Week 6 – 山慕

Faithful muddy friend.

Faithful muddy friend.

It’s earth hour in Australia, and in Ji Xiang the power has been out from dawn till dusk for 4 days.  We’re so pious we’re observing earth hour for 12 hours a day, (and then siting up all night by a blazing fire, catching up.) You’d think that being acoustic musicians this wouldn’t cause too much drama, but for some reason it has completely stumped my ability to work. Instead of recording and mixing visual scores, I’ve been letting the little pig out for freedom runs, going for long bike rides, hiking to temples and eating a lot.

It’s quiet in the village, no construction, no hum of fridges in the shops, and much less music floating over the canola-tops as people work in the fields. I would not have expected a lack of electricity to make such a difference in a farming village. Maybe that was naive. I’m learning that my city life has led to much naivety.

It’s extra annoying for the householders that the power is out because it’s a Naxi holiday, and a 4 day weekend, celebrating the birth of Sanduo. He is considered to be the soul of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and protector of the Naxi people. Somehow this festival is also conflated with “mens day” which seems to be celebrated with piles of meat stew and much firewater and cigarettes for the adults, and games of soccer for the boys. (our 16yo slunk into the kitchen to ask his grandmother for a recipe and some ingredients before running off to his own mens day celebration) We popped in at the end of mens day dinner, just in time to see the lights come back on and everyone disappear to go plug things in, fill up tanks, circular saw some things, check the answering machine and feed the pigs.

I wonder what Sanduo would have thought of the mass exodus to the new god of hydro-electric power?

So: not much to report. No music to play for you, just a nagging suspicion that I’m slightly addicted to ‘things’ for my creative process. I’ve been writing, and playing bass, and taking photos, but by the end of these busy days I have no desire to spend time in front of a glowing screen editing and processing.

It’s been a strange week, with no choice but to acknowledge my uncomfortable reliance on email and the wealth of the internet, while also revelling in the freedom and resisting online work at all costs. It’s deflating yet delicious to wonder about your email inbox all day, and then discover no new messages come 8pm.

I’m tempted to draw an analogy between this experience and the pushmepullyou lure of the modern world on this quiet little village, but i think it’s a bridge too far. I’m sure it’d be a pretty analogy though, if I chose to draw it. It’s very pretty here.

Dawn recording sessions

Naima walking back from a dawn recording session, as YuLong mountain lights up with the sky.

The other uncomfortable truth I’ve faced this week is that I’m much more precious about instruments than I expected. After many false starts I purchased a student bass in Kunming, and it’s dirty and grungy and only plays loudly and it’s bright and clangy and I don’t want to play it. I am playing it, because Naima’s been writing me great music to play, and there’s so much inspiration here to draw from, but gosh it’s hard work. Talking about realising ones own privilege… However: a poor carpenter blames their tools, etc etc.

So I’m struggling on, and telling myself that playing the bass in will help it. The more I play it, the better it will sound. The more I play it, the better it will sound. The more I play it, the better it will sound. The more I play it, the better it will sound. The more I play it, the better it will sound. The more I play it, the better it will sound. The more I play it, the better it will sound. The more I play it, the better it will sound. The more I play it, the better it will sound. The more I play it, the better it will sound. The more I play it, the better it will sound. The more I play it, the better it will sound.

Or I could just play table tennis.

Or I could just play table tennis.

I attached a gopro to my helmet on our bike ride around the lake, and here’s a gallery of photos of a family ride around Lashihai. The winding road from rural paradise to construction and trucks, the road lined by endless ponies. So many ponies.

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Every week there’s a village market in the next village over. We walk down with Xue Mei down there, and then wander around being overwhelmed by the dead pigs and fresh noodles and Naxi music blaring from multiple sources, and so many women in Naxi dress that I keep thinking I see our Anai, but of course it never is. Or is it?

Last week, when we were all sitting around the breakfast fire together. Xue Mei and Na Ma went off first, Kira and I followed about 15 minutes later, and we left Anai sitting at the fire eating her egg and drinking tea. We asked if she wanted to come and she waved us off with a Bu yao, Bu Yao!

At the market, I thought I saw her, but figured it was just an apparition in the crowd of similarly dressed women of a similar age. Then I caught her eye and she looked sheepish… because she was there secretly, buying sweets for her private stash! She implored us to not tell the others, and we all agreed and walked home together, kept satisfied by constant handfuls of sunflower seeds being produced from Anai’s apron pockets.

