The new material from Li Daiguo, Music for Advertisements is terrific. This 7“ single released by Tenzenmen and Genjing Records in collaboration has seven pieces in it, every one of them fading out after one or two minutes. But it’s still enough to estimate the singularity of this music.
The titles of these seven pieces are peculiar enough, you would more likely expect them to entitle impressionistic paintings:
1. Chengdu Aesthetic and Plastic Hospital
2. The Rickshaws at New South Gate Bus Station
3. The ‘Beautiful Thai Girls’ Under the Old South Gate Bridge
4. Chengdu Plant and Bird Market
5. Green Ram Daoist Temple
6. Stolen/Secondhand Bicycle Market at 9 Eye Bridge
7. Chengdu Tuberculosis Hospital
The names of these places necessarily invite you to take them as program music. Except the opening track being underlaid by some vocals (without text though), all tracks are instrumentals. To my great joy I found two of them played in five-four-times (“The Rickshaws at New South Gate Bus Station” and “Green Ram Daoist Temple”). The same thing happened to me as often before, when I heard five-four-times. I haven’t consciously noticed it, much less counted it in the beginning, I just felt really comfortable with this rhythm, and when asking myself how come, I immediately realised that once again it’s the five-four-time eliciting such an natural ease in myself. For some people, the five-four time is sort of a key to equilibrium. The ancient Greeks knew it well, they used it over and over in their music. And most of that what they created and enjoyed, was a delicate poise between nature and exquisiteness. I would like to say that this very poise is also a main feature in Li Daiguo’s music.
The other counterpoise in Li’s music is the one between avantgarde and tradition. I mean, there’ve been many western avant-gardists in the twentieth century already displaying the same concept of avant-garde: an avant-garde not as a search for technical purity and Adorno’s over sensitive utopias of fine taste, but as a search for human origins, like Stravinsky going back to pagan times and creating such incredible thing as the Sacre.
Li Daiguo therefore works out some kind of primitivism, most of his pieces are dominated by a ritual pull. But there’s still a real clever and funny intellectual disruption in Li’s concept, since these ritual features are used by him to deconstruct advertising techniques (Music for Advertisements). Li uses traditional Asian instruments with their own keys different to western keys, then again he makes an extensive use of ostinato, which reinforces the sound of a band performance, and even more so by underlying continuous beatbox, which totally distinguishes him from studied Asian avant-garde composers such as Isang Yun. Li’s music is to settle within the tradition of minimal music, to the development of which composers like Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Terry Riley have been the most famous contributors. Li Daiguo is quasi a Chinese/Asian influenced Moondog within this genre.
Li has a long education playing the most of the instruments used on Music for Advertisements, but still he teases and scratches them, as if he was the first man on earth to figure out, how to get some bloody sounds out of them able to express his inarticulate feelings. But that’s also a feature taken from Chinese traditional music, which in account of embodying the dignity of nature sometimes allows excesses unpossible to think of in hundred years of European music. Sometimes it seems that every object could be appropriate for Li to express his emotions, as long as it makes some sounds. Just like the tortured bath duck in the beginning of “Green Ram Daoist Temple”. The sounds screwed out of this bath duck are oscillating between an exorbitantly overdone porno orgasm and a little baby badly abused. Whatever it sounds like, to me it just displays Li’s thinking about what it means to us hearing sounds at all.
I will quickly go through the pieces:
1. “Chengdu Aesthetic and Plastic Hospital” starts like a traditional piece of Chinese guqin-music, by far more likely to evoke a fisherman-scene than the “Aesthetic and Plastic Hospital”. It has a very soothing atmosphere in the beginning. In the background some babbling of water. After a short break all of a sudden a toy car appears with this friction drive, and there’s a child apparently all but getting freaky with this toy. Overtone chantings start after the car had stopped, underlaid by beatbox.
2. “The Rickshaws at New South Gate Bus Station” is the first of the five-four-times. It starts with a simple but deep alluring theme played by wind instruments, I don’t know how to describe them properly. Then the background-pipa is solely going on, until a bluegrass fiddle joins in.
3. “The ‘Beautiful Thai Girls’ Under the Old South Gate Bridge”. A hectic, very stimulating rhythm and the mating calls of some birds open this track. But it soon turns slower when a viola sets in. I guess it is the shadow under the bridge.
4. “Chengdu Plant and Bird Market” is an absolute amazing piece, the best one on this 7“. Crazy flutes and clarinets witness that we’re on the bird market. But it’s not only a superficial mimicry. It goes deeper. It lead to the natural unspoiled state of nature, where birds still have their own language. At the end a cello is taking over and ends this only one minute long piece.
5. “Green Ram Daoist Temple” is the second five-four-times. Very arid. Again with beat-box in the background. Some long hanging concave chords, some flutes in the background. Actually there’s not happening so much, yet it’s incredible!
6. “Stolen/Secondhand Bicycle Market at 9 Eye Bridge” This is the beautiful sound of rusted bicycle-brass. The first seconds you’ll hear the spokes and mudguards of these old bicycles vibrating and trembling as the summer wind breezes through them. Then it changes into an rhythmic carpet, on which the sole melody of a Guzheng is laid. This melody is closer to oriental, closer to central-asian than to chinese themes. I think it is Li Daiguo’s investigation of his instruments, which led him leave the classical Chinese frame every now and then. He is aware that most of the “Chinese” instruments he uses are actually not of Chinese origin, so sometimes, while playing them, it leads him to the sounds they have been embedded in before there cultural drifting. And it’s just after this oriental melody, that the persian suona sets in as for a folk dance.
7. “Chengdu Tuberculosis Hospital”. The bass and the dry sound reminds me of Chicago band Califone, at least of their 2001 album “Roomsound” – I do not know, how they sound now. Then a viola starts fiddling around. This rips the piece out of its Chinese context and sets it right in the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee. This bluegrass interlude is followed by a beautiful pipa-solo. That’s not the best piece on Music for Advertisements in my opinion, it’s good music though.
This 7“ single is program music in two ways. In the first place it evokes the localities of Chengdu which it is concerned about. In the second place it resembles the transient stimuli of commercials. The connection of this two concepts makes it an quite interesting piece of art.