Rainstallation – 山慕

Big Orange Friend.

Please play this track while reading this blog post. Maybe hit repeat, it’s only 5 minutes long, even though the full track goes for over an hour.

The percussion machine met a different end to what was expected. Naima and I both got immersed in other projects, and the machine languished in the courtyard for quite a while. When Jen and Lizzy were here, all talk in the village was about rain, and the lack thereof. No rain is bad anywhere, but it’s hard to ignore the negatives while living on a farm. The extra water let down from the reserve on the mountain had already dried up, and Lashihai was retreating apace. The rain was late, very late. He Yeye mentioned it almost every day, with a sad defeated look on his face, and aNai said this was the latest she had ever seen the rain come. Even if it did finally come, it was too late, she said, while miming all the corn keeling over and dying of heat stroke.

So the talk was of rain, and Jen and I both came to the idea of building something that sounds good in the rain, as a portent of the much longed for downpour. To tempt fate and call the rain from the sky. Our ideas ranged from the simple to the increasingly ornate, but we settled on the half finished installation already in the courtyard.

We danced for the rain in Wumu, and we watched others eat the goat sacrificed for her pleasure; we commiserated with Yeye and stared at the blue sky with our arms stretched, asking “为什么” “wei, shenme?” and so we again sifted through the rubbish piles, built the rainstallation, and we all waited patiently for the rain.

It took a few weeks for any rain to fall, and it wasn’t until weeks after Jen left that it started raining in earnest. Good solid summer rains, drenching the soil and filling the ditches. A rain that’s here for the duration, the type that turns soccer games into mud wrestling matches, and makes the solar hot water frustratingly inefficient when it’s time to wash off.

In other words, a rain that makes the rainstallation sing.

But the rain didn’t last. It came, the old people smiled over Mahjong and Baiju, the middle generation grimaced over beer and said it was too little too late, and the children and tourists laughed at the dogs dancing in the downpour; then it left again, leaving a muddy footprint on the way out.

But by then, I’d captured the rain, crouching in the courtyard, recorder in hand. Instinctively holding my raincoat out over the artwork to protect it, then realising that it was a rainstallation made from found rubbish. I couldn’t make it rain, but I could help it sound like it should.

I wanted our sculpture to sing for the rain. To lament what it’s missing and wail for precipitation. I wanted our rainstallation to highlight everything that was missing from the rainclouds over Lashihai. I wanted our bright orange pile of suspended rubbish to help people remember the rain, how it feels, how it smells, and how it sounds.

So we gave it a voice.

I mixed recordings of the rainstallation together, to simulate a big rain, a solid rain, a good old timey drenching. Making all the little rains together sound like a torrential downpour, the type of rain that seems to give birth to frogs. The sound of a rain that hasn’t happened this year, the type that makes streams out of driveways and makes the roots of the sunflowers smile.

Hanging tiny speakers in the sculpture, we put it out to pasture. Leaving it for passers by and wandering Anai’s to discover. The rainstallation sat there, still, unmoved by the weather. Its pans and tins swung lifeless in the breath of breezes. But yet, something stirred, a memory of sound, of how it feels to be wet from the sky. The sound of rain echoes out of these dry corners, reverberating in the cracked earth.

Watching this dry dusty sculpture while listening to it rain, I felt the song of Australia, of California, of China and everywhere else. I felt the sadness of an empty room, of an empty cloud and a dry well. The memory of a time when streams ran down the road, and you could catch fish with your hands. The rainstallation sung of the olden times, of last week, last year, last generation, last time; do you remember?

It was eerie.

It was sad.

Teenagers used it as a giant drum kit.

Watching it, (because after an hour the rain-track switched to exuberant Naxi Pop music) I felt a chill, a shiver up my spine. Seeing the village elderly double take, because they know the sound so well they didn’t even look where it was coming from at first, I felt a cool breeze. A change breeze. Spitting drops.

And friends? It rained. They didn’t stay that day, but very soon… the summer rains came. The frogs were born and the soccer was muddy. The showers were cold and the crops were happy. Anai hummed while she checked her corn, and Yeye put on an extra polar fleece, and muttered less when he looked at the sky.


好久不见了! – 山慕

LiJiang, the other Lijiang, not the city I live near, but the river near Guilin.

LiJiang, the other Lijiang, not the city I live near, but the river near Guilin.

Let’s play a game: Two truths and a lie.

Since I’ve been in China I have done the following things:

Gone night swimming in my underpants in a river surrounded by mysterious Karst mountains with an old man named Mao.

Caught a cable car up a Himalayan mountain.