Naxi people do festivals well, since we’ve been here there’s been Women’s day (which we were not invited to!) Men’s day, (which we were invited to) Sanduo festival, New years, and tomb sweeping day is coming up. My favourite so far, however, has been the old peoples festival. 3 days of lunch and dinner in the community hall, with all the grandparents of the village hanging out, playing games and eating food.

There's no gambling here!

There’s no gambling here!

On the first day, Anai came in to our courtyard to show off her outfit, she was all dressed up with roses on her shoes and sparkles in her jacket. He Ye Ye was wearing a sweater vest and button down shirt and looked very dapper! On the last day, I asked if I could go along and take some photos, and I’m so glad I did. Seeing the respect and reverence for the elderly of the village really put my own experience into sharp relief.

Grandpa and Grandchild.

Grandpa and Grandchild.

I’ll put more photos in next weeks post. This one is getting quite long!

I’ve been thinking a lot about place, belonging, translation, culture and the translation of those things between cultures. Not even the big things, just the little things like how our cheery chorus of “Bless you!” after anyone sneezes (including the cat) gets smiles of amusement from our hosts; how saying no to an offered drink can make someone lose face, and how this house has been in this family for 8 generations.

So I’ll write about all of that next week, and how it’s affecting my collaborative work processes.

Here’s some photos of when Naima let little pig out for a run. She’s doomed for the table fairly soon, so we’re trying to make her life as good as we can! She gets so excited, and runs at full pelt down the fields, grunting with pleasure at every stretched out step. Naima has a great video of her ‘dancing’ but these give you some idea of how adorable she is.

I want a pet pig.



Lìjiāng Studio, week 5 – 纳 玛

So it’s Sunday afternoon, the last day of week 5. The piglets are 4 days old. Miranda and I have both been sick this week, in tandem (hence I didn’t put photos up yesterday). As Anǎi said to us when Miranda’s leg went crazy, it’s good there’s 2 of us here, to look after each other. Mind you, Xuě Méi and Anǎi are wonderful looker-afterers!

I like Miranda’s story of riding to the corner shop to get me some “throat lozenges” (mint and liquorice lollies that were the closest we could think of – and they work quite well!). She asked if they had anything for coughs – “nǐ yǒu *mimes coughing* ma?” The woman at the shop got a bottle of medicine, and Miranda then asked “méi yǒu ròu ma?” – Does it have meat in it? Of course the woman was quite confused, and Miranda kept asking if the cough liquid had meat in it, and the woman kept being confused. Eventually Miranda looked up how to say animal, and asked if the medicine contained animal products. Suddenly everything became clear! And I got some delicious cough medicine.

But my main story this week is that I’ve finished drafts of all 6 Hé family aural portraits. And Miranda’s bass is coming today (along with my keyboard) so she can play them for me and I can hear them and edit etc. It’s quite exciting! So, happily, the habitual composing has continued. And I have work to show for it. It’s pretty pleasing. The idea of the aural portraits came to both Miranda’s and my minds separately. Here at Lìjiāng Studio, there have been so many visual artists-in-residence. And many of them have created beautiful portraits of the Hé family. On the fourth wall of the Hé courtyard, there are 3 paintings that I love. They are all by Hú Jiā Mín. In the portraits, he has split the family in to generations.


I love how he has captured every family member with such honesty and integrity. I look at the picture and I know who they are. They’re very true representations. And I love how he has changed the painting style with each generation, and has made the 3 work together as a whole, keeping the same fundamental elements in every painting.

Lāshìhǎi is the centre of this beautiful valley, and most people’s lives who live here. Jíxiáng village is just south of Lāshìhǎi and other villages are dotted all around its edges. It’s like we’re living in a Mandala: Lāshìhǎi is the centre, surrounded by the villages, surrounded by the fields and farmlands, and then all of us in the embrace of the pine-forested mountains that surround us on all sides.

And Dūdū, in her hilarious gambolling, pat-craving, loyal, content, and fiercely protective way, is also a fundamental for the Hé household.


