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Net Feature/ Wang Changcun: "The Klone Concerts"

img  Tobias

As access to information technology is rapidly becoming ubiquitous, everybody seems to have something to say. Afghan tribesmen are tweeting. Bolivian farmers are maintaining blogs. Millions of regular citizens from all around the world are sending out MySpace comments and Facebook messages about issues formerly even considered too trivial for smalltalk. Just when you would love to find out more about an artist whose breakthrough has been considered immanent for almost five years now, however, Wang Changcun is not participating. After releasing the widely welcomed and unanimously applauded „The Mountain Swallowing Sadness“ on Sub Rosa in 2006 – considered a landmark deal by some, as it appeared to cement the integration of China into the international Sound Art cosmos – Changcun all but disappeared from the sight of Western eyes. Was he working on new material? Concentrating on his career as a web designer? Exclusively performing at home instead of  working on an global presence? It was getting increasingly hard to tell.

Although „The Klone Concerts“ (available as a free download from the Archival Vinyl Netlabel) doesn't conclusively answer a single of the abovementioned questions, it at least proves that Changcun hasn't as yet completely withdrawn from the music business. Recorded in concert barely one and a half years ago, it is as recent a document as one could have hoped for and as emphatic and spectacular as only few will have deemed possible. Despite his remarkable credentials and the noteworthy liaison with Sub Rosa, after all, Changcun was perhaps not even the most promising artist of the pack purely judging on the merrits of his studio output. Even his six (!) contributions to frequently quoted (and still highly recommended) „China – The Sonic Avantgarde“, a 2CD compilation intended as a first introduction into the country's experimental electronics community, were not among the most immediately striking tracks. Back then, others seemed to be leading the way. Fu Yü, creator of atmospheric microtonal soundscapes, was one of them, for example, while the rabid Guitar-Drones of Li Jianhong (though not included on the sampler) were predestined to make an impact with crowds hungry for some fresh and undilluted sounds from the Noise front.

Perhaps the most important conclusions to draw from the „Klone Concerts“, then, is that Changcun is an artist who thrives in the live situation. His often overlooked „Parallel Universe“ full-length from 2006 already suggested as much. That album, too, was taped during an impromptu session in front of an appreciative audience and consolidated his eclectic approach into a rich, moody and darkly textured collage-technique. Finely ringing drones were pierced by carefully measured rumbles as passages of suspenseful quietude released themselves in tsunamis of ones and zeros. A daunting enterprise divided into two long and winding pieces, it was marked by an astounding sense of dramaturgy as well as an astutely organic integration of mostly unidentifiable field recordings into a tightly woven musical carpet: In the hands of Changcun, miniature machineries took on frighteningly gargantuan proportions while the skyscrapers of nocturnal metropoles shrank to the size of Playmobile houses.

And yet, even that powerful display of creativity proved to be no more than a youthful skirmish in his discography. On October 23rd 2007, Wang Changcun entered the stage of the Harbin Concert Hall with a minimal setup and barely two weeks later, on November 8th, he would deliver a similar set at Daqing Opera Theatre. Gone were the densely woven soundscapes and the myriad of samples which had coalesced into a grimly shimmering vision on „Parallel Universe“, to be replaced by an attitude of purity and multidimensional juxtaposition. On both occasions, the program centered around a menu of electronically supported solo Piano pieces, with Changcun making full use of the plentiful associations the instrument has built up over the centuries in the most diverse genres. The opening track, clocking in at almost a quarter of an hour, sets the tone for what's to come: An angular pattern in the left hand combines with playful polyrhythmic counterpoints in the upper registers as the piece gradually builds into an insistent mechanical groove. Unexpectedly,  pace and fluency pick up at about half-time and the music leaps forward with passionate concentration and technoid precision, elements transforming at the speed of light like a sequencer robot running amok on a Steinway. Only in the final moments do these different strands untangle, coming to rest in an almost peacefully subdued finale.

Changcun is not striving for a perfect illusion. Quite on the contrary, the frankness about his tools and references is exactly what makes this album  so entertaining. The initiated will recognise hints at introvert Impressionism, extrovert Folk music, the serene pulse of Minimalism and the rolling naivete of „Trans Europa Express“-era Kraftwerk (in the closing Encore), who were themselves inspired by Franz Schubert. And yet, nothing is ever just a mere pastiche here. From pensive variations to rhapsodically undulating propulsion and back to slowly morphing loops, his approach is as much informed by classical traditions as it is by the entire musical output of the 21st century as well as a highly personal script formed over years of experimentation. Accordingly, there are different stages of appreciation here: At first, there's the corporal elevation of being carried by the sweet waves of a sensual flow. Then, in the silent and plaintive moments,  there's the heartwrenching sensation of drowning in simple but  wholly immersive melancholia. Finally, these feelings combine with admiration for how cleverly the impressions have been embedded into a context which draws creative blood from every source deemed beneficial. „The Klone Concerts“ are an intruiging bridge between the ages as well as the missing link between the melodical sensitivity of Debussy and the hypnotic energy of Rave.

Even its cover image and title, as wel as its improvisatory zest can be understood as a reference to a famous ECM album, which is why first announcements of the release were to be found in the forums of Jazz pages  - even though you would of course have to fast-forward Keith Jarret a couple of decades for the „Köln Concert“ to sound this futuristic. The label description of the record as „the highest form of respect, tribute, and parody“ points to a trifold meaning: Wang Changcun is not only presenting a handshake between styles, cultures and centuries here, he is also suggesting that there is absolutely nothing wrong with ridiculing the most serious and fruitful works of art. In fact, he may be turning parody against itself as the impulse to laugh at some of these frivolic movements merges with the ecstatic smile of loosing yourself in their completely unironic energy.

Cunningly, the album neither comes accompanied by liner notes nor clever analytical essays as to how all of this should be interpreted and understood. Instead, Wang Changcun has again chosen to let the music do the talking. And as much as one was looking for answers on this most welcome return to the limelight, it only serves to nurture the enigma around his personality.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Wang Changcun
Homepage: Post Concrete Records / Archival Vinyl Netlabel

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