Travelers Tourists Migrants and the post-Deng Era Theme Park Nightmare

Musical Malaise in Mongolia(n).

Nothing better communicates the film’s irony of a “world” park (quasi-expo) reducing its employees to imprisoned immobility and dis-access in regards the (non-Chinese) “world” than its “Muzak” song-music. (Ulan Bator Night). And perhaps dance as well, via Fashion Show. A overhead piped “tape” is felt to be be playing this neither-here-no-there catatonia just above the cognitive horizon…

Several perplexing and exhaustion-driven re-castings of “updated” TV-delivered song establish (but hide) the contraction and freezing of the “sound” of travel and tour: they (it) are intaglio-ed in the bizarre reversal of the arch-Romantic association of the Gobi and its herder-migrants – an inheritance from very early Maoist “omnidance” and Modegama’s stunning Mongol/Kazakh synthesis (see……) where/when the abstraction of multi-ethnic empire itself came to be embedded in reworked “grasslands” music and shimmer.

That original sound-painting of Mongolia (-Kazakhstan) as nomadist romance – a tribute to a long outmoded way of life that yet embodied as it were permanently the psycho(audio-)trope of endless movement somehow anchored in a “placeless place”, surviving and of course evading urbanization – had no doubt largely eroded or even lost its traction completely in the deRacinating and studio-recasting of the 90s. But – and here Jia’s soundbuilders are saying something not obvious – the lineage of restoring and then restoring again the pathos of the grasslands condensed within their norinhuur (Horsehead fiddle) and throat-song (Tuvan xoomei 呼麦) ethno-acousticality had not in fact been nearly so totally interrupted (driven off the airwaves) as its excision from World seems to suggest. (See following post on HAYA ensemble) That we not only don’t (or hardly) hear it, that it is pushed as it were into a very NON-norinhuur “Mongolia” – the world of the Russian tinged pop-folk citytunes of Ulan Bator – is too major a refutation or groundshift to be allowed by without comment.

In an analogical terms, Jia’s “Mongol-spinoff -minstrels” – (a range is depicted in the song “Ulan Bator Night(s) – have traded in the space-emcompassing overtones of steppe-singing (echo/resonance), which are nowhere to be found in the film’s soundtrack, are banished – for an apparently Russian-colonial leftover bit of end-FSU cafe song whose sino-translation is all but meaningless since now extra-contextual.

That song’s very entry into the cinema-narrative accomplishes something astounding: the over-resonant sounds of the “Mongolia” of the steppe are all but wiped away, driven out by (first) a “recollection” by Anna of her long unseen younger sister Alyossa, now supposedly living a new (married) boulevard life in that ex-Stalinist stronghold; then by an illumination that Han Chinese workers must be (or are anyway) imported via passport and visa to culminate /accelerate the deculturating “urbanization” (resettlement) of the Mongolian steppe-tribes forced into the “urban sink” of that former colonial outpost.

It thus in a sense advertizes the same dynamic of uprooted, discontexted dispeopling – the sensual stripping and reduction in perceived scale – the imprisoning, the toxic (lit) urban “silencing” of the Modern city (here Beijing) –   of the peregrine waystation alike for overseas tourists and job-seeking underclass rural youth  – that the themepark Lilliput  in Jia’s film also advertizes. The migrant-worker “bands” are indeed Mongol-simulacra, but what they share is the “end-of-US” side of the Mongolia Story: roaming herders are steadily retreating from sight (and sound): the re-anchoring in the steppelands that Tengger and Xie Fei (esp. Hei junma. 1997) had seemed to envision in imagination seems by 2004 to be all but forgotten; HAN Chinese android hard-pop wailers have first appropriated then de/ex-textured any element of “big-space-sound” to be found surviving in their outback ballads.

But the disconnect (ethnosectomy) of the not-Mongolian “Mongolia” prosody bites deeper still once we transfer the actual “singing” into the hands of the “Black” avant garde rock composer who’s final remake the lyrics are supposed to be.

Theme Music/MV for 2004 film: “Ulan Bator Nights”, (reperf. by Zhao Tao) of Zuo Xiao Zu Zhou “original”, in turn a theft of/from Mongolian pop-folk Sechen Gerel (Сэцэн гэрэл 斯琴格日乐) Las Vegas style presentation


1: A Night in Ulan Bator by Mongolian ethnic Singer Sechen Gerel 斯琴格日乐 (“big show” style), Shanghai, 2012

(Words) “The gentle breeze sweeping the pasture, are you tired?
Or maybe you just hold your breath,
To listen to sweet words of lovers.
What a peaceful night in Ulan Bator.
Young lovers are in sweet dating”.

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