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.


2 thoughts on “Lìjiāng Studio, weeks 2 & 3 – 晴 纳 玛

  1. Hi Qing Na Ma, sounds good. I am impressed with your analysing of the language. I don’t think I am quite ready to learn it. Hope your bike starts to work well. No better way to see the country side. Are there lots of hills and mountains there?
    Greeetings from Woy Woy.

  2. Hi Ina, I hope my bike gets better too! Right now I’m just not using the back brakes that much which isn’t ideal but is ok.

    Oh, by no means am I any good at Mandarin! But when reading the pīnyīn, I know how each tone should sound, which is a great start, since different tones are different words! (The 5 “da’s” I wrote in the post are each a different word.) It’s a pity that for some reason the tones are rarely indicated on the syllables when using Roman letters here! : /

    Yes – we are in a flat valley with a lake, surrounded by mountains on all sides. We watched sunrise by the lake thismorning and it was beautiful. It is beautiful every single day.

    x Naima / Nà Mǎ

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