Seen a man whistling softly in the early morning light, responding to the dawn chorus of birdsong; then pulling out his slingshot and killing one.

CaveyCavey good times. Made even better by our guide chain smoking inside the enclosed cavern...

CaveyCavey good times. Made even better by our guide chain smoking inside the enclosed cavern…

The answer, probably obviously, is that I cheated, and they’re all true. China is amazing, and anything is possible. I’ve been here almost 6 months now, and my time is almost up for this adventure. I have somewhat neglected this blog, so first this is a “now” post, and then I’ll do a series of posts of the art projects that have occurred since we last spoke, dear anonymous internet friends.

Literally, writing this on a train. Posting it from home though, the slow trains are super comfy, but not wifi enabled... yet...

Literally, writing this on a train. Posting it from home though, the slow trains are super comfy, but not wifi enabled… yet…

I’m writing this from a train, hurtling through the Guanxi countryside. Naima, Hildy and I just took a brief trip to Guilin where we stayed in a small quiet village in the middle of a massive tourist operation. This trip has been a study in mountains, and these mountains are the ones you see in the old paintings of China; unreal in their shape and irregularity. Previous to this trip, my adjectives for mountains were limited to tall, round, small, and pointy. Now, however, they are skinny, leaning, appley, tortisey, bloopy, boppy, sneaky, triangular, square, and bizarre. (as well as tall, round, small, and pointy)

Adjectives for these mountains really don’t do them justice, so I will stop trying, and leave a few photos to speak for me.

(Our internet is being very very very slow, so I will continue to update photos as I can. The really pointy mountain photos just won’t upload! Please check back to see more pics of the crazyness)

We spent a few days hiking in the mountains, going caving, swimming in the river, and finding small freezing streams to dunk ourselves in as a respite from the clammy heat.

One night we took a night boat to drink tea and stargaze, with the aforementioned old man named Mao. We got on his “bamboo” (read PolyPipe) boat, motored out 20 meters from the shore, and then he shut off the motor, poured hot water into paper cups furnished with local green tea, and proceeded to strip off and jump straight into the dark water. The effect was somewhat less than expected, as he landed standing up with water only up to his knees… After many entreaties Hildy dangled her feet in the water and I went for a night water walk, while Mao washed his clothes in the river, and interrogated us one by one about our marriage prospects and children, (or lack thereof). 2 hours later I think he still didn’t believe us. No boyfriends, no children, unheard-of.

It’s a good analogy for the whole experience of this trip to Guilin, as it was so close to amazingly relaxing and peaceful, but included aspects of the truly bizarre and slightly annoying. I’m pleased for Mao however, that in his older age he can get paid to go night swimming. That’s a pretty good place to be in life. Something to aim for, methinks.

We’ve had an adventurous time since Hildy (Naima’s sister) arrived, we’ve spent 3 days hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge, which was amazingly beautiful. We’ve taken a night bus that saw Hildy downing a bottle of herbal liquour, me cradling my banjo all night, while Naima was between 3 teenage girls and a mother with two small children on one giant bed. We’ve argued valiantly but in vain to convince an airline to let us on a plane they said we missed but we disagreed. (By the time we’d lost the argument, it was hard to say we had not missed the plane, however. Their tactic was sound.) We’ve had pedicures and unexpected massages, swam in pristine rivers until we saw someone mixing their pesticide on the banks, and we’ve been so frustrated with the non-transparency of transportation that we swore in public where little old ladies could hear but not understand us. We played with a pig, watched the neighbourhood kids do a traditional dance in our courtyard, ate bbq late at night and watched a movie that our host family all starred in, we learnt the ‘heel and toe polka’ as a trio, and spoke in Mandarin Chinese mixed with broad Australian accents. It’s as close to a secret language as I think you can get.

It’s tempting to wax lyrical about the beauty of Tiger Leaping Gorge, of the misty mountains and herds of bleating goats; to describe the inexplicable joy of a panoramic view of endlessness after climbing in dense forest for 2 hours. To talk about how He JiXing and He JiYu were so joyously delighted with their own provinces beauty that they’d run ahead of us and we’d hear JiYu yell “BEAUTIFUL! PIAO LIANG!” from the upcoming peak, and look up to see a tiny 16yo in the distance, jumping and waving and soaking in the majesty of this place so close to his home. I’d like to talk at length about how having our level of language ability makes such a difference to my enjoyment of travel here, but also means that annoying conversations such as “really? No husband or children? But you’re so old!” can be understood clearly, which is a bummer. Innocence really was bliss in that instance. There’s so much to be said about the clash of cultures here, of the selfie sticks in front of ancient temples, of ErHu and bass ukelele duets, of bamboo boats made of PVC piping, and fast trains displacing whole villages. But this is supposed to be an art blog! So I will leave some photos here, to whet your appetite, and continue with cataloguing the art projects pronto.


