MP3 Monday: Mind Fiber
Some background on "environmental improv" duo Mind Fiber before their outdoor show in the Gulou hutongs this Sunday.
MP3 Monday is a weekly SmartBeijing column, serving up MP3s from bands living and making music in China (or coming to China, or thinking about coming to China, or whatever). Copyright holders: if you would like your song removed, please email us here, and we'll honor your request promptly.
Accounting for all the high-profile rock'n'roll shows and electronic dance parties that have come through with JUE and will continue to inundate us as Sound of the Xity, Strawberry, MIDI, and other well capitalized music events march us into Spring, today we'll take a break and listen to the birds. The street sounds. That hutong buzz.
Li Jianhong and Vavabond — two of China's most accomplished and active experimental musicians — perform as Mind Fiber to the alleyways surrounding Zajia Lab this Sunday afternoon. The duo, who started playing music together in Hangzhou, moved to Beijing in 2011 and founded China Free Improvisation, a label and performance platform based on a site-specific concept of "environmental improvisation" that they've been developing since 2009. They both have strong solo identities and an additional side project called Vagus Nerve that melds psychedelic guitar (Jianhong) with space-signal Max/MSP manipulation (Vavabond). Very blown-out sound. Mind Fiber, by contrast, is about sensing ambient sounds and supplementing, not performing as much as harmonizing. Music so minimal it's more a part of the environment than a factor external to it.
Li Jianhong, originally from Zhejiang province, moved to Hangzhou for college. After playing guitar in a few aborted rock bands, he began to experiment with homemade found-sound noise, incorporating detuned/prepared guitars and electromagnetic feedback buzz from broken down TV sets. His work in this vein, such as the song below, is some of the first noise music from China that completely sheds rock, folk, or other identifiably "musical" references.
But Jianhong's tool of choice was always the guitar. In the early 2000s he played in several bands, including an avant-rock ensemble called 2pi (二皮). This name, which means "second skin," would later become an umbrella title for the record label and annual experimental music festival that Jianhong and his circle would curate in Hangzhou starting in 2003. Despite a relative lack of musicians and suitable venues to play in Hangzhou, Jianhong attracted artists from all over the country to Hangzhou for the 2Pi festival — the first large-scale experimental music event of its kind in China — and one-off improvised jams, including this raging 2006 set featuring Beijing's Li Tieqiao on alto sax:
Jianhong also formed a band called D!O!D!O!D! with Huang Jin, a musician from Chengdu who had also moved to Hangzhou. While still noisy, D!O!D!O!D! came closer to approaching "genre" territory, falling somewhere between grindcore and heavy psychedelic guitar destruction reminiscent of '80s work from Japanese shredders Asahito Nanjo of High Rise and Keiji Haino of Fushitsusha. This similarity is no coincidence: Jianhong toured through Osaka and Tokyo in the early 2000s, and D!O!D!O!D!'s album Ghost Temple was officially re-issued by the Fushitsusha/High Rise label P.S.F. (Psychedelic Speed Freaks), Japan's most influential noise rock label.
Vavabond moved to Hangzhou after attending university in Shanghai and becoming enamored with the aura around Li Jianhong and 2pi. Despite no formal training on any instrument, she jumped into the scene as a laptop musician, disturbing digital signals and field recording feeds using customized Max/MSP software. Improvisation and collaboration are central to Vavabond's process. Though she performs solo, much of her work take shape as it melds with other sounds, whether they come from traditional acoustic instruments or other emitters anywhere along the sonic spectrum. Last year Vavabond took part in the international cultural exchange program Onebeat, in which she collaborated with vocalists, instrumentalists, producers and other laptop composers from all over the world.
Vavabond and Li Jianhong play together under two different guises. Vagus Nerve, pictured above, is their heavy psychedelic noise project. Guitar and laptop both turned up to 11, Jianhong letting his vicious guitar wanderings percolate through a cocktail of phasers, delays, and reverbs, Vavabond attempting to draw signals from the cosmos jittering down through her oscillating feed of 0s and 1s. Wormhole music. Here's a jam that speaks for itself:
And then, Mind Fiber. Much chiller. Vavabond and Jianhong started CFI as a departure from the harsh, purse noise of 2pi. These days they're interested in nature as sound, space influencing time, improvising on a seashore, strumming an unplugged electric guitar on a mountaintop, etc. CFI's only real output in two years has been a a 3CD set of Jianhong improvising in various locations and conditions (Twelve Moods, in the rain; Empty Mountain, at Moganshan mountain and Qing Liang peak; Here Is It, beside an open window in his hutong apartment), plus one piece from Vavabond composed on a beach in Zhejiang. These solo works meld naturally into Mind Fiber, in which Jianhong and Vavabond's signals fade in and out, mixing with the local sounds, and sometimes the sounds of local collaborators.
Find more Mind Fiber, Li Jianhong, and Vavabond songs on the CFI soundcloud. Mind Fiber performs an environmental improv set with guest saxophonist Li Zenghui on Sunday, March 31 on the steps outside Zajia Lab. Mind Fiber is time-based and site-specific. Given that the future of this particular site is very much unknown, I'd say this one is worth checking out while you can.