years of a number of live venues that were homes for experimental music in Beijing, the scene—while small—is generally maintaining a level of activity that gives great cause for optimism. By way of example, I’d here like to focus on the activities of two members of the Beijing improvisation scene, Zhu Wenbo and Sean Lee.
Zhu Wenbo has quite a high profile locally due to his activity performing solo as well as in a number of groups, and as the organiser of experimental music events, particularly the Zoomin’ Nights series. Sean Lee has a quieter presence as a performer focusing on computer music practices. They first met through their work at the social media company, Douban, and since 2015 have performed together under the name of “no performance”. Zhu Wenbo has elsewhere described no performance as, “between composition and improvisation, electronic and acoustic, or computer program and instrument”, and in 2016 they debuted a new piece called “Okra” combining rule-based composition and improvisation, which has since been performed in a number of forms with different sets of people. I met up with them both at Wenbo’s apartment in Beijing to talk about their backgrounds and what Okra means for them.
For the experimental music community in Beijing, each month holds the promise of another MIJI Concert. Organised since 2011 by various members associated with the Sub Jam record label, MIJI Concert is now in its 39th edition. This event has managed to survive in a city that has become less than fertile ground for experimental creative productions over the past few years with the closure of a number of venues that would host such events; MIJI is now one of the few regular events for such practical research into sound and music. Since edition 18 MIJI has found a home at the Meridian Space, located in a small creative cluster behind the National Art Museum of China not far from the Forbidden City in central Beijing. The long, thin, upstairs room in which it takes place is perhaps inhospitable for regular styles of performance, but within an experimental context provides an ideal foil for the artists. The quality of the space helps to work against divisions between performer and audience, so the physical relationship between them is always under negotiation – dependant on things like the equipment being used, the style of performance, and the nerve of the audience members. Last week’s MIJI Concert 39 was a case in point, with four pieces making various uses of the space, setting up different experiences of the performers’ relationship between themselves and with the audience.