So, I have written a small work, maybe more of a study, of each person. I have tried in their company to take mental notes of what they’re “like”, what defines them, in descriptive terms and also in musical terms – tempo, what type of key or mode (major/minor/Lydian), regularity, speech patterns, moods. I haven’t used Hú Jiā Mín‘s method of traditional–>modern for old–>young generations. I’ve just tried to write a piece of each of them that listeners could hear them in. I don’t know if I’ve succeeded. Some I think maybe, some I have no idea, some I think most likely not. And of course the more I like and respect someone, the harder it is to compose “of them”. It’s a pressure, doing portraits when the person they’re of will see/hear/etc the finished work! I have a new admiration for all portrait-makers. IMG_0286I’m really keen to hear how they sound. I haven’t been using the harmonium. I’ve just been using my flute and my head. I’ve never really used my flute to compose before. It’s certainly helped to improve my bass clef reading on a treble C instrument! I do always use my head (!), but usually I back it up with piano or keyboard. Not this time though, so, we’ll see.


Miranda and I playing with my new second hand camera.

Miranda and I playing with my new second hand camera.

Sunset over the apple trees and fields out the front of our place.

Sunset over the apple trees and fields out the front of our place.

A swallow flying past my photo of another bird.

A swallow flying past my photo of another bird.

Tiny peaches!

Tiny peaches!

I watched this horse whinny and buck and gallop through the sunrise fields in a heady ten minutes of freedom, before this woman came to take it home.

I watched this horse whinny and buck and gallop through the sunrise fields in a heady ten minutes of freedom, before this woman came to take it home.

Flies that sleep on my ceiling. Can anyone explain to me how they manage to poo on the ceiling? Their abdomens aren't touching the ceiling, just their legs. And they poo UP!

Flies that sleep on my ceiling. Can anyone explain to me how they manage to poo on the ceiling? Their abdomens aren’t touching the ceiling, just their legs. And they poo UP!

Week 5 – 山慕


We’re back!

It’s been a super busy week or so here at the studio. But most importantly:

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There are piglets! These are one day old piglets. Five tiny piglets! They’re so small they’re almost translucent, and they’re wobbly and adorable. We’ve been told they’ll live for about a month before becoming pork, which is hard to fathom right now, but it’s part of life on a farm…

I’ve been working hard on my graphic score, and it’s becoming really interesting. Ever since knowing about tonal languages, I’ve always wondered what happens when you sing? Do songs have to follow the tone patterns, leading to all love songs having a similar sound? Could you not have a song with the same lyrics and a different tune?

Of course, that’s ridiculous. I have since confirmed that the truth is equally ridiculous. Songs discount the tone, and as a result the lyrics can be quite confusing. Chinese is already a very contextual language, even the same sound with the same tone can have very different meanings. So a string of words without tone, much like most foreigners reading from a phrase book, make pretty much no sense whatsoever. It can only be understood through context, which is actually a beautiful and slightly ephemeral concept to non tonal language speakers.

(ie: the character 慕 mù that I’ve taken as my part of my name, means admirable. (Same as Miranda does) but the same pronunciation and tone could also mean: eye, a list or catalogue, tree, simple, numb, tent, curtain, herd, grave, solemn, collect, recruit, dusk, late, wash one’s hair, peaceful, and the chemical symbol for molybdenum (mo). I have to clarify, 爱慕ài mù so that people know which mù I mean, without me writing it down. I hope no one thinks my name is Mountain numb! But I guess Mountain tree would be ok… but ‘shān’ could also mean “the smell of mutton…” Yikes.)

That got me thinking: what is it about the words that retain meaning, even when with a different tonal direction? I know for a fact that the right sound with the wrong tone gets a blank look from a Chinese speaker. I know that the tonal differences between provincial dialects can render a Yunnan resident partly incomprehensible in Beijing. So: If you can take the tones out and the language is still mostly, and contextually, comprehensible… what happens if you remove everything *but* the tone?

Mountains Mountains Mountains

Mountains Mountains Mountains

So this is what I’ve been working on, recording interviews, transcribing the text as best I can, and then translating the tone and natural rhythm of speech into graphic notation. The excerpt above is from Ji Xing, the eldest son who speaks Mandarin, Naxi and English. In this interview he is speaking Mandarin. He has said that “Kunming-hua” is quite different to his spoken Chinese, so I imagine he has a mix between a school educated and a Lijiang accent. His speaking voice is quite melodic, and listening and transcribing his words into music I could already hear the instrumentalists interpretations. Parts of the transcription sounds like a jazzy trumpet lick, and trying to convey that while remaining loyal to his words and inflection is a delicious challenge.

