Karkowski and China

(This post is now completed, 11:18 am, Dec 18)

I can’t remember if this is the 4th or 5th time of Zbigniew Karkowski‘s China trips. The news is that he’ll probably play a gig or two in Guangzhou again in February. Dickson Dee (LI Chin-sung) is trying to arrange him a few concerts in Guangzhou and possibly Shenzhen too. But I would be glad to see him on one of 21floor‘s future performances.

The first time Karkowski came to Guangzhou was in 2002, I got him played in a local yuppie jazz bar as well as lectured in Xinghai Conservatory (the major conservatory in South China). The concert faded in my memory but the 2 lectures are still fresh and alive. You certainly don’t need to be reminded of how conservative and shut-off the music-majored students are. Karkowski talked a bit about his personal career, his way of work, and some basic of digital sound processing (opened up an email I sent to him with Soundhack and did some modulation, etc.). If you happen to have the book Substantial #01 published by CCA Kitakyushu, read the transcript of Karkowski’s workshop there, it’s quite similar to what he did in Guangzhou in Xinghai.

In November, 2003, Karkowski played in Sounding Beijing, curated and sponsored by Dajuin Yao, it’s the first-ever large-scale experimental festival in mainland China. I half-jokingly suggested to ZK that, since you had released an album with Helmut Schaefer (also a participant of the festival), why don’t you improvise with him on stage. And so they did. As a witness of how Schaefer’s Powerbook fell to the ground from the 1.5-meter desk owing to his famous intense body gesture, I decided at that moment not to make such an unwise suggestion in the future. (The Powerbook still works, according to Schaefer.)

Karkowski’s 2004 concert in Solo Bar, Guangzhou is the best one I’ve heard from him. His Powerbook G3 was out-of-order then so he used my iBook G3 instead, some of the materials he used are from the much-delayed upcoming CD+DVD release on Asphodel, and the main DSP tool was simply a Hyperprism plug-in. The structured, dense, visceral “physical vibration” coming out of this simple setup reiterated Karkowski’s highly-developed craftsmanship as a sound artist.

The concert of ZK in the Theatre of Guangdong Modern Dance Company a few months ago is the one that reminded me the number of loudspeakers burnt by this man. It triggered the strongest and longest tinnitus I’ve ever experienced. He used a SuperCollider 2 patch (yes, he’s still on Powerbook G3, OS Classic) written by SC guru Alberto de Campo, and some Max/MSP patches. The PA system (Mackie full-range and subs) must be one of the best he’d ever had in China (the other is the EAW system on Sounding Beijing 2003).

It’s obvious that Chinese audience’s enthusiasm towards Karkowski has shrank due to his over-exposure here, however, local sound artists are still very interested to observe the way a veteran experimental musician deals with sound. Personally I like his stuff, not because it’s avant-garde (it’s not), not because it’s thought-provoking (though it occasionally is), the reason that I still love to catch his concert is simply their unpredictability – you’ll end up with either a strong or lame concert, but that’s what it should be in the first place: the tension between your expectation and the result is part of the definition of “experimental”.

[The Polish version of this article can be read here]

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