In this text I will be arguing for the significance of silence or circumspection as a form of active disengagement. In particular I will be looking at this as an artistic tactic, focusing on sound art or experimental music practices that display such tactics as a matter of choice or necessity. These forms of practice will be related to historically situated practices that have taken various approaches to avoid confrontation while nevertheless asserting their presence in relation to specific social issues. I will be proposing that such practices institute new relationships between an artist and their audience that may open up the potential for new social and political effects.
Today I’m really pleased to follow up my interview with Wang Menghan that came out a few days ago, with a short interview with Sun Dawei, one of the most influential experimental electronic musicians out of China. Sun Dawei started producing music in his hometown of Beijing in the late 1990s, emerging from a punk background to become a full-fledged electronic musician by the early 2000s. At the same time he founded the record label Shanshui, which continues to be a great resource for experimental electronic music. Early on he became internationally known for his chiptune/8bit releases and performances under the artist name SULUMI, but his music has always been diverse, moving into the fields of electronica, techno, or ambient, reflected by the particular artist name he used. In 2010 he moved to Osaka, Japan where he has continued producing music. He was recently back in Beijing to take part in a residency at the M WOODS Art Museum, with a number of other contemporary artists from China, responding to the Museum’s current show of Buddhist cave paintings from the Xinjiang region of China. The following interview was done by email, and I want to thank Dawei for being so accessible. In the near future I hope to be able to present a more detailed interview with him, so keep checking back!
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.
Wang Menghan is an electronic musician based in Beijing, China, going by the artist name MengHan. While known primarily for her performances as a DJ and computer centered improviser, her practice is much broader, and she has recently started to focus on sampling and field recordings to develop works that include more elaborate presentations and conceptual ideas. In September Menghan will be moving to Berlin to start a Masters program in Sound Studies and Sonic Arts, at the University of the Arts Berlin, and to further develop her practice.
While many claims are made for the transformative nature of the club experience, in reality it can often feel a somewhat self-absorbed space. I am of course generalizing here, but it seems to me that the kinds of critical sound practices I am interested in do not appear in clubs very often. Although in the past Menghan has mainly performed in clubs, she seems to be driven to seek out other forms of presentation that provide better settings for her ideas and that are not tied to the requirements of any particular space or audience. I met up with Menghan recently to find out more about her practice and thinking.
What effect can captured sounds have in the world? What process are we setting in motion by switching on an audio recorder at a certain moment, and then switching it off again after a certain period of time? What is the significance of this act by the holder of the recording machine? What is the significance of the movement from sound as a register of location, to the abstract representation of sounds, to the registration of their playback format as a new location?
All the pieces on this cassette represent cuts out of time, taken from specific locations (in this case, between 2016 and 2017 in the city of Beijing, China).
As snippets of sound, maybe they actually tell us very little, as they are abstracted from their original situation and limited to the single sense of hearing. Yet in themselves it is expected that they provide some minimal description of a place and time; they can be appreciated as a limited reportage of the situations they were recorded in.