Critical Music 6: Interview with Li Jianhong and Wei Wei

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.

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New iPhone apps for China

Explore Beijing Subway map ($0.99/£0.59)

This is the latest release in exploremetro’s series of iPhone apps, complementing their online interactive maps, and Beijing’s turn follows the already released app for Shanghai (Guangzhou and Hong Kong versions are also due).

As with most of subway apps I’ve seen, the entry view is the overall plan of the routes. At first I was a little confused as there was no icon strip on the screen – all the other maps I had used relied on a menu bar to guide the user to the various functions. However this difference shows the creativity that has gone into this app, so much functionality has been incorporated into the map itself simplifying the interface as much as possible.

On the map you can find the important information you’ll need when taking these routes through Beijing, including bi-lingual subway names (plus audio recordings of the Chinese name to save any embarrassing pronunciation faux-pas); first and last train times in each direction and for each line the station serves; and an intuitive route planner with journey times and fares.

Some things which would be nice to see in an update would be information about entrances to the stations; the presentation of the routes could be a little clearer than just the orange dots as it is at the moment; and the ability to double-tap on the map to zoom in (a strange omission).

Overall, if I was a first-time traveller in Beijing, this would make travelling on the subway much less of the daunting experience it could be. And as a (relatively) seasoned traveller here, I’ll also be keeping this app on my iPhone as its ease of use beats the other Beijing subway apps I’ve tried. Recommended.

The Financial TImes Little Book of Business Travel (free)

In these straitened times, China is obviously still a business destination with potential, as evidenced by the fact that the Financial Times has entered the travel guide marketplace with their Little Book of Business Travel (LBBT) for China.

This simple app includes a fair amount of information and data about the cities of Beijing, Hong Kong/Macao and Shanghai as well as providing well presented background about various aspects of business life in China in general. Although not extensive, the level of the information is appropriately pitched at the requirements of the high end business traveller.

LBBT includes a series of articles by experts, including members of the FT team past and present, and various guest writers for added depth in some of the subjects. The app starts with background information about the country – covering the politics & economy, business etiquette, a China constitutional guide (facts and figures), a sheet of economic data and a map of the country. One criticism I have is that these last two are rather tricky to use – the data is presented on a single page which can’t be zoomed into, making reading difficult.

The app then covers the cities in more detail, addressing the essentials of transport, business info, sleeping and eating. These are essentially small directories of the better quality restaurants, hotels, and business services organisations, with a short review and basic data for each one. The “Activities” sections gives introductions to the various extra-curricular sides to the cities, from shopping, sightseeing, spas and culture, with some fair recommendations to start the visitor off.

Given my background I was interested to see how art faired within the FT’s scheme of things. Given the limited space available, art actually fairs pretty well, at least it is not completely excised – there is obviously hope for the future of this sector! In the section for Beijing, I noticed that 798 Art District gets it’s own small entry within the “Shopping” section, recommending that the “financial crash” makes it a “great time to look around and buy” there. It’s evident that 798 has found its niche as a shopping district rather than one of Culture (which forms another section dealing mainly with the performing arts and museums) for the app’s potential audience – which does lead to the anomaly that in the Hong Kong section you will find the Asia Art Archives also listed under Shopping – AAA being a library and archive which has no commercial side.

To begin with I was skeptical about this app. Its focus seemed very superficial, but the more I investigated its content the more I appreciated the solution FT had come up with for the mountain of data from which they had to choose. This app does not trying to rival the Lonely Planet or Rough Guides for example, the motives of its audience are quite different. Aside from my quibble about classifications, for the business person who still has enough cash after the crash, and not enough time to go in depth, this app will serve as a useful starting point.