noise is free in beijing

alistair riddell: the fourth minimidi festival

10 (itta and marqido)

10 (itta and marqido)

THE FOURTH MINIMIDI FESTIVAL, NOISE IS FREE, WAS HELD IN MAY THIS YEAR AT THE 2KOLEGAS BAR AND AN OUTDOOR AREA LOCATED ON THE EDGE OF A DRIVE-IN MOVIE PARK ON LIAGMAQIAO STREET AND EAST 4TH RING ROAD IN BEIJING. THIS SUITABLY INTERESTING LOCATION SEEMED APPROPRIATE FOR THE BEIJING UNDERGROUND NOISE SCENE. YAN-JUN DESCRIBES THIS LOCATION ON HIS “FIELD RECORDINGS” SITE PAGE:

“This is a park located between Lufthansa Shopping Centre and Dongfeng Qiao. Inside it there is the bar 2Kolegas, the coolest place in Beijing. It’s old-school, environmental and loose. Every Tuesday since June 2005, I organise the Waterland Kwanyin series there. I recorded this to remind people and myself that there’s still some place worth enjoying in this huge noisy hyper-city, where we can keep making noise without disturbing others.”

There is an MP3 recording that goes with this page and it wonderfully contradicts the sounds one might expect hear from a “hyper-city” like Beijing. You can imagine that it was recorded early in the morning before daylight breaks (as the page image suggests). But it is surreal to think of it as the centre for experimental sound/noise in Beijing.

As a very active member of the Beijing sound community, Yan-Jun knows probably every significant sound artist in China and has encouraged many of them to perform as part of his Waterland Kwanyin series. In May, with close friends Yang Licai from Sugar Jar records and Xu Ya-zhu—and many volunteers—he organised the MiniMidi festival, the only outdoor experimental music festival in China. This celebration of the alternative sound scene in Beijing is usually scheduled in parallel with the much larger and mainstream Midi festival. In a city growing and evolving at an unprecedented rate, where commercialism is almost a universal and singular mantra, the MiniMidi festival stands in stark contrast. It is a passionate event that serves to draw artists together to commune over what Chinese sound art is and might become. It was for precisely this reason that I was drawn to experience the festival.

MiniMidi debuted in 2005 and has grown from there. It has the aura of a refreshingly naive or perhaps a singularly passionate contemporary sound and performance event that is universally felt. MiniMidi has, however, a deceptively simple image for an annual event of such maturity and which has already received critical reviews from such publications as The Wire.

The first day began by showcasing international labels and festivals. Miguel Santos, the head of Atlantic Waves Music Festival told us about its history and operations. The Staubgold label and the Goethe-Institut German Electronic Music Series were represented in performance by Joseph Suchy, Mapstation (Stefan Schneider), Reuber (Timo Reuber), Klangwart (Markus Detmer and Timo Reuber). In comparison, Chinese sound art was revealed as a scene rich in online discourse on sound events and sound dissemination. The growth here is evident when looking over the recordings available at Sugar Jar, located in the progressive 798 Art District and the most influential record store for new sound labels such as Shanshui, SubJam, Kwanyin and Post-Concrete. These serve to promote the most innovative and diverse range of sound work from the China and Taiwan.

In fact, MiniMidi was bracketed by such discourse, closing with an intriguing look at the “Noise Movement in 90s Taiwan” and a discussion about Chinese contemporary music. In between the formal and informal discussions were diverse performances and events that confirmed influences and current directions.

As interesting as it was to catch up with works by artists from Europe, I was much more curious about the state of electronic, digital and performance sound art in China. While laptops continue to provide the functional glue to many performances, more interesting were performances that extended sound in a range of unorthodox or idiosyncratic directions. Notably, in this respect, the TronOrchestra+SAM2+SomeMoreSams+ brought a theatrical, Björk-like element to the opening day echoed later in the work of Lin Chi Wei and Steve Chan.

Performances by Janek Schaefer, Andy Gulh, Mapstation and others on the Staubgold Label provided an international perspective for the local scene. Schaefer’s performance was sans three-arm turntable but interesting to see him perform with live mixing of sound sources.

Two performances are worth noting. Fujui Wang’s (Taiwan) set reflected a sophisticated and focused engagement with technology and a refined sensibility for contemporary global electronic sound and image. His laptop performance tightly integrated sound and image, expressing a distinctly individual aesthetic. In the second work of his set, the image component comprised a series of shifting vertical lines synchronised with a “glitch” style sonic texture reminiscent of Alva Noto or Jan Jelinek.

Lin Chi Wei, Steve Chan and Singing Liu’s (absent but replaced by a laptop) performance, A Dismissed Organization, conveyed the strongest sense of a uniquely contemporary Chinese sound art. Taking place amidst the audience, two performers and a laptop faced each side of a triangular mirrored structure. Chi Wei wore a mask invoking memories of Chinese Opera and interacted with Steve Chan in a sound world of text and noise. Amid the intense sound, the stillness of the performers infused with the attention of the audience, and the reflections in the mirrored surfaces, reminded me of the contradiction between the dynamism of Beijing city life and the calmness of the people who inhabit it.

In its programming, organisation and post- festival activities, the MiniMidi festival reflects a maturity in the Chinese sound scene commensurate with similar events in Australia. This is, in a sense, remarkable considering that the history of experimental/contemporary music in China is relatively new by Western criteria. Given the obvious differences between the East and West, the MiniMidi Festival clearly articulated the universality of sound and the exciting prospect of a new frontier less evident in Australia these days.

MiniMidi Festival, Noise is Free, Beijing, May 1-3, http://minimidi.cn

Yan-Jun field recordings site page: www.yanjun.org/projects/field_recording/drivein/drivein.html

RealTime issue #87 Oct-Nov 2008 pg. 43

© Alistair Riddell; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2008
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