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Interview for White Fungus issue15/by Alistaire Noble

White Fungus: The 1995 festival was quite sensational, and I notice that everyone writing about you uses it to introduce your work. How do you feel about that?
LCW: Yes, this is part of my work, very true, and much more influential than any of my “art work”, But how ever,i am just one worker in the festival,i am not even the main organizer.

White Fungus: How do you feel about the various labels we use for audio-based art (e.g. music, sound-art, noise, etc.)? Do you think of your work in relation to such things?
LCW: I actually wrote a book (Beyond Sound Art: The Avant Garde, Sound Machines, and the Modernity of Hearing) on this issue, which is 600000 words and it took me 9 years to work on it…. Certainly, I am against the way all these vocabularies are used today. My art work is nothing but to break these genres, not because I intended to do that, but naturally sounds are free from the genres!! (I do know there are some people say to themselves, “ok, let’s do some sound art”, and it is nothing but to fulfill the need of culture norms…yet, if they are creative, there will always be something that escapes from the definition of genres) also, as you may know, in the context of Chinese culture, 聲 and 音 could mean something totally different, that’s another story…

White Fungus: I’ve read that you were critical of the student organisations in Taiwan in the 90s. I wonder if you could explain that? Is this in relation to the ‘White Lily’ movement?
LCW: Not critical at all, I was kind of an outsider then!

White Fungus: I was in Taipei during the ‘Sunflower’ student demonstrations in 2014. An interesting time. Do you have any thoughts on this and the contemporary situation in Taiwan—especially in relation to art?
LCW: The movement is weak, just as the art world is today. I like 賤民解放區, by the way.

White Fungus: In many ways your more recent work seems more subtle, more gentle… but maybe that is an illusion? How much of the 1995 aesthetic is still part of what you do, and what has changed since then in your work?
LCW: I consider my work a way of communication, so you must see who you are talking to and where the conversation is going, that’s all. It is meaningless doing the same, for the audience today is extremely different from the 90s’ audience…….but i wonder as well i don’t progress a lot in what i want to say since then..…

White Fungus: I noticed that you have lived for some time in Beijing, and of course you’ve had many performances in China. How does that feel for a Taiwanese artist, in terms of identity and politics? Does it have any effect on your work?

LCW: Big question. Yes, facing different audiences obligates me to do different performances, as I tend to improvise a bit according to the context… for example body provocation is not so provocative for Beijing audience, but sexual politics is highly sensitive there!

White Fungus: I’m very interested in the ‘rules’ for performing the Tape Pieces. Do you also have a system for making the tape (choosing the words, etc.)?
LCW: Yes, as you can see, the tape music is a tape delay machine (which was popular in 70s), in this way it can build a sound mass via the combination of small sample pieces. As for the choosing of Chinese characters, as you may know, there are 4 tones in Mandarin, which fit to build natural harmonics by simply combining the tones, for example: 衣 and 乙 would form a perfect small third, etc. The theory was developed by linguist Liu Fu in 1924 in his famous book “四聲實驗錄”if you are interested. As well, I explore Taiwanese language in order to revive the ancient 7 tones system of medieval Chinese tones. Today, Mandarin has only 4 tones, which is, according to the Eastern Tantra Buddhism school, lacking the winter/north or killing tone (“Ru”tone 入聲) which has the strongest dynamic and shortest duration in the 7 tones. I find it really critical for today’s sound /music composition. As for the Roman version, I have this diagram as the basis of my composition, please consider it a pyramid and “i” is at the top of it, but I think basically it is just my personal superstition!
AN: I enjoy very much your album Erotische Reise nach Westen. I’d be interested to know more about how you made it. Also, how do you feel this work relates to your performance work outside of the studio (e.g. the Tape Music pieces)?
LCW: Erotische Reise nach Westen is basically musique concrète, using the same methodology as Pierre Henry….probably more than that of Schaeffer! Tape Music, yes, totally, it’s nothing but how to make sound synthesis by woking with human beings.

A few new questions:
White Fungus: I want to write a bit about two pieces on the Sub Rosa compilation ‘Anthology of Chinese of Experimental Music’. Your untitled 2008 track there sounds like it might be a Tape Music piece…? Or related to the Tape Music series somehow?
LCW :Actually they are Tape-music live recordings in different cities.

White Fungus: Also in that anthology is a Z.S.L.O. track called 422189. Is that a piece you were involved with making? I wonder if you can tell me any more about it?
LCW: Yes, Basically it was a co-operation between Lili-Liu,Singing Liu and me, it is…actually as well musique concrete,even it didn’t really sounds like that….everything was made by extremely simple materials which you may not believe, we work with 1950s’ technology which means not even synthesizer ,sampler or sequencer was used, we have a microphone a delay effector and a function generator(industrial used),and everything was recorded and mixed to a 1/2 inch fostex 8 track recorder,that’s all….huge time was spend on the composition which could seeming ridiculous for today ,however i like the very corpal sensation of the result,certain part of the piece makes people feel the need to go to toilette!

White Fungus: I was wondering what the titles of Z.S.L.O. pieces like 422189 mean…?
LCW:If i am not wrong ,it means it was made 24,dec,1998,but i may probably be wrong,i have very bad memory.

White Fungus: I’m very interested in what you told me about the symbolism of tones in Tape Music. Especially about the “Ru” tone in Taiwanese. Can I ask why you find this one so important for your work?
LCW:Actually i think it is an essential culture issue concerning the sound ,lacking of “Ru” tone in taiwanese-mandarin(國語) musical composition and poetry reading actually means….the absence of powerful dynamic in sound expression ,give a famous example, the tang dynasty poetry of Liu Zongyuan : “River Snow”(江雪), if you read it in taiwanese or ancient chinese ,All sentences are ended in “Ru” tone, which sounds very brief ,almost like pressing hard the brake,which corresponds to the feeling of extreme coldness in the poetry … this is sublime! Also i believe the absence of “Ru”tone can be a symbol of the collective unconscious of ignoring the dark side of real life….a real culture crisis.
White Fungus: When you compose the Roman text versions of Tape Music – or prepare them for non-Chinese audiences, is there still an aspect of tones (as in the Chinese version) in the composition?
LCW:No, So the variation between eu,a,aa,e,o,or,oo,i,ee,u,uu,ü (etc,etc,depend on which language is used locally) turns to be critical,i always do local language version if time permits. (up to today there are mandarin,cantonese,french,sweden,english,india,thai and taiwanese version was made)

White Fungus: That’s all for now! Thanks!!!

The Original Article with Linchiwei short introduction in PDF