Wumu and other adventures – 山慕

Naxi women, old and young.

Naxi women, old and young.

So much has happened! I’ve had very little time for internetting, and even less time and patience for uploading images and sound on this fabulous yet slow connection.

So here are some snippets.


Jimmy and I messing around one day drinking afternoon, who would have thought Banjo and Erhu went so well together? They both provide a certain ‘twang’, I think… There are more recordings, never fear!

Jimmy and Crystal

Crystal and Lizzy and Jen arrived, and Naima’s back from Hong Kong, Frog’s giant dodecahedron arrived, and we are all in solid planning mode for our concert this Saturday. Saturday! That’s less than a week…

One thing that happened is that a gang of us went up to Wumu, a small Naxi village in the mountains. I think it’s safe to say that it was a life changing weekend. I chased a dragon through a mountainous village, met many pigs, had my embroidery critiqued and was taught a few important lessons about tying off, I watched a goat sacrifice and subsequent skinning, disemboweling and beheading, I am currently uploading a huge pile of photos that will go in another post. The photos above are all from Wumu. There are many more to come!

A timelapse of the Wumu dragon coming up the hill after visiting one of the 4 water sources, asking for rain. Sound is from the ritual on the mountain the next day. (I’ll make a better quality one! Just trying to get stuff online at this point…)

We did a concert on our final night there, of mostly improvised music. After we’d finished playing, we asked if anyone else wanted to perform, and people just started standing up and singing songs. Naxi songs, songs from school, recitations. It was quite amazing. Here is our final improv for the night, based off the Naxi song that I’ve been playing with. It’s slightly out of my range, but it’s also the first time I’ve sung and played bass together in public. So I was happy with the experiment. It’s Crystal Pascucci on Cello, Jen Torrence on found percussion (didn’t come up very high in the mix on my zoom) and me on bass and voice. It’s a live improvisation, recorded on the fly with a suitably rowdy audience. I hope it sums up some of the spirit of the evening. I’ll try to cut together some of the other performances to show you later.

DODECAHEDRON DODECAHEDRONFrog’s dodecahedron arrived, much to everyone’s delight. I immediately tried to see if my bass fit inside. Which it did, much to everyone’s delight.

The current plan is to tie the bass up into the orb once it’s installed, and hang percussion instruments and have a group percussive improvisation, using the bass as a percussion instrument.

Right after I took the bass out, Grandfather walked up and said “Shan Mu! Put the bass inside it!” Which was amazing, and a testament to all the weird stuff that has happened here over the last 10 years.

He loves the water.


玉龙雪山 – Photo post! -山慕



Last week we went on a tourist adventure. We all packed into a mini van and headed up the mountain. The beautiful snow mountain that peeks over the mountains into Lashihai valley. It’s a total tourist trap, with fees mounting up at every step. The taxi fee to the mountain itself, one fee to enter the park, one protection fee, one cable car ticket, one bus ticket to the cable car, and then the endless options to rent jackets, bottles of oxygen, medallions upon reaching the top, cans of redbull at all stages of ascent, hotdogs cooked at altitude, the highest cup of coffee possible to purchase in China, professional photos, snow globes, greenscreen videos, tour guides, and the ubiquitous instant noodles.

Is it worth it?


YES, YES IT IS. The view from 4680m above sea level.

Totally worth it. The mountain is the last in the Himalayas, which means that I’ve now caught a cable car up a Himalayan mountain. Which is a fact that’s going in every game of “two truths and a lie” that I play from now on. The view is amazing, and seeing a glacier this far south is phenomenal. Watching the tourists furiously puffing on their bottles of oxygen and posing with selfie sticks while sitting on the ground wearing a wilting crown of flowers is also a true Lijiang experience.

XueMei, LiLi, NaMa, Jackie, QingWa and me, ShanMu. Standing on top of the world.

XueMei, LiLi, NaMa, Jacqui, QingWa and me, ShanMu. Standing on top of the world.

Xue Mei had never been up the mountain before, so she jumped at the chance to come along with us all. Her response was that it was stunning, and far too expensive, and she felt a bit dizzy. Which is all fair enough! At the highest point you are at 4680m above sea level. That’s really really high. The cable car takes you from about 3000m to 4100 or something, and then you climb stairs the rest of the way. The cable car trip is pretty insane, ascending at a rapid rate over some of the most stunning mountainous country. (and a golf course…)

There’s not much more to say, This isn’t an arts post, just a post of photos of the mountain. Because the mountain is amazing, and after living here for 3 months it feels like our protector, always keeping an eye on the valley, peeking out with it’s yearlong coverage of snow.

