Category: Theory

不活了 – Xin Fu

Xin Fu不活了
Xin Fu
Tape, CHUI, 2013

How does urban China sound today? What does the pervasive dissemination of digital devices as hybrid conglomerates of affordances, be them glossy last-generation iPads for the recently enriched or parasitic 山寨 (shānzhài) knock-offs tucked in every pocket, purse and street corner – mp3/mp4 players, tablets, smartphones, radios, TVs, loudspeakers, displays, recorders, headphones – mean for the soundscape of public and private spaces in the People’s Republic? How to represent the amorphous lattice of outputs weaved by PA systems plagued by interferences, blown speakers, over-overdriven advertisement, ear-damaging public transportation announcements, cheap instruments, construction sites, invasive phone screaming, old people loafing around clinging on portable radios as if they were boomboxes, perpetual traffic jams and the cheesy post-socialist arrangements pouring out from television sets tucked under ground floor windows, a sonic drapery that has become an unavoidable backdrop element to urban life in China? An unintelligible but enticing answer comes from 不活了 (bù huó le), a disgruntled noise duo roaming residential back-alleys and digital media alike with portable recorders and crafting a noise tape out of nothing but the available mess.

In operating this ironically self-proclaimed 傻逼噪音 (shǎbī zàoyīn, idiotic noise) project, members NOISE666 and 雨第斑 (Yǔ Dìbān) reduce harsh noise to a homely stew of laid back lofi-delia, decaying found sounds and a lazily plucked and badly clipped acoustic guitar writhing around an obnoxious metronome ticking like a perverse Buddhist prayer percussion in a faithless living room while a garbled TV show mutters in the background. This is noise intended as the non-musical outcome of sound-producing and sound-capturing devices, as inviting as a mutton and potato soup (羊肉土豆汤 Yángròu tǔdòu tang, track two) and the smell of stale food in a small countryside eatery at late hours, as intimate as a low-bitrate file playing on unbranded computer speakers hidden under piles of pirate DVDs and CDRs and cables and cup noodles. One could also define it Pussy Folk, as the third track is called: the folk music of urban losers, the affect moving away from acoustics and towards the aesthetics of close-up digital recording, of proximity and contact microphones, of blown up breath pops, of cheap condensers saturated by generous gain, capturing the life of the unassuming background, reducing the violence of high-volume power electronics to the crackles of a badly mastered low end colliding with the hardware bottleneck of cheap tape heads. And what is more grotesquely folkloristic than the vaginal tightening surgery (阴道紧缩术 Yīndào jǐnsuōshù, track four) promoted in an advertisement exploded by incongruous volumes, bubbling as a self-styled chain compression over the same disquieting metronome while its luring and lurid blabber is reduced to a phasing envelope phagocytizing eerie echoes and reverb in the background, and as bitcrushed waves, coalescing in a droning fast-forwarded tape hiss, bury the sampled voice under a spinning metallic treadmill?

It is a monotonous yet strangely fascinating voyage: Hit the Road sports sparse stoned chanting and an almost NNCKesque, no-wavish approach to trembling guitars and proximity noises, while 我们要我们要 (Women yào women yào, “we want we want”) resembles the most disturbing episodes of 井内賢吾 (Iuchi Kengo) or some of the weirder Wolf Eyes tracks in which distant echoes are punctured by electronic residue and tape degradation – weirdness abounds over the familiar lifeline of the omnipresent 4/4 metronome, as if mocking the annoying beats of Cantonese opera or the archetype of any pop song tempo. But the real gems are Fly, Far Far Away, an eleven-minute psych-weird suite happening in the freak aural space between an autistic guitar and drunken singing mangled by a detuned chorus, and the concluding self-referential medley Slow Cut Up, in which mando-house classics float in pieces amongst dialogues, laughs and oscillating harsh noise grit. In a jubilant tribute to everyday sound-making practices and shallow listening, recording becomes more a documentation of the process of making noise out of the available mess or materials and devices rather than a rigorous productive gesture: everything is raw and lively rather than plainly harsh and extreme, and most importantly, it never takes itself seriously for a single moment.

