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.
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.
As my own contribution to World Listening Day (tomorrow, July 18 2013), and at the invitation of Jason Coburn at 8trk radio, I’ve put together a mix of recent work by some experimental musicians and sound artists in China. The sounds require a commitment of time and patience, but I hope you can take an hour out of your day to listen, as this selection rewards sustained listening!
- 01, V0, by Yan Jun (2011) (performance at Observatori Festival in Valencia, 2011, taken from the CD v, released on Kwanyin Records http://www.subjam.org/archives/1401)
- Solo at D22, by Sheng Jie (2010) (unreleased) http://sgogoj.com/
- 系统的二次方_三影堂现场录音, by Soviet Pop (2013) (unreleased) http://sovietpopbeijing.bandcamp.com/
- KG, by Li Jianhong (2012) (taken from the CD compilation Noise, released on Kwanyin Records http://www.subjam.org/archives/2193)
- Sedna, by VAVABOND (2011) (taken from the CD Yellow, released on Kwanyin Records http://www.subjam.org/archives/1208)
- 03, by Yang Tao (2010) (unreleased)
- 001, by Damage Blanket (2013) (unreleased, includes a sample from Breathe by Holly Herndon) https://soundcloud.com/damageblanket
- OP27, by jfi (2012) (unreleased) http://www.douban.com/people/jfi/
Over the past few weeks I’ve begun a series of interviews for the “Uncut Talks” sound magazine, a project initiated by the artist Ma Yongfeng of forget art. At this point I thought I would pull together the first three interviews which (coincidentally) have all been with Chinese sound artists and musicians. Future interviews will venture into other creative fields. Ma Yongfeng and the Italian curator and artist Alessandro Rolandi have also added their own interviews to the Uncut Talks site, so please take a moment and check them out, I think there is something for everyone there!
Yan Jun talks about his “Living Room Tour”:
Sheng Jie (gogo) talks about her audio-visual practice:
VAVABOND (Wei Wei) and Li Jianhong talk about improvisation:
Sheng Jie (aka gogoj) and Shan Studio
Shan Studio, 3-2-302# Sweetness Home, No.29 Huayuan Hutong Dongxiang, Andingmennei, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China
It’s midnight, Beijing-time, and in the darkened living room of a small apartment near the city’s second ring road, two figures quietly attend to their bank of equipment. The performers, Taurin Barrera and gogoj, appear not entirely there, in a world of their own, working away in an environment with few sounds filling the room aside from the rustles of their movements. Projected on the wall beside them are gogoj’s wave form lightening strikes, reacting to some unheard input, building from simple shaped waves through to complex smears and many-dimensional structures as the feeds become ever more complex. The silence in the room contrasts starkly with the sounds and visuals each performer is producing within the walls of the equipment and immediately dispersed away online to a small audience which has gathered from around the world to experience False SIP, Shan Studio’s first Gigonline.
The Sound of Nowhere
Various sites around Dongcheng District, Beijing
5 – 12 June, 2011
Like any art form, creative activity that involves sound has a relationship with the world as a production and with an audience as reception. Both relationships have different expectations and requirements for whatever might be termed “success.”
The often ephemeral form of sound work dictates that it must assert itself in a stronger way to ensure its reception as in some way distinct from the “distractions” it works within. The concert hall, for instance, not only provides a hermetic, purpose-built environment for the perception of sound, but—as with the gallery—it creates a psychological space devoted to sound, which prepares the audience to receive the material.
As visual art has its idealised environments in the white/grey/black cubes, and must negotiate new tactics of reception upon leaving those spaces, so sound encounters a potentially hostile, but promisingly productive terrain upon entering the outside world. This boundary between the sound work and the world is a fertile creative ground for the artist, on which the work can take any position, and which creates the relationship with the audience and their understanding of how the work fits into the environment. This might be described, referring back to visual arts, as its “framing,” which include not just the physical details of the environment, but the institutional structures around the pieces.
In the case of The Sound of Nowhere, the environment is made up of the collection of this particular set of pieces in a group show with this particular name and provenance; the (rather nicely designed) handout guiding the audience to the sites; the background information about the artists and works provided.
Sound’s ephemeral nature perhaps encourages me to focus on these “extraneous” details in the appreciation of the work. The organisers themselves stress “the processes of the search, discovery, listening to and/or taking in.” The works in The Sound of Nowhere are widely dispersed around the hutongs of Beijing’s Dongcheng District and work with these constraints and conditions as part of their being in the world.