So: without further ado, here are far too many photos of the mountain. Enjoy!

xx. m.

Lìjiāng Studio, weeks 14 & 15 – 纳 玛

(Written on Saturday 7th June).

My auntie Jacqui is arriving in a couple of hours! And I have had SUCH a productive last few weeks. I really have been composing every day since I wrote last. I’ve finished 3 pieces: We Keep Going. Crystal Ruth Bell; Climate-Driven Change in Himalayan Rhododendron Phenology; and Bǎn zhù dòng zuò.

We Keep Going. Crystal Ruth Bell is a piece for a woman I never met in person. She is the co-founder of China Residencies – a fantastic resource and potential funding source for anyone who wants to do a residency in China. That’s how I met her, on skype. I was driving across Australia from Melbourne to Darwin last year in June, right when Miranda and I were waiting to hear back from a funding application we’d submitted. One day Miranda sent through a text that I got in the next town, telling me that we didn’t get the residency but the folks who assessed the applications wanted to talk with us on skype. I called her and we had quite a discussion as to what they might want, since we hadn’t gotten the funding. After some complicated arranging, we had a time and a place. I bought an hour of internet from the Katherine Public Library; borrowed one of their (or maybe their only) tiny study rooms, scruffed my hair in a hopefully pleasing way, and nervously phoned up.

That was when I met Kira and Crystal. 2 incredibly vibrant, buzzing, busy, enthusiastic women who quickly explained that they loved our application and wanted to help us make it come true. They just didn’t think a 2nd teir city was the right place for it. They told us all about Lijiang Studio and wrote to Jay (the director of the Studio) and linked us up and backed our proposal and basically enabled this entire wonderful thing to happen. They were even planning a trip to China that they hoped would include the studio while we mgiht be there! I came away shining with excitement and anticipation, telling the library staff as I left that I’M GOING TO CHINA TO MAKE ART!!!!! That was when I met Crystal. A few months after that skype meeting we heard that Crystal died.

When Kira was visiting here a few months ago, I asked her to tell me about Crystal, so that I could write this piece. So it’s also through the eyes/heart of Kira, her best friend and co-conspirator in many adventures and projects. So, here is a piece of Crystal.

At the moment I’m being bold and presenting you what I’ve written in a very average MIDI file. When it’s recorded with actual musicians (hopefully early July), I’ll share the real version with you.


I also finished my first iteration of “auralising” a graph of the lovely Dr Robbie Hart’s data. It was a really excitingly inclusive process. After our first, 1+ hour talk, we swapped many emails all the way through the process, from choosing which graph to focus on, to discussing what musical parameters axes and lines and points should represent, to explaining terms to each other, to re-sketching ideas based on each other’s suggestions. It was darn hard work, with a lot of maths and zooming of graphs to 400% and conceptual thinking about such topics as whether it matters to turn a linear scale into an exponential scale. It is really different from my usual composing techniques: for example, there are a number of musical cells within which the musicians can make choices about the order and timing of musical motifs. I’m usually much more proscriptive than that. But yes it’s still on manuscript, even though I don’t find the computer program options very helpful for this kind of music. I can’t give you a MIDI file of it because the computer can’t freely choose motif order and timing! But it’s going to get workshopped at The Modern Academy and I will record and upload it then.


Finally, there’s Bǎn zhù dòng zuò, the string quartet plus marimba for the dance module. The name roughly translates from Mandarin as “Mud brick motion”. I drew a little map of what I wanted the shape of the piece to look like: still and sitting, low to the ground, in a pile; moving along at ground level (via people carrying them); describing wonderful upward arcs as the y are thrown up the side of the house from hand to hand; settling high in their new position. Then I just started writing. I like this piece but I didn’t have an easy time writing it. Even though I had the map which is more than I usually have, I didn’t have any particular musical ideas, which is less than I usually have! I felt a bit like I was walking on a moonless night with just a half-flat torch. And sometimes the torch went out and I couldn’t see ahead even to the next bar. But, it got there. And I like it.

So here again is a crappy MIDI file for you to listen to. Again, this piece will be workshopped and recorded at The Modern Academy (and hopefully performed with the dancers!). So I will upload am audio or video file for you when I can. There are 2 dancers: I assume they are a man and a woman. I am curious to see whether I have to work hard to prevent them from including sexual tension, even undertones, in my piece. It’s just about mud bricks! Dancing flying solid earthy mud bricks.


