[English version below]
It’s hard to find, I think, music that combines the traditional and contemporary, the East and the West, the experiences of outsiders and insiders in the same element. So often it seems you hear music that thoughtlessly superimposes a traditional instrument over an electronic beat or a few foreign words mixed in with the native lyrics with no real sense as to what it actually means. So it’s refreshing to hear a genuine rendering of what it feels like to be an outsider somewhere and what that sounds like in song—something along the lines of what it’s like to know where you come from, but also to like where you are now.
This is what thruoutin has done with his most recent album, 2012’s dots. Thruoutin is Brad Seippel, an American musician who lives and creates music in China. The music on the album is downtempo and IDM electronica, but with added support from the pipa, a traditional Chinese instrument. He’s not the first musician to do this—not by a long shot—but there is a certain genuineness about his music that makes it engaging. But it’s not only the pipa that gives dots that feeling of East and West. From the Pinyin in his song titles to his lyrics about life in the Beijing streets, there are many parts of his music that sound influenced by where he lives and how it’s different from where he comes from.
His stronger songs play on these elements, like “Beiwai,” a mostly pipa piece that has Seippel playing the instrument accompanied by an airy electronic drone. Then there’s “Zhangzizhong”—one of the most compelling songs on the album—with its field-recorded public announcements intercut into the song, along with a melody played by what sounds like an electronically manipulated (or perhaps created) erhu, another classic Chinese instrument. But instead of being slapped together, like, “Here’s some modern stuff and here’s some old stuff,” most of the songs are well-composed and reflective, as if thruoutin is very much aware of the elements he’s working with.
Out of the thirteen songs on the album, six are originals and the others are remixes of those six, so the album isn’t rich with material, but what he does have is good. But downtempo is essentially ambient music, meant to be heard in the background or as a compliment to some other activity, and while some of his songs hold the promise of uniqueness, thruoutin hasn’t quite mastered that push yet to take them up to the front. It’s an album you might hear in the background and register as interesting, but not enough to seek it out. Not yet, anyway. It’s a pity, because upon a closer listen, there really is something attractive about what he’s putting together.