CHINA – the sonic avant-garde

POST 005 2xCD digipak

This first-ever, 2-hour survey of the current experimental music and sound art scene in Mainland China features 15 artists mostly in their twenties from all over the country. The double-CD set shows what is really happening today on the Chinese new music cutting-edge. No more symphonies or string quartets with self-Orientalizing titles and pentatonic motifs. In fact, you won't hear one Chinese instrument here. The incredibly wide range of styles cover everything from plunderphonics, musique concrete, experimental electronics, ambient, sample collage, plug-in modulation, text-sound, sound poetry, mixer feedback improv, hardcore noise, radio art, political satire, to post-concrete recording art documenting a family karaoke scene. This is only the beginning of something unpredictable. No to be missed.


ZHANG Jüngang
WANG Changcun
JIA Haiqing
LI Ruyi
HU Mage
XÜ Cheng
ZHONG Minjie
Intelligent Shanghai Mono University
China Sound Unit

Compiled and Edited by Yao Dajün
Mastered at false.time.controller
Design by Visual Concrete
Cover photo by Monkey Zhao
Back photo by Wang Changcun
Inside photo by Zhang Jün'gang
Special thanks to Faux Tang Punk
A Post-Concrete + ChineNoir Co-Production
©2003 Post-Concrete


CD 1        
1 WANG Changcun unhearable 2002 Harbin
2 JIA Haiqing+FU Yü fish cooking 1 2002 Beijing
3 ZHOU Pei eronz335 2002 Guilin
4 ISMU in the room with snow 2002 Shanghai
5 ISMU lunch time story 2002 Shanghai
6 ISMU mail works m4 2002 Shanghai
7 ISMU tunes by 2002 Shanghai
8 ISMU K.L.P.L. 2002 Shanghai
9 Beijing Sound Unit minibus pimps 1999 Beijing
10 FU Yü fish cooking 4 2002 Beijing
11 FU Yü fish cooking 3 2002 Beijing
12 Shanghai Sound Unit Leili Fengxing 1998 Shanghai
13 ZHOU Pei eronz129 2002 Guilin
14 ZHOU Pei mixer&body #5 2002 Guilin
15 ZHOU Pei mixer solo #1 2002 Guilin
16 Beijing Sound Unit after dinner 1997 Beijing
17 XÜ Cheng my livingspace 4 2002 Shanghai
18 XÜ Cheng my livingspace 2 2002 Shanghai
19 ZHANG Jün'gang national anthem in school 2002 Harbin
CD 2        
1 HU Mage firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy, vinegar & sugar - edit 1 2002 Beijing
2 HU Mage - edit 2 2002 Beijing
3 JIANG Yühui dark crystal 2002 Shanghai
4 JIANG Yühui ghost in another night 2002 Shanghai
5 WANG Changcun rendezvous #4 2002 Harbin
6 WANG Changcun lunch life 2002 Harbin
7 WANG Changcun song without words 2002 Harbin
8 WANG Changcun k1973 poem 2002 Harbin
9 WANG Changcun dfaonocle 2002 Harbin
10 Shanghai Sound Unit auctioneers 1998 Shanghai
11 ZHONG Minjie SXF003 2002 Guangzhou
12 ZHONG Minjie SYS003 2002 Guangzhou
13 ZHANG Jüngang x-rate 2002 Harbin
14 Beijing Sound Unit green army uniform 2000 Beijing


> Names of artists are given in the original Chinese order, surname first.

> "Rendezvous #4" contains a sample from "nonsense poetry" by the pancakes, written and performed by dejay © 2000 rewind records -

> Intelligent Shanghai Mono University (ISMU) are: B6 (LOU Nanli), cy (DING Dawen), zoojoo (ZHANG Jü), sussux (SU Xin).

> China Sound Units tracks recorded by YAO Dajün, except "minibus pimps" by LI Ruyi. The CSU tracks are unedited, unmixed raw recordings of untempered sound events, except for "Leili Fengxing."








"An impressive double CD reveals how the Future Sound of China is linked with the music of a nation's revolutionary past

by Clive Bell

What can it be like to be in your twenties and living in China today? The breakneck pace of development in that country is throwing up extravagant statistics: last year saw a 60 per cent increase in car sales, with much the same expected this year. The economic surplus with the US stands at $103 billion. Where is the music that might reflect such an upheaval? Thanks to the remarkable Californian Post-Concrete label, we now have a chance to listen in: a double CD compilation, attractively packaged, displaying sound works by more than a dozen artists, nearly all under 30 years old.

