Lost links & Re-ups

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Slinging tuneage like some fried or otherwise soused short-order cook

13 August 2013


While traveling through the immensity of China, I became enthralled by the strange music of the guqin (古琴) & guzheng (古箏) masters. The guqin & the guzheng are Chinese instruments of the zither family.  Both are stringed, fret-less instruments played by employing both hands in differing techniques to achieve unique sounds. There are differences between the two instruments that make their sounds unique.
The guqin is an ancient instrument, reputed to be over 5,000 years old. Originally it was called qin & had five or seven silk strings.  Over time, many forms of the instrument appeared throughout other Asian countries. Eventually, the seven-stringed qin became the traditionally accepted model. The name was changed to guqin (ancient qin).  It is often incorrectly called a lute or table-harp.  

Guqin was favored by ancient Chinese emperors as well as by Confucius. It is referred to as ‘the father of Chinese music’ or ‘the instrument of the sages’.  It is a very quiet instrument with a range of about four octaves, beginning two octaves below middle C, the same as a cello.  Chinese scholars & musicians favor the guqin above all other Chinese instruments due to its wide variety of musical expression, capable of great subtlety & refinement. An ancient Chinese proverb states, “A gentleman does not part with his qin…without good reason.” (quote from the Book of Rites, one of the five Books of Confucius).

The guqin’s tonal structure & musical scale is derived from fundamental physical laws of vibration & overtones. A rather long instrument, it is laid on the lap to play.  There are no frets or bridges under the strings. Sound is produced from both hands with open strings, stopped strings, harmonics, or sliding tones. There are about 1,070 different finger techniques in all, making it one of the most complicated instruments in the world to learn. Most players learn no more than 50 or so. The whole hand is used to create the sounds with plucking, picking, pushing, sliding, & vibrating techniques.

Jin Wei is a Guqin master from China. Jin is a calligrapher & painter as well as guqin master. He gave his first guqin solo recital at Peking University in 2003. Master Jin not only plays the guqin but also composes his own songs for this fascinating instrument. He published his treatise on guqin, "The Way of Qin", in 2004. It is a publication in traditional Chinese characters. It is also the first treatise on guqin in traditional Chinese bookbinding format in China since 1949.

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Tracklist –

Tune for Flying Dragon
Chunjianji Wan Tiao
Gao Mountain
Yushu Lin Feng
Mist & Cloud over Xiao & Xiang Rivers


The guzheng is also of the zither family, but more modern & much larger, closer in size to a modern slide guitar. It is descended from, & similar to, the guqin, but with 21 strings. There are no frets, but each string has a movable bridge underneath it. This function allows for much louder sound than the guqin, although the pitch & tonal quality is very similar.  It is favored in modern Chinese music, while the guqin remains a revered traditional instrument.

The guzheng sits over the lap on its own stand & is played with both hands. Usually the  player uses four picks on the right hand. Sounds are created with picking or plucking actions to produce the melody, while the left hand uses pressing or sliding actions to create vibrato & pitch ornamentations. Properly used, sounds can be created that resemble a waterfall, thunder, horse hooves, & much more. Other common techniques are the tremolo, created by the thumb & forefinger rapidly & repeatedly plucking the same note, also the wide vibrato, created by repeatedly pressing the left hand on the side of the bridge.

Since the 1950s, western music has heavily influenced guzheng composition. The left hand is used more for bass & harmony, the right exclusively for melody. This allows more harmonic progression, but limits much of the subtle ornamentation for which Chinese music is renowned. The Beijing Conservatory now requires competency in both styles, traditional & modern.

A great practitioner of modern guzheng is the fantastic Bei Bei He. She  is an internationally acclaimed guzheng performer, composer, & educator. She was born in Chengdu, China. She now resides in Los Angeles, California. She started to play the guzheng at the age of seven. She received her professional musical training, majoring in the guzheng at the Central University of Nationalities in Beijing, China & the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts in Hong Kong from several guzheng masters such as Li-Jing Sha, Mu-Lan Hai, Chun-Jiang Teng, & Ling-Zi Xu. 

She is a multi-award winner of many national competitions such as the 1993 National Chinese Instruments Competition, the 1999 College Students Art Festival in Beijing, & the 1st Dragon Cup International Gu Zheng Competition in 2001. 

As a studio musician, she recorded for the hit Sci-fi Channel series “Battlestar Galactica”. As a composer, she composed & recorded for China Central TV documentary series “Dun Huang”. She released her debut album Quiet Your Mind & Listen in 2006. Her collaborative album Heart of China with Richard Horowtiz was released by Killer Tracks in 2008. Her dance music works include “Dancing Dream” which was premiered at the Asian American Children’s Dance Festival in 2007. 

Her latest release is Into the Wind in collaboration with Shawn Lee (American musician, producer, award-winning video game composer, & multi-instrumentalist). The album features a unique blend of ancient tradition with Lee’s usual studio trickery. Eschewing all notions of superficial ‘Asian-fusion’ this genre-bending sound clash recalls the afro-centric harping of Dorothy Ashby or the hypnotic spiritual jazz of Alice Coltrane. With Lee adding equal doses of hip-hop, electric jazz, & soul sensibility on the backing tracks, the captivating sound of Bei Bei’s guzheng comes alive on peaceful mellow joints & Kung-Fu flavored funk tunes.

This is a sample of some of her latest music from Into the Wind as well as “Make Me Stronger” from the Beauty & the Beats EP. (decryption code in comments)

 Bei Bei & Shawn Lee – Into the Wind, Ubiquity URLP263, 2010.

 Bei Bei – Beauty & the Beats EP, Ubiquity UREP 259, 2009.

Tracklist –

Bei’s Bossa
Into the Wind
Make me Stronger (instrumental)
Little Sunrise


Wang Wen started in Dalian, a northern harbor city of China, around 1999. Wang Wen was started by the two guitarist Xie Yugang & Geng Xin who were both influenced by the music of The Smashing Pumpkins. As they added more members, they widened their scope towards a more post-rock sound. Lian Jiang was added as drummer. He is the one who gave the band their name (which means unknown or off the beaten path). Shortly thereafter Zheng Zi joined on bass & the core band was complete. In 2002 Zhang Yanfeng joined the band as keyboardist. The band has had a steady line up since 2002.

Wang Wen has released 7 full length albums. They are one of the bands that shaped the Chinese indie scene for the last decade. They are the most prominent instrumental rock band in China. They released their first album 28 Sleepless Days Diary in 2003. They started touring China immediately after its release & quickly became one of most influential Chinese indie bands.  

In 2005, Wang Wen released their second album RE RE RE, in which Wang Wen combined post-rock with traditional Chinese elements, creating a wide spectrum of harmonic expressions, making their music truly modern yet uniquely different. Their 3rd album 7 Objects in Another Infinite Space was release at China and Taiwan in 2007.

In 2010, Efrim Menuck from Godspeed You! Black Emperor helped mixed Wang Wen's 6th album L & R, which is featured here.

Wang Wen – L & R, Fox Tail Records 狐狸尾巴 Bird 001, 2010.
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Tracklist –

童篇 Chapter of Child
近景 Close View
焦虑抑制剂 Anxiety Inhibitor
悬在时间轴上 Hang on the Timeline
合乐 Halcrow
凡士林 Vaseline


 Here's a compilation I made of the Very Best Chinese Rock.

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1 comment:

  1. Jin Wei
    Bei Bei
    Wang Wen
    Chinese Rock