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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GIG: The Walnut Room 核桃室 album launch at Zajia Lab 2013/04/20

Zajia Lab are starting a series of midnight events to get us all out of the normal patterns of experiencing these things (as I understand it). The first was last Saturday night/Sunday morning with an album launch for 冯昊 Feng Hao and 李增辉 Li Zenghui’s project, 核桃室 The Walnut Room.

Feng Hao 冯昊 & Li Zenghui 李增辉 (The Walnut Room 核桃室) launching their new album last night Zajia Lab

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GeoSlant: Alessandro Rolandi

Alessandro Rolandi’s Social Sensibility R&D Program at BERNARD CONTROLS S.A. in Beijing

Guillaume Bernard and Alessandro Rolandi at Bernard Controls

When asked about her working environment, one worker said she would like to feel the sun on her skin for a while – a simple but poetic request, fulfilled by moving her workstation outside the factory for a short period. Another worker took the opportunity to make a fluid sculpture out of the big barrel of grease he was using, giving it the title: “A piece of shit.” These little gestures came about as part of Italian artist Alessandro Rolandi’s Social Sensibility R&D Program, instituted in the factory of Bernard Controls S.A. on the outskirts of Beijing.

Bernard Controls is a French family-owned company producing specialist servo engines for operating valves in water pipes found in nuclear power stations, but also used in places like the Beijing Opera House and the Olympic Swimming Pool (AKA the “Water Cube”) in Beijing.

For a factory to embrace such a distraction from the serious business of production is down to the initiative of the boss, Guillaume Bernard, an engineer with a particular interest in corporate social responsibility. But while Bernard Controls already had a steering committee working to improve management personnel relationships using activities such as exhibition visits and music concerts, M. Bernard was looking beyond this. “He’s one step ahead,” Rolandi says. “He’s an engineer, not a psychologist, sociologist, or a philosopher. We talked a lot about this, and he seems genuinely open to more socially aware activities, which I related to relational practice within the art world.”

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GeoSlant: The Journey West Travel Office

Stephanie Rothenberg & Dan S. Wang: The Journey West Travel Office

The Journey West Travel Office, 43 Zhonglouwan Hutong, Dongcheng District, Beijing, 100007 China

21 May – 10 July, 2011

As an agent of Spectacle, tourism fulfils manufactured desires, and you can’t get more manufactured—or at least programmed—than guided tours. Tailor-made to your requirements? Maybe so, but within your tightly regimented schedule (value-for-money!) you’ll see only what you want to see, and the tendency to cede control and the experience to the tour company itself becomes part of a demonstration of social and economic affluence. But maybe those restrictions can be put to use to provide a frame within which to re-view our understanding of the sites that we visit, through a critical engagement with the process and assumptions of tourism.

Setting up shop for the last two months in a tiny street front space in the historic Drum and Bell Tower area (once home to Beijing’s time-keeping apparatus), American artists Stephanie Rothenberg and Dan S. Wang have been running their Journey West Travel Office. The Office has been developed as a serious business, from their initial location scouting in this strategic area which sees plenty of foot traffic from potential clients, to the process of interviewing and engaging salespeople, whose subsequent travails as arbiters of the various package tours to passers-by become documentary material adding to the content of the piece as a performative intervention in the area.

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ArtSlant: Something in the Way?

Something on the Way: Alessandro Rolandi and Megumi Shimizu

The Journey West Travel Office, 43 Zhonglouwan Hutong, Beijing, China

19 June, 2011

Last weekend in the hutongs around the historic Drum and Bell Tower area in Beijing, Alessandro Rolandi from Italy and Megumi Shimizu from Japan staged the performance Something on the Way. This was included as part of Stephanie Rothenberg and Dan S. Wang’s Journey West Travel Office (a “performative installation that casts a critical eye on global tourism”). Something on the Way drew upon a mixture of traditions from Epic Theatre to Japanese Butoh performance to impose something of a delay into the everyday life around these narrow hutong alleyways.

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