Four of the tracks are raw, unedited field recordings made by the China Sound Unit, a countrywide network of recordists snatching at acoustic events. These are like short movies, telling vivid stories about contemporary China. Loyal Communist Party members gather in a snake-meat restaurant, eating, drinking and singing the old revolutionary songs, led by the restaurant owner's firm accordion playing. But the comrades only half-remember the lyrics, confusing two songs into one, and the singing collapses in good humoured argument. Elsewhere, primary school children drill under a hot sun in the playground for a flag-raising ceremony. They sound as worn out as the cassette tape whose wobbling pitch accompanies their singing - as worn out, perhaps, as the dusty revolutionary song itself: "The peoples of China are at their most critical time/Everybody must roar defiance/Arise! Arise! Arise!/Millions of hearts with one mind/Brave the enemy gunfire, March on!"

While there's humour and gentle satire in these tracks, an older China asserts itself in a field recording of "Minibus Pimps", the aggressive street cries of men touting for bus passengers. And in Shanghai, auctioneers jabber like woodpeckers, their prices collapsing rapidly to more realistic levels. These openair recordings are dotted throughout the set, which is mainly devoted to a wide range of electronic music. Zhang Jungang, who recorded the schoolchildren, contributes one of the best pieces, "X-Rate", where samples of an improvising pianist are crafted into a beautiful landscape. Shanghai-based Jiang Yuhui's "Dark Crystal" is another subtly glistening canvas. Jiang's other track, "Ghost In Another Night", is a dramatic expression of how much he loathes dance music. This links with "Dfaonocle" by Wang Changcun, who says, "I like pseudo-Techno that is very thin, with not many layers, but much clarity." This delightfully weedy effort has a playful confidence. In fact Wang's "much clarity" could be a rallying cry for the whole collection. There's no mush here and the standard throughout is remarkably high.

In spite of the charm and humour, when you first put the record on you get a much fiercer impression, and sections of the first CD are uncompromisingly hardcore; a tirade of software abuse and karaoke cannibalism. The opener is Wang Changcun's "Unhearable", an inferno of skittering white noise generated by doing something unspeakable to Microsoft sound files. Then comes Zhou Pei, whose self-penned resume goes: "A boring, small-minded accountant who indulges himself in office sex jokes all day long." Once the necktie is off, Zhou spreads his frustration over four tracks, moving from tortured software to mixing board feedback. Dipping into performance art, Zhou gets physically involved with his equipment - "Mixer & Body #5" is the sound of a cable plug touching parts of his body.

This desire to "fuse abstract and concrete" is also on the agenda for the four-strong ISMU collective in Shanghai. They create a short, sensuous pop daydream by plundering a karaoke record from their local bar. Or they plant an improvised piano solo over an electronic backdrop. It's all crisp and to the point, and their five brief tracks leave you wanting more.

Equally impressive is Fu Yü's "Fish Cooking" series. "Fish Cooking 4" has a spitting propulsion that recalls Toshimaru Nakamura's recent Vehicle, but rather than mixing board feedback, Fu is driving a demo version of some audio software, revelling in its limitations and recording on the fly. In this abstract idiom, Fu's flow of fresh ideas is sure. Zhong Minjie from Guangzhou ("SXF003") manipulates voice samples from porno movies into a torrent that conjures up Chinese opera percussion. As Zhong flips erotic squeals like a spinning cymbal, this is one of the few moments when I caught an identifiably Chinese reference.

It's tempting to see this collection as a harbinger of things to come, as a first Western glimpse of some fiercely talented artists. There's a smouldering whiff of the same excitement generated by the arrival of Japanese musicians like Otomo Yoshihide and Yamatsuka Eye ten years ago. If there's a grassroots explosion of electronic music in China, Post-Concrete have assembled Exhibit A for the evidence. After the satire, the collages and the ear-cleansing digital kung fu, the album ends on a touching note. The old military song "Green Army Uniform" is performed by an amateur singing club in a Beijing park at 7am, giving voice together to keep warm: "0 so deep is my love for you, that I love this green uniform even more. ""

The Wire (Nov 03)