I’m experimenting with different ways of interpreting the speech, and am looking forward to working with different dialects and languages. The Naxi language is quite different to Mandarin, in tones, sound, and written language. But the joys of written Naxi and Dongba language are for another post!

I have an vision for the finished score, but it’s still under wraps… Right now I’m just really enjoying exploring this aspect of interpretation and translation. Taking a language that I can barely speak, and translating it into a language that very few musicians speak fluently. It’s also taking an long established, ancient language that has been the vehicle for some of our greatest poets and translating it into something moveable, changeable and open to interpretation.

I think that’s one of the aspects I’m finding the most fascinating: the idea of changeability in language. As I said earlier, Chinese is a highly contextual language, which can also be said for graphic interpretation of music. The same score read by different musicians will have a different outcome, even if they are reading the score using the same parameters. It’s changeable, but finite. The score is set (or will be!) and the parameters laid out, but the final result is out of my hands. It’s probably as good a metaphor for learning to speak Chinese as I could imagine.

Xue Mei making fresh Baba.

Xue Mei making fresh Baba.

Apart from piglets and interviews, life has been going on as usual on the family homestead. The other day I pulled out some family photos to show Anai, and in return she brought out some old photos of her own. Seeing our lovingly cantankerous Naxi grandmother as a shiny faced youth, not yet touched by the sun, posing for a portrait in her army uniform was a real shock. History is recent here. What I wrote essays about in school, Anai lived and experienced. This is such an old country with such old cultures, but so much of the history is still living, remembering, and feeding bread to the cat.

Anai and Mao

I’ll put up a photo post of the last few weeks soon. 再见!

Lìjiāng Studio, week 4 – 纳 玛

Shān Mù (Miranda) left on Monday morning and internet left on Tuesday and it was quiet around the house all week, with the 4 adults of the Hé family, me, and my empty manuscript.

So I began a habit. I began to compose habitually. It’s not something too great to admit beginning in week 4 on a Residency blog, but I am so sick of only composing for a practical purpose – a commission or a great ensemble or composition call-out for a show. I love composing for those reasons – without musicians (adventurous, trusting, brave, wonderful musicians) my music would just be “fly poo on a page”. But I love composing full-stop. And I am under no illusions that I have a lot to learn, but I find it easy to do. That is, when I have someplace to myself, no-one playing music nearby, no phones ringing, no-one listening if I’m using an instrument, a cup of something hot, a 2B pencil, and a good eraser and pencil sharpener. If I can find all of that, I find composing, writing, easy. But even if I find all of that, I have to sit down and write. And I’m not very good at the sitting down bit, I guess, as a habit. So this week I’ve begun to build it.

Of course, I know writing isn’t habitual for me yet. But I have 4+ more months here, and if I keep it up, it will be by then. To have finally found somewhere with few enough distractions and time enough for me to have actually started doing this at last is a really valuable thing to be able to take home.

On Saturday Shān Mù came home, and Jī Yǔ was home from boarding school and in the evening we celebrated his 16th birthday by playing him happy birthday on old beer bottles, eating his special recipe msg-heavy fried noodles and 8 egg cake, playing cards, and helping him with English homework (his request). It was really lovely.

And I finally got the right tech gear to upload my recordings, films, and photos onto my olde computer. Right now I’m tired, so here’s one photo. I’ll put some more up tomorrow.

Just finished the first draft of my first piece on the first day of my new habit.

Just finished the first draft of my first piece on the first day of my new habit.

Lìjiāng Studio, week 4 – 纳 玛 and 山慕

We have both had a really productive and interesting week, but (and perhaps because of) the internet has been down for most of it. It may not recover for another week, so apologies to those who want to know what we’ve been up to – it’ll be a bit of a wait.

In the meantime, if anyone needs to get in contact with us, we can be emailed on finefinesmallmountain@yahoo.com which we can access on our local phone.

纳 玛 and 山慕

P.S. the pear blossoms everywhere in the village smell delicious. Spring!

Miranda – 山慕

On monday, driving through an unexpected grove of Eucalyptus I took a deep breath, and was repaid by about the same amount of eucalyptus scent, and a lot more of the taxi drivers body odour.

