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.
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!
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.