To follow up on this recent quip by harshnoise.org, 不活了’s Xin Fu  might be one of the first examples of a post-harsh noise sensibility in China – residual outsider music hiding itself at the intersection of post-digital aesthetics, lo-fi field recordings of urban soundscapes, and the auto-ironic, self-consciously tacky experiments of 农金 (nóng jīn, agricultural metal) musicians. This weird assemblage of influences should not surprise given the people involved: the touch of NOISE666/DINGCHENCHEN is evident in the magnifying attention (or disattention) to the sounds of the everyday exploded in bursting bubbles of aural detritus, while the label-mate 雨第斑’s passion for harsh noise and harassing effect manipulations appears in the rumbling undercurrent running beneath most of the tracks. Xin Fu is definitely not the sound of an harmonious society.

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Mind Fiber – Hello Balcony

Hello BalconyMind Fiber
Hello Balcony
Double CD, China Free Improvisation / JNBY, 2012

Free improvisation and its (if existing) boundaries have been the topic of ongoing theoretical and practical discussions. Yet, more than the recognition than even the freest, most skilled, most eclectic improvisers will at some point stick to the clichés of improvisation itself is often a shared conclusion – one that, to be clear, does not prevent the enjoyment of a nice improvisational session. Now, with the release of Mind Fiber’s latest double record, Hello Balcony, one wonders if the real danger of free improvisation today is not the reliance on some unavoidable clichés but the worsening of the situation with drastic attempts to escape from them. Let’s proceed in order: Hello Balcony, with its almost two hours’ worth of material, is a mastodontic collection of five improvisational sessions recorded by China’s foremost experimental music couple 李剑鸿 (Lǐ Jiànhóng) and 韦玮 (Wéi Wěi, also known as VAVABOND). While the two musicians join forces as Vagus Nerve when dealing with liquid drones and layered psychedelia, Mind Fiber is the name under which they record and perform “environmental improvisation”, Li Jianhong’s latest aesthetic statement. In fact, Hello Balcony has been reportedly recorded between the evening of May 1st (disc two, PM) and the morning of May 2nd 2012 (disc one, AM), in Lijia, Zhejiang province, and it is dedicated to a balcony. As the booklet recites: “[this record] is the brief memo of a balcony. Before early this year, the second floor of my parent’s house had a balcony. As most of the children who had ever owned a balcony of their own, my childhood seemingly became a little bit miraculous because of the balcony. While to other people, of course it is only a simple balcony”.

While the record revolves around this very specific balcony in Lijia village, there’s more in it than the balcony itself or the sounds that can be heard from it during the day. The first element to stand out is Wei Wei’s glitchy laptop synthesis and, although I have to admit that her solo output rarely impresses me, the first minutes of AM function quite well, with the sparse bleeps and rattles merging with and emerging from the field recordings of a distant countryside morning, reverberated granularities maintaining their ambiguous resemblances and contrasts with the ambience backdrop, sometimes sounding like slightly displaced agricultural machinery, cutlery or fireworks, other times spurting out in their full-blown digital coating. Unfortunately, as soon as the serendipity and the novelty of the first few minutes wear down, the generative patches lapse back into their stark aleatory functioning, and the isolation in which Wei Wei put herself during the recording of these sessions (she “isolated herself into her own environment by using small earphones. Therefore, during the improvisation, I could not hear her at all”) does not help restraining the obnoxious repertory of clicks, hisses and stutters that plagues most of the remaining tracks. I understand the fascination with isolationist improvisation, and sometimes appreciate its results, especially when the sensory blindness is selective and involves only the melodic content, but not the rhythmic, or the other way around – a beautiful example is Hymn for a Fallen Angel by Tetuzi Akiyama and Jozef van Wissem, in which the latter improvised over the former’s recordings by simply looking at the clusters of notes as they came up in the audio file waveform. I also appreciate the reasons that drive the choice of a total isolation of the performers, a compositional device that puts them on a par with the unconcerned third element (the environment), enabling unrestrained self-expression and freeing the musicians from any residue of interactional temptation. Yet, as much as I like the theoretical underpinnings of this improvisational set up, I am disappointed with the results. At least for the laptop’s contribution, the absolute isolationist blindness results in very quickly predictable, almost transparent sounds faltering around in hesitant clusters and tentative modulations, enclosed in a very small range of variability, with an impressive lack of sense of space, amplitude and exuberance, a collection of rattles and snaps unconsciously frightened by the possibility of not fitting into a larger picture from which the performers have deliberately withdrawn themselves.