Welcome to the city! I’ve been in Kunming all week, ticking things off the list of ‘essential things that can’t be purchased in Ji Xiang’ which included such things as ‘real shoe polish’ and ‘a bass’. I’m pleased to announce that all things on the list are present and accounted for. It’s been a busy week! I can’t write much now, as I have to go catch a train back up to Lijiang, but wanted to post a piece.

It’s not finished. (of course!) but I’ve been listening to it so much I can no longer hear the parts I want to change. Do any other digital artists have thoughts on this? How can you keep your mind fresh for these works, while listening to them so repeatedly that they end up feeling like finished recorded tracks?

It’s a new world for me.

It’s based off the straight yet rambling lines of small scale farming, and a field recording of the goats that walk through them twice every day.IMG_20150301_161325 The internet is out at our studio at the moment, but hopefully we’ll be back online soon! m.

A wobbly peek around the Studio

Happy International Wom*n’s Day!

Here’s some footage I took yesterday morning, about 11am local time.

I am so excited that there are 2 house/barn swallow Hirundo rustica nests under the eaves that they’re coming to fix up and use again! I know they’re the most common swallows in the world – but having the opportunity to watch any birds nest and care for their young close-up is fascinating, they don’t live anywhere that I normally do, and they have such a beautiful voice and range of calls. I’m definitely going to transcribe their voices for instruments.

Some people have been asking what it looks like where we’re living. So I’ve done a little 360° view around our courtyard as well.

Apologies for my wobbly handheld skills! My recorder has better sound than visual quality, and I am no cinematographer.

Week 3 – Miranda.

The family here has been shrinking apace this week, both sons have gone away to school, Jay and his family have gone on a holiday up north, and Xue Mei and Er Ge have been spending time in Lìjiāng so all of a sudden it’s gone from 11 people to 4! The mass desertion of the He family homestead also means that all 3.5 other english speaking family members have gone… So meal time has descended to us and the grandparents, pointing and saying nouns. Grandma has started teaching us some Naxi, so we sit around saying “Thank you,” “Xièxiè” “Jo Bea zhu”, and other things I’ve forgotten already. The other night after we left the table we heard her intoning “Thank you, thank you, thaaaaannnku yooouuuuuaah”. However due to her Naxi accent it sounded like she was gleefully singing “fuuuuck yooou, fucku youaah, fuuukaa yoooou” at our retreating figures.

Ji Xing and A Nai.

Ji Xing and A Nai.

Grandma talks to us a lot, most of which we don’t understand. It’s a rough feeling to have someone repeating the same word over and over again and still not understanding. Then she resorts to charades. Which sometimes illuminates the issue, but often doesn’t. It’s not uncommon to have her putting fake horns on, and then pretending to be a bird, before shaking her head at the fact that we don’t eat meat. Miming exactly how the food was prepared, counting unknown things, making ‘dead’ gestures, and in one memorable moment: hassling me to eat another bowl of rice, and then behind my back gesturing to my thighs and bum and gesturing meaningfully to Naima and muttering “hǎo, hǎo, Dà de rén, duō wǎn fàn”

Excitingly, spring is most certainly springing out around these parts. Blossoms are blooming, crops are growing, the lake is shrinking due to crop irrigation, and the days are getting warmer. Most charming is a family of house swallows that have multiple nests in our courtyard. They twitter and flit and chase each other around, before landing in a tiny nest to continue their conversation.

Captured Bird of Prey

Captured Bird of Prey

This week we went to visit extended family for a days entertainment. A grandma in that village had swiped a small bird of prey out of the air with a broom as it was about to eat some chicken for dinner… The poor thing was then taken as a new pet by the family. It didn’t fit in a cage, so it was then tied by the feet to a tree branch. I found it pretty upsetting, as the bird kept trying to fly and ending up dangling upside down and helpless. The relationships between people and animals here is so different to what I’m accustomed to. It’s a real effort to stay off my city dwelling vegetarian organic food eating bulk buying high horse for long enough to remember: these people live on the land, they have closer relationships with their animals than I ever will, and who am I to say how the pigs should be treated? It’s hard, however, and I will most likely continue to struggle with it.

At the same house they had a sow with piglets! They were amazingly adorable, even if we were seemingly the only people still excited by them… Even mama pig is over it.

Here are some more photos from this week’s adventures:

This week has been very productive, but I’m afraid I have very little to put online to show y’all. One of the things that I’ve always wondered about tonal languages is what happens to the tones when words are set to music? The answer, apparently, is that they disappear and song lyrics are often very confusing and extremely contextual. So: I’ve been working on developing a musical language that does the opposite; leaving the listener with the tones, but no consonants or vowels.

