Creative Music in China: a few words of
Creative Music is a handy phrase that I use
to describe the musical projects that I am working on. It is general enough to
encompass a wide variety of styles, yet emphasizes creativity, and the mind-set
of an artistic endeavor. Within this broad category, I do have some specific
interests, which will usually be present.
I prefer to avoid direct stylistic
descrīptions like “Rock”, or “Jazz” or “Folk” because first of all, they do not
accurately describe what I am trying to do, and secondly, because they can lead
to restrictive expectations on the part of the audience. Yes, my music may
contain elements from these music’s, but there is always an exploration of some
area that is relatively unfamiliar to me. That is the reason for all of my
projects. I want to find out more about something that is exciting and
interesting to me –something that I may not understand at all, or may not fully
I love exploring rhythm, so there is always a
strong rhythmic element. I often build each project around a unique rhythm
section, which gives a strong character right from the beginning. This
generally is taken care of by the choice of drummer, since I play bass, which
is a rhythm section instrument. But in the case of Zhu Fang Qiong, it is his
rhythmic concept as a singer, player of stringed instruments, and percussion.
Another great example of this would be the
selection of the drummer Jim Black for my band “Headache,” or Simon Barker for
“Jazz Folk”. Both of these musicians have something absolutely unique, and when
I first heard them, I was at once attracted and extremely excited by what they
were doing, and also I had absolutely no idea how what they were doing worked.
I had the sense that once I played with Jim, once I spent some time playing
with Simon, certain things would become somewhat clearer to me. It’s not
something that I can explain very well, but I really feel that it is true. It
is an experiential thing.
With Jim, it is a certain kind of forward
motion, and a feeling that no matter what you play, if you play it with
conviction (not necessarily loud, but you have to “mean it”), it will sound
good. He gives musicians an infinite number of “points of entry” when he plays.
You can come in anywhere, and it will work… plus his concept of sound is so
With Simon, just watching him play is very
interesting. He sits at the drums in a unique way, approaches the kit with a
very unusual posture. Once I got to know Simon a little bit, I started hearing
about his interest in Korean Shamanistic music, and how he had spent a good
part of the last 15 years going to Korea and seeking out Shaman musicians and
trying to absorb their culture. Now, 15 years is a long time, and everything that
Simon plays has a little bit of this Korean Shamanistic music in it. But he is
a western musician, plays western drum kit, and it is not a simple pastiche of
Korean musical tropes. It is a very deep integration.
Also in each project, there is a musical
focus. I will either want to present someone’s musical ideas, like in the case
of Joe Rosenberg, or Zhu FangQiong. In other projects, I will write the music
myself. In Jazz Folk, we share the writing duties (and actually primarily play
the music of established songwriters), and I am trying to organize another band
with musicians from Southern China right now, where the writing of the music is
Again, the choice is almost always something
that interests me -that I don’t fully understand. Joe Rosenberg’s music is a
perfect example. He always surprises me with the compositions that he brings.
Initially, his music seemed to be steeped in an Anthony Braxton influence, and
there were some references to contemporary Western Art Music practices. But
more recently, each piece seems to be a set of strategies that is perfectly
tailored to the unique skills and limitations of the musicians in the band.
Also, he is always thinking about Indian musical culture, and Indonesian
musical culture. Again, these aspects are never presented directly.
So I have several of these projects, and the
problem that always comes up is how to build an audience for music that is so
diverse. I like to focus on the fact that these are lively performances, and
there is a lot of color, with such strong personalities in the bands. It is not
necessary to have a technical understanding of the music, when you have a
maniac like Edward Perraud at the drums. He is really as much a sorcerer and a magician
as he is a drummer. If you watch him, you will definitely get a good show.
Another important aspect is the choice of
venue and city. My music is best heard in places other than clubs or bars. I
have had some success playing in club situations, of course, but when you get
into a small theatre, or art gallery, the atmosphere is more conducive to an
exploratory listening and viewing experience. People are ready to hear
something for the first time. A notable exception to this would be some of the
music houses in Beijing, where it seems to be fine to play just about any style
of music. But for sure, it is best to try and avoid the “Jazz Club” syndrome.
My music is almost always a little frustrating to a typical Jazz audience.
Which brings me naturally to the next
question, which is: why China? Why do Creative Music in China? Well first of
all, because I live here, and I am determined to pursue my creativity in music,
and crucially, because many audiences in China are uniquely prepared to hear
something new. The most exciting performances I have ever had have been in
China. As opposed to Hong Kong, where it is very difficult (but not impossible)
to get audiences excited about Creative Music. In the mainland, it seems that
people are hungry for it. And among the young, educated and artistically inclined,
there is an uncanny sophistication and familiarity with the cutting edge, particularly
in some cities that I have experienced like Guangzhou, ChongQing and Beijing.
There are still so many places to explore. I hope that I get a chance to play
in Shangxi, and Yunnan, and the city of Dalian. I heard an incredible band from
Dalian a few weeks ago. Wang Wen.
Bringing projects to China from overseas is a
financial challenge, to say the least, so I am changing my focus a little bit.
It’s a great opportunity to make a serious effort to find out about the
incredible talent and different musical cultures within China. I’ll be doing
some traveling in China over the next years to try and meet musicians that
might be interested in collaboration. That will be something for me to ponder,
delight in and misconstrue for years to come.
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