The semi-acoustic guitar, entering the scene subtly, as if already part of the ambience itself, is definitely more interesting. Abandoned the signature delays, fuzzes and amps, Li Jianhong goes unplugged and lazily delivers his signature Derek-Bailey-without-Derek-Bailey move: all that is left of free improvisation are skeletal shades of harmonic progressions, uprooted scratches and muted plucking. Sometimes he even drifts into the remote echo of slanted jazz chords, as in the tenth minute of 9:07, the second track of PM; here, the fractured remains of low key melodies float for a while on a barely perceivable hiss, like fluffs of mist forming undecipherable letters while rolling down steep cliffs. In general, while the homely sound of the atonal picks and strums soothes the listener while maintaining a weird, ephemeral tension, the improvisations in themselves suffer from an absolute lack of progression, both at the level of interaction between the elements (which is sort of predictable, given the preconditions) and of individual invention (which is less predictable and quite disheartening). Everything seems in the end to bear little relation to anything else – the balcony, the morning or evening sounds from Lijia, the guitar, the laptop’s bleeps, the occasional rattles of found objects, all of them float around tirelessly without actually moving as a whole; five slabs of monotonous, inscrutable remembrance end up revolving around sparse lumps of motifs or moves that continuously fade back into indecision.

Interestingly, it is in the rare moments in which the guitar halts for a while and the laptop rarefies into bare presence that the environment itself, the third protagonist of this record, emerges and speaks in its own right: kids at play, dogs barking without urgency, the paroxysmal crow of a rooster, a truck’s horn – lessons in contingency that seem to unfold unnoticed by the self-absorbed improvisers. But there are exceptions. The ending of AM’s first track, 8:16, is a case in point: the synthetic crackles hover gently over the voices of passersby, while the guitar punctuates space with courtly slides and unfinished phrases. This, along with other sparse fragments, could work as a three-minute piece on its own, as a single episode part of what would be a much more varied and much less dispersive record. Being this not the case, Hello Balcony mutates quickly from a pleasing concoction of caressing tones and low-key field recordings into an desolate jumble of recurring tropes and missed opportunities. When the next interesting moment, buried in the track x of disc y, comes up, it becomes difficult to summon up sufficient attention to imagine how that specific intuition would work on its own, were it not buried in a gargantuan thirty-minute suite of nothingness. As an instructive case of emptiness of content rather than form, Hello Balcony reveals how directionless and isolationist improvisation, frozen in its ultimate struggle to free itself from clichés, ends up silencing and neutralizing what it proclaims to be its very core – the environment. I wonder if improvisation is even a valid denominator for this kind of music anymore: instead of taking cues from the improvisus (the unforeseen, unexpected) it instead prolongs a single moment of worthless freedom for its own sake and flattens the surrounding environment into a mere canvas for the unrelated gestures of self-centered improvisers. Should we call it eternization instead?