It’s fun, but hard work, and grandfather keeps looking over my shoulder at my scribbles, saying “OK!” and wandering away again. It feels like he’s the arbiter of our work here, silently watching our work and pondering what on earth we think we’re doing. I wonder if he’ll be surprised or all knowing when we have finished works to present?


Lìjiāng Studio, weeks 2 & 3 – 晴 纳 玛

The last 2 weeks have gone by quite fast and seemed quite busy. Holidays are over. The 2 sons of the Hé family home have gone back to boarding school and college. The visiting to and fro has stopped. Home is quiet.

We made one attempt to record the over-wintering birds on Lāshìhǎi by kayak (it turned out there was a woman selling polar fleece gloves for ¥15 [$3AUD] about 2m from the kayak hirers. I hate buying new and synthetic things, but my hands are so cold before dawn and second-hand gloves aren’t an option around here). Kayaking was beautiful and fun but getting near the birds wasn’t very realistic! Some scouting about helped us realise they all slept in the muddy shallows on the lake edges, more accessible by bike or foot than kayak. The next morning, we had our first dawn bike outing that Miranda already talked about in her week 2 story. Since then, I’ve been out a few more times alone (too few times, and always a bit too late). It’s really lovely to ride out at dawn, leave my bike near the lake edge, and sneak around trying to get close to sleepy waterbirds as the sky brightens.

I went out thismorning on foot to try a different spot, as I’ve been a bit plagued by bike issues – a mix of simple but frustrating (flat tyre – patched it, but next outing it went flat again – couldn’t find the second hole so replaced the tube); and difficult and mystifying problems (back right brake shoe started rubbing constantly on the wheel rim. I did a whole load of adjusting but a part on both of the brake levers are inherently wobbly. So I traded the back brake levers for a pair off another bike we’re not using, but despite hours of adjusting at every point I know of to adjust, I can’t get one side of the brake shoes to spring back off after being pulled on).

As I was walking down the dead-end road a cavalcade of cars, vans and trucks passed by. It was a bit weird, given that at the end of the road is only about 500m further on, and there’s a small shop that opens at 10, and a bunch of kayaks on a spit. I got to my spot and recorded some cranes flying overhead, which make the most beautiful sounds, but I can only catch the sounds briefly as I can’t get anywhere near them when they’re standing about, and they fly fast! But instead of the usual peaceful dawn and sunrise, there were the sounds of trucks reversing and gear unloading and lots of people yelling. And they were taking all the kayaks! I sat for a bit waiting to see if any birds would come back, but the wind was blowing straight from the noise to my spot and the birds were all long-gone. I wandered over to see what was happening and it turned out it was a big film crew shooting a dawn scene of 2 people fishing on the lake. They had about 20 people, 2 giant cameras, and even a drone camera waiting to be operated. One man was taking photos standing precariously in a kayak that another man waded in and chocked in place in the shallows with sticks. They were about to film out over the water right towards where I’d been sitting. If they’d’ve been more quiet, or if I’d’ve been less curious, I would’ve made a cameo sitting on a mud spit behind the dawn fishers!

We’ve solidified some of our concepts into planned works now. There’s still some other things I want to do but I don’t know what the outcome will be yet, but that’s ok. Here’s what we’re planning and working on at the moment:

1. A composed suite of 6 sound portraits – one of each of the 6 Hé family members who live here (our hosts), inspired by their personalities and appearance, and portraits of them by former visual arts residents at the studio.
2. An aural recipe “book” of Nàxī recipes, in Nàxī, Chinese and English languages. The “book” will feature step-by-step descriptions of local recipes accompanied by the sounds of the recipes being prepared.
3. Create a graphic score based on the sillhouette of the mountains surrounding our village, and a developed visual representation of the tonal qualities of Chinese and Nàxī language telling stories about these mountains;
4. Create a semi-mechanical “percussion machine” onsite installation at Lìjiāng Studio predominately using found rubbish;
5. Compose music a) interpreting sounds of wild animals and farming in the local landscape; and b) using ecological data as codified notational input. The data I plan to use examines potential indicators of climate change, collected from a nearby transect by a team including some former academic colleagues of mine now working at Xīshuāngbǎnnà Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Here’s a link to the abstract of an article which contains some of the data I hope to use.