But first: would you believe I fainted while walking up a mountain, and cursed the fact that no one was selling anything in this particular part of the national park? How about going caving with a topless ‘uncle’ who smoked the whole time? Then there was the time I was told I was unwell because I was too pale, and then was compared to a Taiwanese woman to prove their point…

I’m going to struggle to find lies for ‘two truths and a lie’ from now on in…

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.

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.


Tiny Critters! – 山慕

There’s been a fair amount of action in the tiny critter department around here…

First up, a tiny snake! So small that Jay picked it up with chopsticks. Poor panicked snake, hiding under our couch.

Then: Tiny birds! The swallows in our courtyard seem to have abandoned their nest and all their eggs, which is very sad. However: the swallows in the other courtyard have tiny swallows packed into their tiny nest! So many birds, so little space.

THEN! a large spider fell off the wall when Naima was trying to get it out of her room, and she dropped baby spiders everywhere. It was quite dramatic. I was no staying well clear of the scene, and hence have no photos. To quote Naima: “Babies!! … … … babies… oh no…”

And tonight, Naima found a toad, and brought it inside to show it the wonders of research tools on the internet. The toad was so impressed it weed in her hand.

That’s it for tonight. 🙂


Hiking in a sauna. – 山慕

Bushwalking with Naima...

Bushwalking with Naima…

It’s been a big few weeks! I went to Hong Kong to pick up some instruments, and then made my way home via Xishuangbanna, 2 night trains and an overnight sleeper bus built for tiny people. My stable bed in Lashihai has never been so appreciated.

Hong Kong is a crazy place. After living in China for 3 months, it felt like a giant Chinatown that was built on the side of a mountain, in a sauna. The sheer pace of the place, and the amount of languages and the clash of Eastern and Western architecture, shopping styles and sense of personal space was overwhelming. Bamboo scaffolding holding up barechested-barefooted workers above a glass walled Parthenon to finance filled with white men in suits who would be drenched in sweat if they ever went outside.

Hong Kong from the 'avenue of stars'.

We’re not in Lashihai anymore, Dudu…

I successfully picked up everything on my list on the first day. An Electric upright bass, a fancypants keyboard, and vegan chocolate. This is the list of things required that we can’t purchase in Lijiang. Seriously, the chocolate here is terrible.
So that left me with a day for traveling, and I headed straight out to Lamma Island. One of the outlying Islands of Hong Kong.

Climbed to the top of the hill!

Climbed to the top of the hill!

It’s apparently where the hippies of HK live. It’s beautiful, there are no cars, and a ton of seafood restaurants. I hiked across the top of the Island, in some crazy hot weather, with a bag full of the shopping I’d done for the long trainride home. That was some very well traveled Coconut water!

The train was a very long trip. 30 hours across the bottom of China. Somehow I got a 4 bed berth all to myself for the vast majority of the trip. It turns out that I was rarely alone, however… as being the only visibly foreign person on the train, and doing a mixture of Chinese homework and cross-stitch is a guaranteed way to get people to stand in the doorway and stare.

That’s right… cross stitch! I’ve started a new project of translation across language and artistic practices.

It’s the first in a series, so we’ll see if my legible cross-stitch characters are ongoing, or simply beginners luck! It’s a famous first line from a well known English language novel. Any guesses?

One of my favourite things about being here is language, and translation. Hearing more and more words pop out from streams of previously incomprehensible Chinese. Telling a story in English, and then hearing Jay translate it and listening to my cadence moving to another persons whim. Learning more language, and finding that cultural interpersonal habits start to make more sense in context. Language tells so much about a place, and so much nuance is lost in all but the most fluent translations.
This project is about all of that, mashing English literature with Chinese language; and Chinese inspired art with the most English art form I could think of.

Prize for whoever figures out what it says...

