He Xuntian Moves On: New Album “Chant” and Super-Spatial 超空 Investigation of Sounds


For us PRC avant garde music insiders: this almost slipped by:
Composer: He Xuntian (Shanghai Conservatory)
Album: “Chant” (Ehe) Cover, June 2012, Wind Music (Taiwan)

So stingy have the publishers become with album details that there isn’t even a listout of the tracks on-line – you seem to have to buy the CD, pot luck.

But the headline track. “Chant” (no lyrics) is available as bait, and, no surprise, it is even more overpowering than He’s previous symphonic length sonic tour, Tathagata, “Rulai ruqu< which I have uploaded last year.

The descriptives, esp. the title of the signature track, are, in He’s inimitable style, esoteric and eccentric. The signature first track is named 一訸上歌,
which is inscrutable even to Chinese cognoscenti: the 訸 character (read. “he”, play on the composer’s name?) is an obscure form of the character 和, for “in harmony”, so one translation might be “Let us sing out in harmony”, though that phrasing is too simple-minded, too 60s. “Voices in a kind of synchronicity” comes closer, as you will realize once you listen, since there is a kind of contrapuntal overlay of the dissonances that suggests a different but still orderly flow.

The Sub-heads (blurbs) for the album jacket seem to be bait for faddish mystics, but that doesn’t mean there are not to be taken seriously.


音樂大師何訓田 第一部前意識音樂:

His First Collection of Pre-Cognitive Music:
Music that comes from dreamed music
From a place that is called “all in harmony”
From the “all-in-harmony” dreamscape: a sudden thunderstorm, [the sounds of] oxen, sheep, and bees; men incanting, women singing
From the spirit of Pure Emptiness and Creation…

— “A First [Exploration] of Precognitive Music”? not so mysterious after all: it helps alert us to where he is headed: the world of dreams of course, but also of archetypes and Dali.

But also I find the label-crowding refreshing (even as a advertising) – because at least something is going on: dreams, storms, zoo- and apiary static, “jolting” out of complacency: this is not mindless zen or Cage-ian paradox, it predicts a sensory experience, not the dimming or negation of one.

The track goes on for 30 minutes- it is not meant for infobyte conditioned listeners (also a relief), you have to submit and be patient – virtues excised from our ever-churning turntable of new but actually repetitive same-old same-old.

But let’s start with the track itself, which I have had to reconstruct as an MV because of uploading guidelines.

Mo Yan’s “Graffiti Realism” and Metamorphobic Fantasy

It has been pointed out that reductive caricature – the naming of characters by out-of-the-ordinary (usually undignified) physical attributes or the attrbutes’ metamorphoses into free-floating body parts – regularly swallows up the human actors in Mo Yan’s fiction. A tag of eccentricity (what unusual attributes of clothing, complexion, height, etc. associate with a character’s initial appearance?) comes to stand in for the persona, as it were, “behind” them.

This can at first pass be seen as no more harmful than a means of establishing a character’s identity within a blurred and alien and pressingly overpopulated village/commune world (or one so perceived by the writer); as such it seems cousin to the more-or-less harmless teasing of the nickname, the monicker that a not terribly self-conscious interloper might accept and even re-broadcast. (The “Unicorn” in BBWH for example).

Thus in Frogs, Dec. 2009 (commentary by Yinde Zhang):

“The given names of the characters, …nearly always refer to a part of their body, Chen the Nose (Chen Bi 陳鼻), Wang the Liver (Wang Gan 王肝), Xiao (father 肖上唇) = Xiao Upper Lip, Xiao son =
Xiao Lower Lip (Xiao Xiachun 肖下唇)….”

(Yinde Zhang, China Perspectives, 2011/4, p. 60 The Biopolitical Novel: Some Reflections on Mo Yan Frogs

But this is no recent digression: it turns up in one of his first works (1981, much earlier) Minjian yinyue where we encounter
Lame Fang 6, “Pocky” (pockmarked) Du Shuang, and “Yellow Eyes” Huang Yan (fn) https://asianimperialisms.com/2013/03/22/aboriginality-as-icon-of-a-crisis-in-lineage-pedigree-and-male-potency/10/

This stretching – and diminishing – of identifying perception by the superimposition of an isolated and normally non- referenced body part attachment (moustache, nose) or deformity (acne, smallpox scars etc) is of course a universal attribute of the very long-lineaged genre of satire, in which regard it is (at least) cruel but still not meant to terrify: in “inclusive” satire it somehow transforms into engaging playfulness. (Children of course play/play at this double-faced badinage all the time).

Mo Yan’s “Republic of Wine”: Satiric Allegory of Deng Era Liberalization or Confessions of a Nightmare Dreamer

an age of pygmiesJiuguo, or “Liquorland”

(GB “Republic of Wine), 1992, may be regarded as Mo Yan’s first venture into the tradition of Swiftian satiric travel-allegory, though (as ever) no advertisement of this kinship appears anywhere. The structure is that of a journey to and back out of a never-never-land insulated from conventional norms and outside scrutiny. As perhaps a reference to the Fijian indigenes “discovered” in one or another 18th century “travelogues”, the narrator lands in a “country” where cannibalism is a major – and privileged – entertainment of the Party elite, who feast on carefully prepared “meat children” (routong) at state banquets.

The excursion into a never-land-land has of course a very deep history in Chinese “pulp” fiction of the post-1880s (or perhaps even further back, in Xiyouji or “Monkey”, rerversals (satires) of the clericological travel-narratives sparked by the transfer of Mahayana Buddhism to Tang China.