"This double-CD compilation album brushes a picture of experimental electronica/sound art in mainland China at the beginning of the third millennium. The scope is wide, encompassing sound cut-ups, musique concrete and software clicks 'n' cuts, but this variety is well-contained in an intelligent track list that manages to combine an alphabetical order with an interesting listening curve. Field recordings by the China Sound Unit (project compiler Dajuin Yao and Ruyi Li) have been inserted whenever extra articulation was needed. Each disc clocks in at a little over one hour, which keeps proceedings from getting tiresome. Every artist gets more than one track to shine, but disc one begins with a quick look around the biggest names. Wang Changcun, Fu Yu and Zhou Pei first contribute one track each to kick things off. Fu Yu's "Fish Cooking" suite stands out thanks to its nutty collage flavor. Follow five cuts off the first CD by ISMU (or Intelligent Shangai Mono University), an impressive sound art collective. The two pieces by the young Xu Cheng (only 23 when this album came out), assembled from sounds recorded in his home, provide another highlight. If Hu Mage's cut-ups sound a bit crude, they convey a bombastic energy akin to Ground Zero in their prime. Zhong Minjie's aural assaults and Zhang Jungang's lovely ambient piece "X-rate" (sequenced right after Minjie's, thank you very much) also stand out. At the time, most of these artists were still trying to be heard outside of China. In a large proportion, these tracks are previously unreleased and represent the top of the pile. If one should size up the country's young generation of avant-garde electronicians by this comp, well, there are a lot of diamonds to be dug up over there." ****

— Francois Couture, All Music Guide


"Neue Musik aus dem Reich der Mitte

Die Gründe dafür, warum man wenig über experimentelle Musik aus China hört, resp. ob dort überhaupt Aktivitäten in dieser Richtung stattfinden, sind offensichtlich. Während sich nach der Öffnung der (ehemaligen) UdSSR die dortige Szene relativ schnell ins internationale Netzwerk randständiger Musiker gebunden hat, steht dieser Schritt China noch bevor. Solange wird die Situation dort wohl recht uneinsehbar bleiben, auch wenn eine erste Besserung in Sicht ist. Denn Post-Concrete haben sich die Mühe gemacht, einen ersten Einblick in den chinesischen Geräusch-Untergrund auf zwei CDs zusammen zu stellen.

Auffälligster Unterschied zu anderen asiatischen Lärmtönern ist dabei, dass Chinas Klangbastler deutlich ruhiger und differenzierter ans Werk gehen. Während der Großteil japanischer Noiseacts die Regler nicht weit genug aufreißen kann, scheint man in China relativ wenig von derartigen Brutismus zu halten. Lärm findet hier nie um seiner selbst willen statt, sondern bildet nur einen Teil innerhalb elektronischer Kompositionen, die ebenso Fieldrecordings und Wortbeiträge integrieren. Damit sind die meisten Beiträge klanglich also deutlich näher an Aube als an Merzbow, auch wenn der Vergleich nicht zuletzt am konzeptuellen Hintergrund von Aubes Arbeiten (exklusive Verwendung einzelner Quellen) hinkt und der Vielfalt des vorliegenden Materials wenig gerecht wird. Deutlich wird damit aber immerhin, dass es sich hier eben nicht um zwei weitere CDs mit reinem Lärm handelt. Für die "Noise as noise can" Fraktion also vermutlich eher zu soft, für aufmerksame Hörer jedoch eine spannende Reise zum akustischen Rand des Reichs der Mitte. Würde die Doppel-CD noch ein ausführliches Booklet mit Informationen über die Teilnehmer enthalten, wäre ihr meine Höchstwertung sicher gewesen, so gibt’s für "China – The Sonic Avantgarde" "nur" 5 von 6 Punkten."

— Sascha Bertoncin, Triggerfish


Das erste Stück dieser Doppel-CD lenkt einen gleich auf eine falsche Fährte, klingt es doch wie unzählige andere Stücke aus der internationalen Krachwelt. Aber glücklicherweiser ist die Globalisierung noch nicht ganz so weit fortgeschritten, dass es keine Unterschiede mehr gibt zwischen Musik aus China und solcher aus anderen Ecken der Welt. Somit behält auch der bröckelnde Begriff der Psychogeographie bis auf weiteres noch etwas an Gültigkeit. Man sucht bei einer solchen Veröffentlichung nach verbindenden Eigenschaften zwischen den Stücken der neun Musiker. Diese sind jedoch ihrerseits schon selbst mit sehr unterschiedlichen Arbeiten vertreten und agieren dabei erstaunlich widerspruchsfrei in Kategorien von Pop bis Komposition. Vielleicht ist es die reduzierte und leicht stoische Art des Umgangs mit Sound oder die Betonung gewisser musikalischer Elemente durch Pausen oder das allgemein sehr disziplinierte und akzentuierte Erscheinungsbild der Stücke, was sich als 'typisch' chinesisch labeln ließe. Zwischen die Blöcke mit Tracks der einzelnen Musiker sind als Puffer Field-Recordings, sogenannte 'Sound-Units', gepackt. Diese dokumentieren Szenen des alltäglichen Lebens wie Rufe von Marktschreiern, eine Minibusfahrt oder das Singen der Nationalhymne in der Schule. Vor diesem Hintergrund wirkt die Musik noch um einiges seltsamer, als sie es eh schon ist. Dass von jedem vertretenen Musiker gleich mehrere Tracks zu hören sind, relativiert den für Compilations ansonsten typischen subjektiven Blickwinkel des Kurators auf angenehme Weise. Die Zusammenstellung dieses Releases stammt von Yao Dajün, der nun seinerseits in den USA lebt. Interessante Frage, ob das hier ein Fall ethnischen Marketings ist, und wenn ja - ob so etwas immer gleich uncool." *****

de:bug #76 (Nov 2003)