It is not hard to imagine the pleasure of a kid playing on his country house’s balcony in a country where leisure space becomes a luxury and reckless urbanization widens the gap between the public and the private with intensive forests of high-rise buildings and homogenized closed surfaces. Yet, the biggest problem of this record is precisely that, for most listeners, it will remain only a simple record, just like the balcony will remain only a simple balcony. In fact, Li Jianhong himself believes that  “environmental improvisation has nothing to do with others” (环境即兴无关于他人) and so, despite the cooperation of three distinct protagonists – Li Jianhong and his semi-acoustic guitar, Wei Wei and her laptop, and Lijia village with all its rural ambience – Hello Balcony ends up being more of a stubborn experiment in isolationism than a heartfelt selection of locational childhood memories: children, after all, like to play together. Instead of fighting against itself through conflicts, games, challenges and provocations, improvisation here objectifies itself, fragmented into the versions of individuals that only care to “be more concentrated on our individual environment and universe […] instead of musical conversations between the two of us”, and becomes the “intentionless invention of regulated improvisation” – a beautiful phrasing that Pierre Bourdieu uses to describe the distancing of expressive dispositions (the “honest and the most accurate recording of musicians’ subtlest emotions” described in the booklet) and the intuited means of expression (the unavoidable improvisational motions amplified by regulated solipsism). An improvisation of this kind, free only in the sense that each individual is carried away by his own train of emotional epoché, renders improvisers mere spiritual automatons overtaken by their own sounds, uncertain at every step and yet eager to legitimize uncertainty itself as the only reminder of nostalgic institutions. Should we agree with Li Jianhong that “there is no need to worry about the consequence” (不用担心这样的结果会不会糟糕)?

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NO_SE666 – DINGCHENCHEN

DINGCHENCHENNO_SE666
DINGCHENCHEN
CDr, self-released, 2012

《一张关于实地录音+即兴的记录,随机的发声,对于生活的厌倦恐怕只有归于噪音。》

(“An album about on-the-spot recordings + impromptu annotations, a random production of sound, the return to noise as the only way to to confront the weariness of life.”)

What is it we are paying for when we sit, or stand, in the dim visibility of a nondescript art gallery, warehouse, live house, pub, art center, and listen to the same introductory preamble of ticking traffic lights, passing cars, chirping voices of non-concerned passersby, birds, slowly superseded by cheeky swells of anonymous simulations of analog synthesizers, well-calibrated delays and reverbs, automated panning, carefully sterilized bass drone and sporadic, carefree “live” punctuations? Am I the only one feeling the supreme irony of the silenced audience, of the hand that shuts down the air conditioner not to disturb the performance, of the five seconds of silence before the beginning, of the ears fixed on the speakers and, finally, the set, the performance, the piece, the oeuvre, whatever it wants itself to be called: ambient, sound art, field recordings, experimental electronics, all inevitably sounding like a caramelized, absolutely non-challenging version of the same aural soundscape experienced by every member of the audience up to ten seconds before the show? Russolo, a century ago, in a fit of futuristic fervor, wrote a score called Risveglio di una Città – times of rapid industrialization and thundering wars, it’s true –  but yet, Italian audiences were not so happy of listening to grating noises coming down from a stage, and threw him back all kind of stuff. Today, recording metropolitan sonic environments, mixing them with clichéd naturalistic snippets and embedding them in as well-crafted as innocuous slabs of flat and uneventful techno-dreams seems to be the easiest and most profitable way of justifying thirty minutes of one’s presence behind a laptop in front of an audience of twenty-something people. My question remains: as an audience, why do we want to listen to aestheticized repetition of sounds we know by heart, sounds that we are immersed around the clock, sounds we replicate almost effortlessly in our agitated dreams, sounds that feel like home when we immerse in them – the rush hour in the subway, that traffic jam under the walkway, the advertisement repeated on a thousand screens – why do we accept their ordered and well-mannered juxtaposition in indulgent fade-ins and predictable climaxes, glazed with major harmonies of lush synthesizers coming straight from the worst post-muzak and propped up by a safe, totalitarian basso continuo – the real soundscape of our time of capitalist non-places – and most importantly: why do we treat it as art? I will not accept answers appealing to the need to guide us, poor derelict audience, on the bright path to deep listening and other bullshit – we know what we listen to, we explore it daily, we absorb it and shut it out of our ears when we had enough, we sift through it and we enjoy it, and we don’t need more processing really – especially when each one of us, with his/her shiny laptop and a couple of presets, could do the same.

