Lìjiāng Studio, Week 1 – Naima

We arrived in 昆明 云南 中国 (Kūnmíng, Yúnnán, Zhōngguó/China), on the 8th/9th of Feb. Our week in Kūnmíng was a lovely and frustrating combination of delicious food and accidental meat; thousands of phone repair shops but no-one willing to repair our phone; discovering that the cost of new technology (external harddrives; MIDI keyboards; etc) is the same or more than in Australia; and staying in a really lovely room but at the basement level, in a tucked-away guesthouse but with a very busy noisy Western-cheesy-food only restaurant!

After Kūnmíng, we took the train to Lìjiāng with Jay on Sunday the 15th, arriving at our new home Lìjiāng Studio, in the Nàxī minority people’s village of Jíxiáng, on Sunday night to a warm welcome from the 和 (Hé) family hosts.

On Tuesday morning we visited Mù Yún Bái in the next village, the only local artist and wood-carver. His family home is covered with carvings and paintings and woodwork that he’s done over the years. He’s currently busy doing huge pencil portraits of all the elderly people in his village – he’s done 60 people so far – he’s halfway! He also has a series of large portraits of people with the Young Pioneers red neck scarf (红领巾 hónglǐngjīn) tied over their eyes like a blindfold. His work is beautiful. We chatted for ages, about such philosophical topics as the approach of artists in the nearby quite touristy town Lìjiāng, who do rather generic, safe, and repetitive work made specifically to sell; compared with Mù Yún Bái’s approach. He is inspired by what he sees around him and his life experiences, and his work is novel, exploratory, and not always safe.

I don’t have a keyboard yet, but then I also don’t have a computer that can run a music program that can take the MIDI input from a keyboard. And there’s a harmonium here, and I’ve got my little audio recorder, and I like writing music in my head and on paper anyway. So I don’t really mind my current dearth of technology.

Recordings I’ve made so far include the pigs, chooks, and goose; the sound of hot bean jelly (a delicious New Year treat) being mixed as it thickens in a huge wok; and a piece of my washing flapping madly on the line with the strong wind that comes up every day. It’s the end of the northern bird’s winter migration to 拉市海 (Lā shì hǎi) lake that’s only a 10 minute walk away. We’re going to go out on kayaks at dawn to record them soon. We don’t have gloves yet and everything is closed because it’s New Year, but the birds are all leaving so I think we’re going to have to brave it!

It’s going to be easy to write music here. But it’s going to be challenging to write music that can actually be played here AND elsewhere. There’s Miranda and I. And there are local musicians around. Many of them, such as the local orchestra, play traditional Nàxī music by heart on traditional instruments. This is wonderful, and I hope some of the musicians will want to collaborate with us, but if they do, my usual style of fully notated compositions won’t be very useful at all! And if (when) I write for them, there’s the question of how we will bring the music away from our village 吉祥 (Jíxiáng) / back to Australia, in a live, performable format. Finding a way to do this is an integral part of our project, because the experience of live music is a fundamental part of our music philosophy.

We’re yet to find our Chinese names, although we’ve been contemplating some fun transliterations!




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