What is presented is “quasi” caprice hiding under the canopy of reportage, a strategy of epistemological “play” that was both useful and “safe” as a means of popularizing trans-oceanic societies and their hardware (at once miraculous and frightening). “Believe it or not, dear reader… but this was what we have seen…”. All this of course is radical tension with the unambiguous run downs on “why the West is strong” and how to redress the balance (fuguo qiangbing and lifa/lixian) pamphlets – filled with alarm and predictions of doom – that poured in mainly as translations of Japanese reformist tracts.

(A helpful introduction to the whimsical or even sci-fi-like travelogues that poured from the pen of Wang Tao appears in Fogel, ed. Traditions of East Asian Travel, (2006), esp. Emma Jinhua Teng, “The West as a Kingdom of Women: Women and Occidentalism in Wang Tao’s Tales of Travel”. )

So far, “merely” grotesque, or gruesome, though (since the venue is beyond the map- again Swiftian) the claim must be taken as a kind of second-hand rumor, possibly a hallucination or folk-fiction. (Local “peasants” are described as selling their boy children to a Culinary Institute by weight and quality of flesh – but these referents allude to abortion and the (still?) actual sale of children into prostitution or servitude by pauperized peasants – something nervously described in BBWH.

Much closer to the heart of the narrative is the pictorial rendering of the “new” business class. Both victims (the children) and those who corruptly extract profits for this and other exchanges are configured in terms of height, bodily height: actually (seemingly) a correlative of aggressive energy, not of inertia or evasion.

In fact, the central “actor”, Yu Yichi 余一尺 “12 inch Yu -actually 17)”, proprietor 老板 of the “town’s” most successful “new style” businesses 一尺餐厅 (12-inch Tavern) is but one third the height of the average “outsider”, and limits his hiring to (mainly) female dwarfs.

Mo Yan’s “Big Breasts”: End of the NE Gaomi Folk-history Chronicles and of Patriline Magic

Header Illustration: 晋察冀边区爆炸大王、民兵英雄李勇。影片“地雷战”中的原型人物
Sketch of Li Yong, Partisan Heroine of the Jinchaji (Henan-Chahar-Hebei) Soviet, model for lead character in “Land Mine Warfare” (1962: Bayi studio, dir 唐英奇、徐达、吴健海)

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Above, Figs 1a-b
Mo ^Yan, Red Sorghum Family (1984), 狗皮 (tr, Goldblatt) Chapt 4, Strange Death, p. 334. (edited to end p 16 filmclip)

bc305bbef94411e615c241 BrHipcover w priitiv

Above, Fig. 2
(above) Cover Illustration for (1993) “Big Breasts and Wide Hips”

Flight Internal: Yang Liping and Ethnic Primitive

What Mo Yan (the “Faulkner” of the post Mao art world) and Yang Liping (in her own way a kind of Diaghilev+ Ruth St. Denis of the post-Mao dance world) have in common is considerable, though I know of no critic who has taken up this matter.

There is at first glimpse no reason to suspect any cross-identity. There is no record of the two having ever met or exchanged letters. Mo Yan’s genre is associated with Magical Realism and Carnival – both of which have cross-border valence. (The critic should be able to “read” him with no instruction, only translation). Yang Liping with a more or less self-invented notion of primitive purism (retreat into pre-literacy), which has no such thing, or at least nearly so, since it is a form almost of cultural anthropology devoid of text or conclusion.

The commonality lies in a similarity of pursuit: pursuit of a middle ground (better: means of “flight”, escape, or transcendence) between or over the commodified/ying world of global art (via multinational and mainly Hong Kong based film) on the one hand and the now delegitimized, unrecoverable world of the “17 years” (1949-66) when state-studio-film (and kindred) art was still self-consciously innovative and spoke with and to the soul, albeit a collective one (which it now underbudgeted no longer does though there are still projects…)


Costume Androgyny and Bifolio-ed Assertions: Brush vs Sword (Huang Doudou, II)


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“Painting by Wushu brush” – the Martial Artiste Stages the Ribbon-sleeve Dance *** The dancer-choreographer here in focus – Huang Doudou – consistently tells his press following that he is building a “modern dance” for China, albeit not “simply” modern: … Continue reading

Masculine costume in “Doudou”‘s Modern Dance: From terracotta warrior to onnagata


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(1) The Qin Warrior comes back to life after 2200 years…. **** Gloomy prognosis aside a new formula for male SOLO dance did however emerge in the later 1990s. As one might expect it was centered in (around) gymnastic agility … Continue reading

“ROUGE” – The lipstick color-code of times past betrayed by a ferroconcrete present


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Yanzhikou as multi-code: jewel box, opium snuff box, engagement pendant LIU YAN’S BREAKTHROUGH SOLO, “THE LIPSTICK COMPACT” (aka “Rouge, yanzhi kou) Retro-Chic or Retro-Decadence – or both. *** Before launching out into this essay, I feel I owe it the … Continue reading

South of Tibet: Dadawa, Angel-voices, and Prof. He in Hindi-land


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Beyond Tibet: a Re-Partnering beyond the Himalayas Mix from He Xuntian album, 2008, Rulai ruqu, Taiwan) … and I had thought it (“Chinese” world music, hopes for cross-border fusion) had ended with Yangjinma (1996-7), the last child born of the … Continue reading