But what do we need? This objectless tirade is all meant to balance my question with negative answers – what we don’t need, what we are tired of, what we don’t want to be given as pre-packaged, candy-eyed urban dreamscapes. If it is true that, as the over-quoted Attali writes, recording has always been a means of social control, it is in the same way true that recordings, especially the variety traditionally termed field recordings, as one of the most technically simple and egalitarian forms of composition, can be at the same time exceptional documentary material, emotional anchors, and empowering, political statements. Yet, this can be the case only when they don’t deliberately ignore, cut out, divide, exclude, separate, repress, aestheticize, when they don’t sanitize the captured panorama from mobile phones ringing, gusts of wind and unprovoked interferences, when they don’t extract the short, interesting bits and ignore the flat, unchanging, non-dynamic plateau of ordinary boredom, the wrong moves, the loud coughs, the sound of that specific ten minutes that passed without anything noticeable besides your arm holding the recorder, far from the perfect traffic jam on the highway, far from the romantic bustling of a central street. So, let’s boycott the habitus of cinematic long shots, the utopian agglomerations of all-too-perfect snippets of metropolitan sound clinging to the ritual bass line of modernity. Let’s forget post-production. Let’s situate ourselves within in-activity as such, to paraphrase Bourdieu, step down from idealist standpoints, and dislodge our knowledge from performance and representation: let’s record practice. Let the recordings of our field explode into bruitism, let them deal with themselves and depict a real field in its extension, ordinariness and fundamental dispersion. Let the singular moments shine in embarrassed constellations, let them last too long, too wide, too muffled, too unrefined, as they really do in the low pressure of our repetitive days.

With DINGCHENCHEN, NO_SE666 (a moniker that works as a rite of passage removing the “I” from the old Noise666, towards the new DINGCHENCHEN) compiles a beautiful, sincere collection of sound diaries from a lived life – not China, not a cinematized Shanghai, not modernity, not the dreamworld of a vainglorious sound artist empowered by a MacBook –  everything in this record is a fragment with no beginning and no end, an opaque surface enclosing a very specific field: someone’s daily existence, unwinding over vectors of transportation (A TRAIN, STREET, and TAXI TALKING), transcribed through the unconcerned recording of moments of lazy leisure (the nostalgic WAITING HALL, the beautiful SCHOOL GAMING or A GUITAR, which stands in stark opposition to the gargantuan and pretentious balcony-based guitar and laptop meditations recently released by Mind Fiber), and laid bare even in the details of the domestic fiddling with music and software (DJ COMPUTER) that short-circuit the very nature of field recordings, bringing music, technology and play back into the dreary tradition of naturalistic or urban idealizations: what happens when your field recording captures the silence of your gaze fixed on the LCD screen, the clicks of your mouse, the sound of mp3 house hits distorted by crappy speakers and fluctuating in the still air of your dorm room? The unexamined life, in CAPS LOCK, with love: deep listen this, if you care.

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李剑鸿, 黄锦, 积木, 李铁桥 – 南京现场

南京现场李剑鸿, 黄锦, 积木, 李铁桥
南京现场
CD, 2pi Records, 2006

In 2006 李剑鸿 (Lǐ Jiànhóng)’s 2pi Records released 南京现场 Live in Nanjing, one of the best noise albums ever to come out of China until today. Why do I dare to say this? Because despite the recent circle jerk, Weibo-fueled attitude of “fuck yeah, China is the new Japan!”, “noise is life!!” “Chinese extreme music forever~”, the names in the scene are pretty much the same of eight years ago (Torturing Nurse, 徐程 Xú Chéng & related projects, Nojiji’s crew) with some relatively new entries (梅志勇 Méi Zhìyǒng, AIDS Leader), nothing big seems to really happen and, what matters most, new records just don’t come out. Apart from the admirable Nojiji and Fuzztape, there seems to be no other active noise label in China at the moment: ShaSha Records has been asleep since ever, 2pi recently refurbished as the lofty and artsy CFI (China Free Improvisation), Doufu Records’ last release came out in 2009 and SubJam… oh yeah right, I am talking about noise. No labels means no records, and no records (sadly?) means no scene, no dialectic, no development and nothing to talk about. If the new generation of noise enthusiasts like Notrouble Records and Two Dog Temple & Chaos Student Union don’t man the fuck up and start releasing, promoting and distributing CDs and tapes, I doubt being able to say anywhere soon that something better than Live in Nanjing came out of China before the Third Impact.

