Sunday, February 26, 2006

Metal Machine Music
Two or three or even a year ago, this would've been nearly inconceivable in Shenzhen. At least to my shot-full-of-Swiss cheese-holes brain. What I'm talking about is a sound art/ambient music performance in a Shenzhen warehouse that C and I caught part of last night courtesy of a guy named Lawrence Li. It's the first time I've met him, though we've corresponded via e-mail and talked on the phone a couple times.
He's a former reporter and critic for what was once one of the the most respected papers in China, though sadly what made it respected also got it neutered and its editors jailed on bogus corruption charges. Lawrence was the music and art critic and I'm unclear as to why he's no longer there though I'm fairly certain it had nothing to do with his beat -- the paper was either famous or infamous depending on your political affiliations (or lack of them) for its investigative stories.
So I'm in Shenzhen calling Lawrence with a freelance tip and he mentions the sound art show and about 4 hours later I'm in a time warp. A warehouse with feedback and drone coming from the stage with a small Chinese guy twisting a guitar and flipping a phase-shifter doing his best Hendrix-squallfeedback Lite imitation A rapt mostly reverent or merely curious virtually all-Chinese audience -- about 500 give or take 100 or so of Shenzhen's cutting edge artistos I'm guessing -- is at a respectful distance not sure what to make of it all, while others crowd and crawl around the stage with cameras and video gear.
All that spoils the illusion that I could be in Denver or New York circa 1972 it is the lack of dope smoke, no happily chemically addled tie-dyed souls doing the amoeba dance and the lines of sullen, very skinny, some very pimpled and very young security kids in identical cammo fatigues, some with their hands over their ears. I think of the 18-wheeler sized T-shirt and/or wind breaker glad security goons and goonettes at the US concerts and, as they say, chuckle wryly. Not even close. Getting into what passes for backstage I just keep walking and smile and say 'thank you' in bad Chinese as one makes a token and very polite attempt to halt me. I haven't felt this cool since I snuckered my way backstage briefly to gape at Neil Young and Warren Zevon working out arrangements for a brief impromptu gig in Winter Park, Colorado summer of 90something or when Eddie Van Halen ... aw, never mind. Suffice to say that I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.
Anyway, there's no light show but there is a video screen that is utilized with striking force later for other performers.
It's all kinda strange and wonderful at the same time. This is not new in Beijing or Shanghai, I'm fairly sure. And blase in Hong Kong where the featured Shenzhen act last night, a Polish-born, Tokyo-based world citizen of sorts named Zbigniew Karkowski told me he'd performed for an audience of 30 last week.
''Tonight I've seen about 500 coming in and out,'' said Karkowski, who like the artists who followed the opening act used programmed lap tops, not guitars. Not as sexy but sonically and creatively more effective, though I joked to another expat there that I'd love to see someone douse their HP Compaq Nc6000 with Ronson lighter fuel and set it ablaze. I didn't know it until I googled Karkowski later but I'd been talking to a sound art legend and godfather -- a revered, respected artist who does things like make field recordings of Kyoto temples and warps and morphs them into what a writer named Marc Weidenbaum wrote, "something one suspects the locale's elders would be hard put to recognize."
Lawrence told me that this avant garde sonic explosion was officially sanctioned by the SZ authorities, which given the cammo kids I kinda figured though I was still slightly shocked and awed at being at something so, so, so . . . damn almost cutting edge here even if the blade was mostly only slicing through a lot of old stale air. But the rent-a-cop-kids grimacing and holding their ears after failing to stop the crowd from rushing the stage at Karkowski's exhuberant invite gave me some hope.
For an informed and knowledgable write-up, complete with pics check out Lawrence's blog at
I've enjoyed your work in the Standard and Song's photos, as well. Somehow happened onto this site of yours and have found it wonderful, especially as I began to figure you're damn near as old as I am.

I wonder what a Pearl Delta R. Crum would look or be like.
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