Cage copycat & “Maestro David Toop”

(Correction Appended 0:14, Dec 12)

Some of the basic facts were mistaken in my previous post, they’re fixed now.

And apparently I was wrong about Mr. CHEN Dili, just because he’s been absent to the public doesn’t mean that he was not making sound works, as a matter of fact he’s the frequent soundtrack composer for the Chinese video artist WANG Jianwei(汪建伟), and he has been doing sound design for some TV and radio programmes as well as teaching multimedia courses in Universities in Beijing for his bread and butter (well, rice actually).

Chen’s sound installation piece for the Biennale is conceptually trite and aurally mundane. For anyone who knows just a little bit about the history of 20th-century music, this kind of “radio orchestra” thing will do nothing but embarrassing yourself, simply because it’s too obvious and poor an imitation of that John Cage piece; for anyone with a pair of experienced ears, what comes out of the installation is awfully-produced noise music, something like the very first experiment with a new audio processing software by an inexperienced sound artist. Yes, sometimes we hear concrete sounds from certain radio channels which are identifiable, but so what? “Hey! It’s ‘Chit Chat 903’ from Hong Kong!” And that’s it.

So here’s it: there are two sound artists participating in the Biennale (Chen and FENG Jiangzhou), both have rock background, both start their exploration in electronic music with beat-oriented stuff (in Chen’s case: electronica; in Feng’s, Digital Hardcore), both work frequently with visual people (in Chen’s case: video artist Wang Jianwei; in Feng’s, theatre director MENG Jinghui). While all of these are absolutely OK, making pointless copy of a 60-year-old work is not.

A funny anecdote: when I was interviewing Mr. MENG Jinghui – the director of the opening theatre piece City Metamorphose – I asked him about his way of collaborating with the soundtrack composer Feng Jiangzhou. I don’t exactly remember his answer in details but I do remember this remark:

“I’m making tribute to a music maestro whom I admire very, very much, his name is David Toop.”

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy Mr. Toop’s writings, and of course he’s an established musician and curator. But have you ever heard of him being referred to as “maestro”?

Secondly, I might be prejudiced, but it occurs to me that, when a person from Beijing (that’s where Meng comes from) uses the word “maestro” (Da Shi), especially in an arts and culture context, it’s very likely that there’s a sarcasm attached to it. I won’t claim to know either Mr. Meng’s musical taste or his knowledge about contemporary music, but one thing I do know is: distance is prerequisite to “tribute”. Given the fact that it’s only about a month and a half since Mr. Toop made his lecture and performance in Beijing, isn’t it too “soon” to make a tribute to him at this moment?

A not so funny anecdote: when asked whether they’re worried about using copyrighted music as the soundtrack of City Metamorphose without obtaining a license, both Meng and Feng replied with indifference. Feng said “yes” but “we’ve got no time to take care of this”, and Meng said “I don’t really care”.



  1. lao zhao said

    nice commentary!

  2. kavodental said

    you should say that Chen and FENG Jiangzhou), both have art background。
    chen graduated from Central Institute of Arts and Crafts and Feng from Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts

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