Prize for whoever figures out what it says…


After the slow train to Kunming, I headed down to Xishuangbanna to meet Naima. We met some lovely people, saw some amazing things, ate some great food and made a big leap in our main project here. I’m sure she’ll write more about all of that so I’ll just put some photos here:

Now we’re back, and getting back to work! It’s been a really steep learning curve here for me as a musician. I’ve never worked with a composer directly before, and it’s really interesting to go through the stages of creation together. Having rehearsal meetings where I play the new draft and then we both say “don’t like that bit as much, but the ending is awesome now!” or some paraphrased version of that. It’s also a challenge, because often music feels awkward under the hands for a while, and then *ding!* suddenly makes sense, and those often end up being the most magic moments. I don’t want to smooth out all the rough edges only to discover that they were the points of interest all along…

I’m also really missing all my regular improv and musical collaborators and co-performers. You know who you are! Working as a solo artist is a really different experience. I have a ton of recordings and experiments with graphic scores and the like that I’ve been working on, but without the to and fro of a group rehearsal I seem to be lacking the knowledge of when they’re ready to go. This residency was always a process of exploration for me, of what direction my music can and will travel. There’s still time to explore more ideas, but I’m finding that I’m stagnating in creating solo works, and am really eager for my friends and collaborators and fellow instrumentalists who will be here in June to arrive! For some of us it will be a first time collaboration, but with Crystal Pasccuci, that’s not the case! We went to grad school together at the Hartt School of music, CT, and this musical reunion has been a long time coming!

Crystal and I in 2008. Babies with attitude.

Crystal and I in 2008. The last time we played together, fresh-faced and tipsy.

I’m not sure how much of my bass-reluctance is fear of my own ideas, and not being well practiced at the art of solo performance. Over the last few years I’ve really worked hard at being a good chamber and supporting musician. I’m sure it’s not to the detriment of any solo work, but it’s become quite clear how out of practice I am at putting myself out there as a soloist. I can write a lot about this, but I’m not sure how to do so in a non self-indulgent-total-wanker type way. Let’s just say that I’m struggling to find my voice. In ensemble work my voice is supported and supportive. Reactive and reacted to. It’s difficult to find the same level of interest and complexity without the to and fro of differing instrumental ideas.

By next week I aim to have some of my score-experiments up and ready to show y’all. I’m saying this so that I’m committed to doing so. It’s the experimental music version of ‘pics or it didn’t happen’.




Translations and dead chickens. – 山慕

From squawking to an ill-conceived logo for a budget airline in one fowl swoop.

From squawking to an ill-conceived logo for a budget airline in one fowl swoop.

It’s a constant assault of the mundane and normal, and the confronting in my daily life here. On bright and clear tomb sweeping day, we went up to the graves in the mountains again, and the two families who share adjacent plots killed a chicken each. Both of them went from squawking to lunch in under half an hour. It was amazing to watch. The row of women sitting together, skilfully plucking, deboning, bleeding, pushing chopsticks through the intestines, washing, searing, chopping and stir-frying. It put the usual sausages in polystyrene barbeque fare to shame.

In my distant Melbourne life, I imagine I’d find this quite confronting. Here, I peer at the carcass in wonder, who knew that a chicken innards were so brightly coloured? I’ve never before pondered the moment of death in a food animal. The invisible line where a living, interactive creature becomes inanimate, and serves only as sustenance for the more organised living, interactive creatures. I suppose it’s part of the privilege of an industrialised society, but I am coming to also believe it’s a great loss.

To watch Xue Mei sit in the pig pen, watching the piglets eat while swatting the mother away so that they manage to get some food, despite her much larger appetite is to see that caring for the animals is part of the whole process. Caring for these piglets is caring for her own sons come next winter. She does care for the pigs, finds the piglets as hilarious as we do, and talks back to the goose with just as much gusto as it honks at her. Choosing to later kill and eat the pigs doesn’t negate caring. It’s a tricky concept for two (almost) life long vegetarians and vegans to get our heads around. Naima is less squeamish than me, but I’m surprised at how calm I am when witnessing a fish flapping it’s tail slower and slower in a basket filled with veggies; a parade of pigs being led to market; a motorscooter with 5 dead chooks in the footwell, and another 5 splayed over the pillion seat.

But in general, it's safe to say that there's a lot less masquerading of food stuffs around here.

But in general, it’s safe to say that there’s a lot less masquerading of food stuffs around here.

Naima, getting into the spirit of old town.

Naima, getting into the spirit of old town, in a dumpstered crown of flowers.

To quote myself two paragraphs ago: “Normal and Confronting” is also an apt description of Lijiang Old Town. Since we’ve started classes we’ve been spending a lot more time there. Sitting and watching the crowds swarm by while eating lunch it appears that after the earthquake demolished the original old town, they rebuilt a Chinese theme park for Chinese people to come visit and feel like they’ve had a true Chinese experience. It’s totally bizarre. Cobblestone streets and babbling streams and rows of roughly hewn shops revealing rickety stairs to beautifully quaint and comfortable hotels. It’s amazingly charming. The charm is somewhat belied, however, by the fact that all the shops sell the same things, and half of them seem to be beautiful long haired Han Chinese women playing djembe along with Naxi music. What’s even more bizarre is that the djembes often have Indigenous Australian designs painted on them! It’s a native culture free-for-all! The majority of tourists are domestic travellers, wandering down the charming laneways with flowers in their braided hair, wearing flowing cotton clothes that will never be worn again once they’re back in Guanzho, necks draped with beads as they listen in wonder to the women playing Djembe, and their bags filled with souvenirs from their trip to ‘old china’. Ironically, the China that was not run for profit.