So, why is the album I am talking about such a great record? Because it’s well mixed, raw and dirty, saturated by a healthy dosage of of high-volume distortion that pumps it up just enough not to sound like pretentious impro-fiddling, but not that much to transform it into a unintelligible mass of clipped noise. Live in Nanjing is quite straightforward: it is live (for real), it happened in Nanjing, and who was present at the venue must have been literally blown away – just listen to the first track 现场记录1, a deconstructed four-minute noise rock blast somewhere between MoHa! and Aufgehoben. The cover clearly states who played in this one-off live jam – no weird project names, no frills, no concepts: it was Li Jianhong, Ji Mu, Huang Jin and Li Tieqiao. Now, everybody knows Li Jianhong as the Chinese response to Keiji Haino (a total misnomer, as the only link between the two would be guitars and sporadic hairstyle coincidences), but before perfecting his image as the Adi-daoist guitar master of China, Li Jianhong was actually one of the most interesting experimenters in the Chinese noise scene, fiddling with TVs, radios, junk objects and effects in a rather concrete and direct fashion. In this record he manipulates guitar, effects and voice – yes, he sings – topping the spastic violence of the first track with a jaw-dropping noisecore growling that seems to come out of my collection of crust delicacies from BRIC countries. To throw the ball, I would say that Live in Nanjing is actually the best record Li Jianhong ever released. But who is 黄锦 Huáng Jǐn? Huang Jin is the other half of both D!O!D!O!D! and Acidzen, and his frantic drumming explains why Live in Nanjing sounds so good: the record is built upon the interaction of two musicians already familiar with this kind of bursting noisecore-inspired improvisation, and the bassy, murky electronic flourishes by 积木 Jī Mù (nom the plume of 蒋竹韵 Jiǎng Zhúyùn, an early 2pi family member and Hangzhou-based sound artist) find easily their way, enriching the empty frequency ranges and complementing Li Jiahong’s guitar, or warbling gently in the rare moments of relaxation and throwing pointy stabs in arrhythmic percussive patterns. This strength is particularly evident in the second track 现场记录2, where a slow accumulation of ominous grumbles and ruptured alto sax lines paves the way for cascading drum blasts that propel the interaction towards a gritty noise rock territory – think of Sightings at their rawest, or Phantomsmasher in a rehearsal room after some beers. 李铁桥 Lǐ Tiěqiáo’s alto sax plays an important part in the mix throughout the record, providing a flexible and stereotyped Zornesque lead when the action needs to kick in, but I like it more when he just counterpoints the guitar with monotonic, geometric, almost math patterns, as in the massive 现场记录4, the thirty-minute free-form, at times even playful behemoth that occupies more than half of the record, sporting a number of interesting moments embedded in a self-indulgent improvisation lacking the exciting immediacy of the first three tracks. Considering that two of the musicians involved have disappeared off the grid and the other two have donned their cultivated (Adidas?) impro-jazz suits and drink cocktails around art venues in Beijing, I can just enjoy the fact that at some point in time, in 2006, these guys had the chance to play together, made some good noise and decided to make a record out of it.

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颜峻 – Ear Drummer (No-Input Study)

