Tagged: improvisation

Torturing Nurse – In Ruins

In RuinsTorturing Nurse
In Ruins
3” CDr, Shasha Records, 2006

I’ve been in and out of Shanghai since 2006, and each time I return to the city I can’t help considering how much Shanghai has changed, and how this impression isn’t simply a consequence of less than a decade of intermittent visits and stays. “What do I think of Shanghai?” – a local friend, born and raised there, takes her time to reply to a question by a first-time city visitor: “It’s always changing. The buildings, the landscape. It changes. A lot.” In the crevices between stylized narratives (from the Whore of the Orient to the Paris of the East to the blueprint of China’s urban future) and aestheticized contrasts (Puxi versus Pudong, tradition versus hypermodernity, the hot hell of Beijing versus the cold hell of Shanghai) lie the corrugated histories of everyday lives traversed by the shifting configurations of urban change. In terms of sound ecologies, the place occupied by the auditory presence of construction work in the living matrix of the city is perhaps a good example of these everyday rugosities of change: in contrast to other Chinese metropolitan areas undergoing more recent and more reckless waves of development and renovation, unfolding on the massive scales of peripheral conurbations or engulfing entire districts, the relatively long history of Shanghai’s multilayered urbanism has by now trapped the concrete sounds of demolition (拆迁, chāiqiān) in the walled pockets of construction/destruction sites popping up around the city overnight, remodeling housing blocks piecemeal, and weaving a cyclical patchwork quilt of noises which stands as a contrappunto to the routines of urban living. In a conversation with Bivouac Recording‘s own Terence Lloren about the label’s long-standing series of soundwalks Growing Up With Shanghai, graphic designer Ericson Corpuz reflects on this peculiarity:

It is the never-ending construction in Shanghai that stands out. The raw sound of concrete scraping, being torn down and being rebuilt stands out from the everyday cackle of the City. [It is] the stains on the road, the concrete walls that are witnesses to the sounds that make the Shanghai experience rich and memorable.

It is precisely the sounds witnessed by the concrete walls of Shanghai’s construction sites that Torturing Nurse engage with in this EP. In Ruins is perhaps my favourite release from the outfit: as a minor work from their early years, and perhaps their most conceptual record (so to say) it is also the one that better situates Torturing Nurse as a noise act emerging from the Shanghai of the mid-2000s. Ethnomusicologically speaking, In Ruins documents how a trio of locals, in their early efforts of forging a distinctive sound in an aesthetic community largely obsessed with Japanoise, turned their ears and hands towards their daily experience and the closest noise at hand – the tools and rubble available in each construction site and abandoned semi-demolished unit – and broke in one of them with the sole purpose of sounding the ruins of Shanghai. Despite the faux-glitch transparencies and cut&paste photos of the recording activity that characterize the artwork, In Ruins isn’t yet the solipsistic post-harsh noise meditations of 不活了’s Xin Fu, picking up the sounds of the chattering city with cheap digital devices and bitcrushing distortions. What Junky, Youki & Miriam mapped, quite physically, in this EP is the raw sound of the materials of urban change hidden behind the temporary whitewashed walls and metal fences of construction sites: short, metallic echoes; things, smashed one against the other; ruined structures, collapsing; screams, bored parodies of repetitive physical labor. In In Ruins there is no order nor thought nor composition, but not even disorder, frenzy or excitement. There is rather randomness, dejected constance, casual bursts of violence and animalesque grunts, which at times make the EP sound like a disturbing audio veritè of a mental institution.

The 17-minute recording starts with a thump, echoing in a tail of backdrop ambience – passing engines and car honks which pulsate with the presence of saturated audio; the trio screams, bangs rocks on concrete, shatters glass and ceramics, crashes pieces of metal, breaks wooden planks. The urgency of the first minutes has nothing of the naturalistic intent of extracting the sound of specific matter – it’s just a mess, a senseless outburst of caged insanity, a romp. Vocalizations get weirder, gusts of wind rumble in the condenser microphones of the portable recorder – one more object among objects – as the thuds of discard and junk punctuate the space in uncertain regularities. Some droning sounds hint at the possibility of one of them tinkering with a portable device, maybe a small amplifier. Basslines and beats from a pop hit filter through the walls, at some point, as a car with a loud sound system passes by. Things are dragged, scraped on the pavement, thrown around, smashed in different combinations without any climax to aim for or any progression orienting the process. The praxis of sounding is not experimental: there is no trial and error because there is no goal. There are instead instinctive rhythmic figures, repeated sketched crescendos, ending with the mistreated object shattering or being thrown away in pseudo-ritual screams. Listening to In Ruins in its entirety is unexpectedly cathartic: a few minutes into the record the sounds lose their specificities, and a sense of primal immediacy sets in. As the anger subsides, Torturing Nurse quickly lose their fascination for full-on destruction, and settle for an annoyed tinkering with sonorous tools: they crumple sheets of paper, knock on wood, pour rubble on the ground, and slowly drift back into the regular hum of muffled traffic around them.

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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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