"Zone blanche sur la carte de la musique électronique contemporaine, la Chine souffre, sans doute plus que tout autre pays (mis à part peut-être la Corée du Nord) de sa sous exposition due à un isolationnisme séculaire. Aussi ne peut-on qu'applaudir des deux mains l'initiative de Post-Concrete qui avec cette double compilation, la première du genre, met enfin un terme à ce silence forcé. Compilant sans autre recherche d'unité que géographique des artistes majoritairement originaires de Pékin et Shangaï, China - The sonic Avant-Garde balaie un spectre extrêmement vaste allant de la musique concrète à l'electronica, de la noise à la poésie sonore, du collage à l'enregistrement de terrain. Aussi brut de décoffrage que possible, China explose d'un seul coup, libérant tout ce que les artistes gardaient pour eux depuis trop longtemps et nous donne à entendre un panorama saisissant d'une création saisie dans sa vitalité adolescente, avant que les clivages de scènes, de genres et les barrières du goût ne viennent sédimenter le tout. Une urgence essentielle devant un tel projet mais qui s'avère parfois frustrante, comme lorsque, en l'absence de tout livret, elle ne nous donne aucune information sur les artistes présentés, et que Pei Zhou, Cheng Xü ou Changcun Wang demeurent pour nous de parfaits inconnus, restant encore à découvrir au fil de cette exploration qui ne fait que commencer.

— Jean-Francois Micard, D-Side, #19, (Nov 2003)



"This is one of the best compilations I've heard lately! It's going to be impossible to write a succinct review that will convey anything about it. Yes, it's two discs and the words "avant-garde" are in the title but don't let that scare you off. This is not the dull artsy navel-twiddling that most of us think of when we hear "Avant Garde" (look at me, I make weird sounds, I went to art school, there's an article about me in the Village Voice!). A huge compendium of works exclusively from China, packaged in a six panel, double gatefold digipak. A real eye-opener, because you know what? I realized that I unconsiously expected the Japanese sounds; Noise, Masonna, MSBR, maybe some Mizutani style environmental dabblings. Nope...this is totally unique. Apparently there's some interesting work going on in that region that I guess most of us don't get to hear. As we traverse thirty-three tracks and fifteen artists, we find the recognizable bit of noise or location recording here or there, but even as near as the second track of the first disc, we get drawn in by the odd minimalist wobble of "fish cooking 1". Then a track by Zhou Pei starts with rumbly machine noises punctuated by gong-like tones, they compete and argue softly for minutes, reluctant dancers edging off the stage. Throughout this library of perspectives, we range over electronica, strict ambient, location recordings and more but never seem to leave one long, fascinating corridor. This might as well be done by one extremely masterful sound artist who likes to employ massively different techniques from track to track. It feels that complete. This is a very satisfying listen...very organized and meticulous yet dreamy and friendly. If I saw this somewhere, knowing what i know now, i would buy it no questions asked and wouldn't be disappointed. From the amazing new Post-Concrete label, a West Coast conglomerate focusing especially on obscure Asian regions and trends, presenting each release in quality packaging and art."

— Vince Harrigan, Manifold Records

"2 Hours of unpredictable twists and turns. Knowing virtually nothing about Chinese music (except from those pop-tunes played in my local Chinese restaurant) and even less about its experimental scene, lest that maybe it exists, this compilation opens a door into a completely new universe for me. Who would have guessed, but there is a lot of experimental music of really high quality ranging from all styles imaginable. What an adventure it must have been to collect these tracks, to find and contact the musicians. This is cutting edge and it has nothing Chinese about it anymore. The avantgarde has always turned national boundaries inside out, so I'd call this 2CD a good sign on various levels.