I’ve been playing a lot, which is great. It’s really made me challenge the value of my work. When I’m playing scales every morning and watching the fields of Ji Xiang come alive with workers toiling to feed their families, it’s sometimes a little difficult. Surely I should be out there, helping the family that I’ve grown to care about, and not fussing about tone and making melodies out of the mountains? Of course, art has wide ranging benefits, and music is an essential part of most societies; but that doesn’t stop my privilege backpack feeling about as heavy as my bass as I watch Anai bend her bad back over to plant corn, as she’s been doing for about 50 years. It’s giving me more incentive to make my improvisations mean something, to interpret Naima’s pieces in a way that makes the family smile, to make the local orchestra members nod in that old man way, to bring a piece of Naxi life with me wherever I perform these works.

An older villager, working in her orchard.

An older villager, working in her orchard.

It’s a big ask, and I’m trying to not get too tied up in it. The studio allows these interactions to happen, and encourages artists to think about their work in relation to the village. My world of black clad orchestras and ballerinas is a distant tonal hum in the background as I try to make new works that will resonate in both worlds.

We’ve been here almost 3 months now! It feels like I don’t have enough to show for that amount of time. However, there are many projects brewing! I’ve had a bit of a slump month, but coming out of it I’m filled with inspiration, so hopefully it was the distraction I needed to make the most of the rest of our time here. 6 months is a long time, but it can also go by so fast. At the end of this time I suspect it will feel as if we’ve just begun.

View over Lijiang valley.

View over Lijiang valley.

I’m working on a piece for bass and tape, and a non music piece inspired by the joys of translation, and how our culturally disparate worlds are getting closer, but so much is still not quite making the leap in either direction. Sitting with Ji Xing, chatting on his holiday home from University, we were talking about aphorisms, and discovering that many of ours are replicated almost word for word in the writings of Lao Zi. Who got their moralistic quotations from whom? Or did both cultures witness the same phenomena and draw similar parables from them?

I quoted “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”, and Ji Xing replied: “that may be so, but if you ride it there, you won’t have to make it drink…”

He’s a wise kid, that one.

More than just different takes on classic sayings, our cultural understandings can also play a large part in the cross-over success of literature and other stories. No family here has 5 daughters, so how can one translate the plot driven by the desire to marry off all the Bennett sisters? Does “modern times’ provoke laughter within a non-capitalist history? Is Robocop truly able to be understood without seeing first hand the effects of off-shore processing on a manufacturing city?

Ok, the last one is ridiculous. It’s late, and I like my examples to go in sets of 3. Also: I have a serious weak spot for movies set in Detroit. Needless to say, all this is going into my new art project, that I’ll reveal next week.

Favourite sign around town.

Favourite sign around town. Apologies for dodgy mobile phone photo.

Are all our stories of the farm and country life making you jealous? Are you yearning to experience some of what we see and hear every day? If so: this is your lucky day!

I’ve started a series of “farmalarms” so that you too can wake up to the calming sounds of the countryside. Here’s my first release. It should be downloadable from soundcloud.

You’re welcome.



Photo post, the elders of Ji Xiang. – 山慕

Forgive me, readers, for it has been weeks since my last blog post. Our internet has been out, and the electricity, and I’ve been busy doing things and not writing about them. Oops.

So here’s a series of catch up posts! Weeks ago was the ‘old peoples festival’ (Who knows what it’s really called, the 16yo of our family called it that… He also made “old people potatoes” for dinner on his birthday. They’re super soft and mushy. 😉 ) It’s 3 days where all the old folks of the village get together in the seniors centre and have lunch and dinner provided for them. The sit, eat, gossip, play mahjong, play other card games, eat some more, gossip some more and laugh a lot. The first day the grandparents from our host family were all dressed up, but by the time I went on the 3rd day they were back to daily clothes.

I asked Anai if we could come and take photos of people, and she agreed instantly. Everyone wanted their portrait! We were very welcomed, apart from when Dudu escaped our courtyard and came to join us…

It’s a lovely part of the importance of community in Naxi culture and in Ji Xiang. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone pitches in to help when required. It is the sort of community I would like to live in one day.