Qíng Nà Mǎ.

晴 纳 玛


再见鹤 – 山慕

This week I’ve been playing with a song we learnt from a local Naxi musician. It’s about the cranes leaving the lake at the end of winter. We’ve learnt it the traditional way, with Jimmy playing it on repeat, while we stumble and try to keep up with the uneven phrases and unexpected melodic ideas. Naxi music has many ordamentations and pitch bends that are foreign to western art music trained ears. It’s often performed in unison, so my efforts at bass lines are often highly amusing, but appreciated as one method of keeping Naxi music alive and connected to the current generations of Naxi musicians. Maybe it takes a laowai to be shameless enough to put harmonies in, or to create a cover version that sounds like a lounge singer in a high class bar. (That version isn’t below, I’m still working on it!)

I don’t have a recording of the song in it’s original form for you right now, (You will be able to hear it after our TV debut next week, maybe!) but I’ve been messing around with it, making new harmonies and splitting the phrases up into their basic elements. These two are just sketches, I hope to keep working on them to polish them a bit. There’s a lot in there that I like. The original song is very sad, a mournful tune about the beauty of the crane leaving our waters.

I hope these versions retain some of that sense of sadness.      

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated! There’s one thing bloggers and musicians share, it’s a love of comments! 😉

Today we went down to the local orchestra rehearsal, and Naima and her auntie Jacqui brought their instruments along to join in. So I went and got my banjo and then this happened. It was awesome. After playing a tune for him this old man, who speaks mostly Naxi, heavily accented Chinese and no English smiled and said: Oh! Appalachia!  Small world.


Jacqui and I jamming with the locals. One chord tunes are pretty fun to jam to.


Disaster averted – 山慕

It’s been a dramatic time of great change around the He family homestead. Dudu got very suddenly very sick, and after panicked phone calls to Australia she received two massive doses of pig antibiotics from the local pig doctor, who was so afraid of her that he hovered on the other side of the courtyard while ErGe, He Ye Ye, Naima, Frog and I all held Dudu and told her she was OK and kept her upright while she received two injections before passing out again.

It’s a week later now, and after many adventures taking her to Lijiang to the vet, and wrestling a dog who’s stronger every day into submission to take her tablets, I’m pleased to be able to say that she’s once again barking at the neighbours, eating the scraps of meat Anai throws to her from the table, and snoring the day away in our courtyard. Considering a week ago she couldn’t walk and her nose didn’t even twitch when raw meat was dangled in front of her, it’s a pretty swift recovery.

Dudu may be on the mend, but she's still loving the attention!

Dudu may be on the mend, but she’s still loving the attention!


That being said, she’s a much older dog than she was 2 weeks ago.


There’s also been an influx of people here, two new artists have come, and that’s not counting the 3 that I know who are coming in the next few weeks. There’s a giant metal sculpture going up, a handmade loom in the courtyard and it’s nice to see this place through a newcomers eyes. It is truly amazingly special here.


Last week I said I’d put some tracks up. So here we go.


I’ve been playing with strict concepts of composition within a graphic notation format. This first one is a perfect flower. It’s fractal and endless and amazing. For the music I represented each ‘row’ of flowers with one repeated motif. Starting from the outside with every 8 beats, and then tonally ascending (while numerically descending) the cycle of 5ths, ending up with 5 notes per beat.

It gets a bit squeaky in the harmonics, but I think the experiment is sound. How to represent something that is so symmetrical, yet ever changing?

perfect flower

It’s frustratingly imperfect. I haven’t been able to wrangle a workable setup for using pedals here, so all of this work is being done the slow way, and with my very basic editing skills I struggle to get the effect I’m after. In this case, however, I quite like the occasional blip in the rhythm. Nature is never picture perfect. This perfect fractal flower has it’s blemishes, it’s lopsided genes, The best laid plans of gardeners and musicians… …


To be honest, this track was created months ago, but I haven’t liked it enough to share. There’s a lot to say about how I’m evolving as a solo-musician here, but it’s 12:30, the heat has gone from the day, and I should post this and go to bed.

Dudu is snoring peacefully next to me, the swallows have returned to their nest, the oxen are no longer ploughing the fields and no one is singing cheerful Naxi songs in the fields.  Also: the power will go out any minute, so post away, my imperfect friend.