Sometimes music is still like an adventurous travel through unchartered lands. An expedition set out to find the unbelievable and fantastic. Unfortunately, there aren't many unknown places and unidentified cultural centres anymore, or so it seems. Because from time to time a new door will open, presenting a glimpse into a new world with new artists, new sounds and new music. To everyone interested in music in more than a superficial, hit-oriented manner, this will happen again and again during his / her "education" into sound. This experience is what keeps the flame alive, what keeps the interest in music, what makes you listen to dozens of records and artists each month, on the search for something new and interesting. Of course, most of the time, depending on individual favourites and histories, these paths through the musical landscape will differ greatly from one person to the next and, yes, there are some people who will find innovation and solace in new records by Howard Jones or Nik Kershaw and some will discover classical music or jazz for the first time. But sometimes there are a few records, which, with no connection to personal taste or experience, will all by themselves and what they represent, stand as an outpost to something completely new and hitherto unknown. "China – The Sonic Avantgarde" is an example of this.

Two CDs filled to the brim with the works of young, Chinese experimental musicians. Now, what do you know about China? It is big, it is still very communist and un-democratic, a lot of people live there and it still seems dangerous, awkward and dark to most European minds. The cultural revolution has left a big mark on the European art-scene as well, as a monument to the importance of the freedom of art and the liberty to speak freely. Where do experimental musicians fit into our picture of China? In dark cellars, hidden meetings and secret concerts. Young idealists working purely for the fascination of sound and aural atmospheres. As far as I know there is no known school of experimental art in China, so where does the spark of life come from? As it is indeed a promising point for this powerful country, the "red dragon" as it is called, on its slow move from a communist dictatorship to a modern democracy. A sign that a little turning has been done.

Thinking these points, the history of modern China and the suppression of modern art after the second World War, while listening to the music, makes this CD even richer and more important. The most fascinating thing about this collection of 15 artists is their range of work. From white noise and industrial-soundscapes to minimal electronic music to avantgarde / folk to ambient sounds to improvisation and whatever experimental style you can think of, you will find something of this in here. But the special situation of these artists, the time and place their music was produced, adds many layers of understanding that enrich the experience a lot. E.g. when ISMU mix mass-shouts of workers or soldiers with hardcore-noise-eruptions on "lunch time story" the whole militaristic history of the revolution and its after years swings along. Or when the same ISMU has a monotonous female voice intonate "fuck me fuck you" over and over again above a few minutes of sounds and atmospheres, I start to feel the shiver of imperialistic US-culture (Hollywood, pornography, action-movies) that starts to stream into China right now and eradicate whatever has been left of traditional culture. ISMU is / are (?) the most obvious political act on this double-CD. But there are many more.

Interestingly, all of the artists don't restrict themselves to one narrow style of music. Maybe it is the rather long tradition of experimental music in Europe and the USA that has created all these labels and names for different sounds, like plunderphonics, sample collage or mixer feedback, when - and this release might remind us of this – the most important thing is an interest in sound and auditive impressions. Which makes the roadside banter and shouts of "minibus pimps" (the name of the title) recorded by the Bejing Sound Unit as much a musical piece as the subtle static beats, clicks and cuts of FU Yü.

There is nothing Chinese about these tracks anymore, on the surface. Like every avantgarde movement that steps out of its children's shoes, national boundaries are being turned inside out and done away with. This is one of the main inputs of any experimental art into society, to overcome tradition and history, to bring new life into old maps. Fundamentally, of course, no one can deny his / her own history or upbringing just as no one is able to live without being influenced by the outside world in at least some ways. "China – The sonic avantgarde" is a document to an important cultural step for China. Don't miss it."

cracked (vienna, austria)


"A lot of interesting artists, gathered in a double CD produced by Dajuin Yao, take a crack to entering the avant-garde elite through an extremely varied sound palette: from field recordings to extreme computer noise, going through apparent silence to random spectral presences, quite often with pretty satisfying outcomes. Getting down to brass tacks, the good feeling here lies in not knowing what to expect from a group of unknown entities: most names involved reveal themselves as masterful sound-sculptors, using all the means at their disposal to raise heaven or hell, depending on the context. A few ones do sound like amateurs, that's not to say their intentions are not good, but there's a pronounced discrepancy among the top and the bottom of the list. That said, these are my "awards": Zhang Jüngang "X-rate", maybe my favorite track of the whole set - a splendidly enchanting, faraway crepuscular light; then, Fu Yü with his captivating "Fish cooking" translucid segments. Also, the nice plunderphonic-like work of Hu Mage in "Edit 2", a track called "Mail works M4" by Ismu - and, finally, the excellent Wang Changcun, whose "Lunch life" surrealistic looping and the priceless amalgam of "Song without words" are the best working soundscapes mixed with the bells coming from a near little town and the cuckoos chatting when I opened my window during listening. Some limpid beauty, yes."

— Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes