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.
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!
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:
VAVABOND playing as part of the Pangbianr Improv Meeting at School Bar
Some new samples taken from last night’s Pangbianr Improv Meeting, a regular Wednesday night event organised by Josh Feola and Lulu Chow from Pangbianr. I only stayed for the first two soloists, Li Jianhong and VAVABOND, both of whom I have written about on this blog before, usually playing together, and whose sounds I really like. Last night it was very evident that Li Jianhong’s playing is very expertly done, a lot of control in the sounds he is manipulating out of his guitar and effects pedals. Despite being VERY LOUD, Li’s sounds carried you along in their tow, making for a series of sequences which had some feeling of progression. VAVABOND’s set, on the other hand, was far more difficult to lose oneself in. Her staccato blasts of sound, endlessly forced you to PAY ATTENTION, with no respite into a consistency which might have allowed you to sit back and relax. Previous events have seen Li and VAVABOND play together (under the names “Vagus Nerve” or “Mind Fibre”), and it’s interesting to see the similarities and disparities in their styles when they are taken separately, as here. For all their differences of technique and instrument, it was possible last night to hear how they share a sonic aesthetic, in their disjunctive ways of arranging their sounds. Good stuff.
Venturing out into the beginnings of an untimely snow-fall last night in Beijing, I made my way over to XP to catch VAVABOND and Li Jianhong play together under the moniker of Mind Fibre.
VAVABOND specialises in very subtle, fizzing staccato stabs of computer-generated electronic sounds, while Li plucks at a guitar and combines its tones with noises from various DIY electro-mechanical objects sitting near him, their combined sounds being variously modulated and distorted. The style of sound produced by these two is a little bit cosmic, from the warbles of VAVABOND’s programming, and the bends and swoops of Li’s notes and tones, the overall effect harking back to early synthesised tonal music without in itself being at all anachronistic. They produced a wonderfully intense effect, each sound feeling highly articulated and organised, and never over-bearing or violent.