Tagged: DINGCHENCHEN

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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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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