Ear Drummer (No-Input Study)颜峻
Ear Drummer (No-Input Study)
Tape, Fuzztape, 2011

Not inspired Onkyo-inspired no-input mixer on tape. Right, the format clashes a bit with the tradition of the genre, but the interaction does actually create some interesting things: the sound is not polished, the direct punch of the bass peaks is smoothened by the frequency envelope while clicks, crackles and feedback oscillations emerge from a soft and warm texture of hissing tape thickness. This also means, though, that the high and low ends of the spectrum are sensibly muffled by the mastering on tape, and the idea that the earphone-listening suggested on the cover art should provide an “ear-drumming” experience (something along the lines of any Ryoji Ikeda’s Test Patterns, I guess) is sort of crippled by this fact: most of the percussive sounds cranked out of saturated mixer channels linger sadly across the spectrum and in the middle of the aural space, resonate in analogue harmonics and bounce around following some slow knob-work. Listening to this as a self-proclaimed “No-Input Study”, I would venture to say that I’ve seen people study in more interesting ways. I’m not a big fan of 颜峻 (Yán Jùn)’s recent live sets, built around multiple speakers-mixer feedback, a directional microphone and some objects thrown in the cones to disturb the frequencies, but Ear Drummer is not even a studio version of this (which I would at least find interesting as a document and a statement). All that’s in this tape is just twenty minutes of no-input mixer basics: inputs into outputs, high frequencies distorting into crackling hiss, sub-basses stretched into percussive waves, volumes and pan pots tentatively adjusted to make things appear and disappear with a lazy indolence.

Yet, following the name of Adel Wang Jing (who, according to the liner notes, “invigorated” Yan Jun to record this at Ohio University @lab during a recent series of workshops and improvvisations across U.S. institutions) I came across one paper published on the Journal of Sonic Studies where she presents her own theory of affective listening using Chinese experimental music as a case study, coaxing Yan Jun and Li Jianhong’s latest output into a framework that I find highly questionable, especially in its reference to Qi, Buddhism and Taoism as the epitomes of a non-interpretive and deterritorialized (whatever you want this to mean) listening practices. Probably I lost my grip on postmodernity, but linking affective listening to practices of self-trascendence (sometimes overlapping or contrasted with practices of self-transformation) and equating the concept of Qi to Deleuze and Guattari’s hacceity (right, the “thisness” of something compared to the energy flow common to all things, makes sense) seems just a little far-fetched. Ultimately, what disturbs me in this kind of theorization is not the rather fashionable theoretical toolbox as much as the feeling that the only feasible way to characterize the music of these Chinese artists seems to be, after all efforts to question it, again and only a nondescript Chineseness: one makes two, two makes three, and we all go up on the clouds to play some sound-calligraphy, and you audience would you please be quiet and listen attentively, otherwise you’ll not grasp our self-transcendent expression. I would love to delve further into this – and will never have time for it, fortunately – but I’m baffled by how academic analysis and the musicians’ theorizations are often well-disposed to fall into feedbacks of self-congratulatory discourse. In an interview to Yan Jun in a recent, quite hagiological column, he proclaims: “Westerners deconstruct their own traditions in order to redefine them, whereas the Chinese simultaneously attempt to understand the Western tradition and to rediscover their own. While Westerners believe that the Chinese are re-inventing sounds that already exist, the Chinese believe that they are simply re-inventing themselves.” I’ll play the part of the colonial Westerner then: Yan Jun has been a rather known poet, music critic and essayist, a successful organizer and a smart promoter, but his idealistic proclaims about the nature of experimental musicians in China not simply reprocessing foreign genres but integrating them with the values of Chinese culture do not find in this specific release any concrete proof – maybe because Yan Jun himself has no pretense of being a musician, but then again why would we have any interest in being the listeners of this 17 minutes of unquestionably derivative no-input fiddling? Music is hardly legitimized by theory: we want sounds that speak by themselves. We want good records and moving, challenging or exciting performances, not listening instructions.

Academic blabber aside, if you haven’t had enough of Nakamura/Sachiko M/Ciciliani/McGee no-input stuff, have developed a maniac black-metalesque attraction for obscure minimalism, enjoy being told how to listen and what to listen for, or you want to hear how this CD-centric (or even file-centric, as per recent Alva Noto & Raster-Notonian developments) genre plays out on tape, you might enjoy this release. After all, the most interesting thing about Ear Drummer is that it is a tape, and that it exists thanks to 梅志勇 Méi Zhìyǒng’s efforts in publishing tapes through Fuzztape, the only – as far as I know – underground tape-centered label in the PRC right now. Praxis wins.

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