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Audio China

img  Tobias
Probably a wise man never said this, but it sounds great nonetheless: If the eyes are our doors to the world, then our ears are the gateway to its soul. For Adam Jennings, in any case, it was always clear that he wasn’t just going to tell his friends back home in the States abouth his month-long visit to China or to sit them down for a stereotypical slideshow. Instead, he took his microphone wherever he went, creating an extensive audio log: “I cut nothing out. It’s all there. I refused to omit anything I recorded. Some of the tracks sound a bit muddy due to it being windy outside, but I can live with that. I felt the entire trip needed to be documented, whether I was just eating dinner with friends or if I was climbing a mountain.” The result is now available as a CD and paints a colourful picture of a country currently at the heart of the world’s attention.

For Jennings a hearty dose of heavy distortion served to bridge the gap between two drastically different cultures and lifestyles. After his band “Winters in Osaka” had collaborated with their Chinese colleagues of Torturing Nurse, one of the many fledgling experimental units mushrooming from the country’s fertile musical fields, he had stayed in contact with them over the years, dropping Nurse-member Junkky a line on a regular basis. As a frequent traveller, the idea of finally meeting up with him in person presented itself t almost as a logical conclusion. In May of 2008, Jennings boarded a plane to Shanghai to travel and perform.

Things started out more difficult than expected. As he had lost some money on the flight from Mexico to China, his financial situation forced him to forego his initial plan of recording a “traditional sounding” album of pieces inspired by Chinese music. Suddenly without an immediate artistic goal except for the concerts, but equipped with a simple Olympus Digital Voice Recorder, he decided to finally turn his fondness for field recordings into something tangible and document his entire stay. He knew that the reduced audio quality would imply the inclusion of unwanted external influences as well as distortion and hiss. On the other hand, the compact format of the device meant he could always carry it with him and catch the entire sonic diversity and a plethora of colourful sounds and noises.

This is just one of the reason why these “Sounds from Shanghai and Suzhou” truly convey China’s recognisably restless pulse. Another is that Jennings had no intention of mapping his stay out in full to begin with. Rather, he allowed himself to be suprised and to be swept along, as he made new friends and learned about Chinese culture simply by immersing himself in it. His recordings are a depictation of this spontaneous flow, ranging from journeys by bus to fireworks, radios blaring out trivially pumping disco music and powerful traditional mantras recited at one of Shanghai’s plentiful sacred sites: “I had my recorder on me everywhere I went, but I didnt have any specific sites in mind. I didnt even do much reading before the trip really. I stayed at hostels or with friends at I met at shows and kind of went along with them”, he recounts, “I met wonderful backpackers from Italy and Australia and Norway who were into exploring the city nightlife, and I met others who mostly felt like taking me to every restaurant in town. Sometimes I would just venture out alone and explore the temples which were just beautiful.”

Even though Jennings stresses that there were no non-musical motivations behind this project whatsoever, anything related to China must probably be considered “political” in one way or the other at the moment. His impressions are a testimony to this, telling both of a great deal of mutual interest and of areas of conflict: “Thanks to the Olympics, the world has drawn its attention to China. The ball is in their court”, Jennings stresses, “I met people on this trip that were just purely excited about such a big event coming to their country. I saw so much joy in their faces as we conversed about the Games. One man stopped me to tell me that he loved the USA, especially basketball and New York City, even though he had never been to those places. I think they are ready for a better connection. The new generation is ready to build bridges, not walls.” The only issue he had to exclude from conversations was Tibet, which he finally “refused to comment on in that part of the country.”

Compared to shooting pictures, which, as Jennings confirms, can still be a problem, recording sounds was never once considered a problem. This awards his acoustic documentary a headstart. If you forget about the aforementioned puny audio issues, the album really depicts a slice of Chinese life as it is, without photoshopping by officials or forced euphemisms. And what you hear is lively, busy, energetic, meditative, sympathetic, foreign and intruiging and it makes you go out and find out for yourself. To Jennings, it brings back all kinds of memories, both good and bad ones: “It instantly takes me back to Shanghai, where I spent the most time”, he ponders, “It makes me remember the fun times I had, but also the horror and sadness I felt when the deadly earthquake erupted. The tragedy was on tv 24 hours a day, and they even closed most of the city down for three days of mourning. Its something I will never forget.”

The good still outweighs the bad and Jennings now looks forward to finally delivering on that slideshow for his friends – backing it up with sounds from his trip: “I'm torn on doing it now, waiting until after I visit Africa and Morroco. I plan to visit those places soon, and gather sounds as I did in China. I'd like to present them all at once.”

“Sounds from Shanghai and Suzhou China” can be ordered for $7 from

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Winters in Osaka

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