Along with these big works are a number of miscellaneous studies coming about organically along the way, like Miranda’s 2 pieces so far. We also plan to run some workshops in the community: one on repurposing rubbish into art/craft and one on reading the landscape with your instruments (Moving Scores).

I will put up some photos/films/soundbytes soon! I’ve just been recording everything and haven’t reviewed it yet.


I have a local name now, although Miranda is still working on hers. My name is 晴 纳 玛, pronounced Qíng Nà Mǎ.

There’s this great thing with the depiction of the tones in pīnyīn (Mandarin using the Roman alphabet). There are 4 indicated tones, and no indication means a neutral tone. The tones are always over a vowel and they show you the tone (not the pitch – it’s all relative to your own voice) that the vowel(s) should be spoken in. They look like this:

First tone:      Second tone:     Third tone:     Fourth tone:     Neutral tone: da

Here’s one visualisation of how to read tones:

I find that one ok, but not totally intuitive. The cool thing about Mandarin tones is that you read them very similarly to how you read notes on a stave in Western musical notation. For me this is by far the fastest and easiest way to understand them. They look like this:

Even though the whole point is that everyone can say every tone in their own natural voice range, someone’s also gone and written out the tones like this, which is pretty cute:


If you want to explore Mandarin tones more, this pīnyīn chart is pretty fun. I think it has every single sound possible in Mandarin! Click on any syllable to play all the tone options.

So now you know how to pronounce my name (“q” sounds like “ch”)!
Qíng Nà Mǎ.

Discarded broken relics of the modern world.


Lucky ditch.

Living here, I’ve become even more attuned to waste, rubbish, trash, landfill, wrappers, cans, bottles, packets, decorations, old clothes, off food, dead pigs, nappies, toilet paper, lanterns, oil bottles, engine parts, not quite round wheels, etc. There’s no council rubbish collection here, no magical landfill in a poorer suburb that you never have to see, and yet there’s a similar amount of packaging and consumption. You have to deal with your own waste, either by burning it in a big smelly pyre, selling recyclables to someone who comes to the house, (if A Nai thinks the price is right, that is!) or ditching it in a convenient spot vaguely out of sight. The drains, ditches, and random holes in the ground are the local tip. Our neighbours put up signs for the new year, and put the old lanterns and signs in the ditch adjoining their property. Adios, last year’s luck. We don’t need you anymore.

It’s quite confronting, and especially so in this stunningly beautiful landscape. However, what else is there to do? We’re living in a world that sells everything individually wrapped but doesn’t provide anywhere to put those wrappers. It’s made me really take note of what I buy and how it’s wrapped. Right now there’s an orange wrapped in it’s own protective layer of plastic sitting on my desk. In the last week I’ve been peckish while sitting right here, yet haven’t opened the packet to open the orange because: What will I do with the plastic? It’s so innocuous and so all pervasive. Also: Why on earth is an orange individually wrapped? It grew it’s own wrapper that’s far superior!

Oh good, the packet is resealable.

Oh good, the packet is resealable.

It’s in moments like these that I see the clash of a nation that’s rapidly industrialising it’s cities, while the countryside goes on more or less like it always has. We eat food cooked on a wood stove, and sit around small tables in an open walled kitchen, with the rice cooker quietly plugged into the wall. Our flushing toilet is a western bowl sitting on top of a squat toilet, and it flushes to a pit immediately behind the outhouse. It’s country ingenuity disguised as modern western plumbing. It’s the ideals of city affluence, without the infrastructure to back it up.

This is not a rich place, but they have good farm land, and good animals. The village works hard in the fields and eats well at night. What’s not eaten at dinner is either put away for tomorrow’s lunch, or fed to the ever grateful pigs. Clothes are patched and old rugs repurposed for the horses. The young brothers spent over 2 months making fishing rods from bamboo, the way that grandfather taught them. It’s a place of great resourcefulness and self sufficiency, which makes the piles of burnt rubbish and broken toys even more glaring.

Recycling pile

                    Our house’s very organised pile of recycling, glistening in the early spring sunshine.

So I’m trying to be more conscious, continuing what I do at home but with less language skills. Bringing my own bags to the market, being really self-sacrificial(!) and buying treats in bulk, and trying to not leave anything of mine behind in the ditch.