Hsiao Li Chi On Her New EP 黃昏夢遊 Huang Hun Meng You, Experimental Music, And Life During Pandemic
With experimental music, the sky can only be the limit. The Taiwanese multi-media artist’s new EP 黃昏夢遊 Huang Hun Meng You doesn’t thrive in any liminal spaces. It engulfs its surroundings, passes beyond them from movements to movements. It depicts the isotherm of Li-chi’s childhood, a funeral she attended last year, and a mountain in Chiayi. 黃昏夢遊 Huang Hun Meng You is patient, unflappable, and heavy. In Li-Chi’s own word, it’s “a mini set about my daydreaming in a beautiful sunset view.” We asked the Taiwanese artist about her new EP, her artistic influences, life during the pandemic and experimental music.
Anuranon Magazine:Hello Li-Chi, How are you doing during this pandemic?
I’ve been quite relaxed these past few months. One thing that really surprised me was that I can stay alone in a 20 square meter room for 3 months without getting depressed–thanks to the internet
When did you start writing/producing music – and what or who were your early passions and influences.
When I was studying New Art Media in Taipei, I formed an audio visual group and started performing. Japanese sound art influenced me a lot in the beginning. Ryoichi Kurosawa, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ryoji Ikeda, Masakatsu Takagi… are all my idols when I was in university. When I was still an art university student, I learned how to feel the sound from their music.
What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments in your artistic work and/or career?
Moving to Berlin. I was kind of lost and didn’t have the self confidence to survive in society. Doing art couldn’t really earn money, but I didn’t have any other skills.
If I hadn’t moved to Berlin, I would’ve definitely ended up working at a company and slowly drifted away from the art world.
How has your musical journey progressed over time?
I started from visual with the audio visual group I mentioned earlier, then I slowly worked with audio. The biggest change is when I studied at the Berlin University of Art with Professor Dr. Alberto de Campo as he is one of the producers of supercollider: a generative sound software. I was so addicted to the generative sound. Building an emotional work with rational mathematical functions, two factors that conflict with each other but appear at the same time, is why generative art is so fascinating. A few years later, I saw a group of people devoted to doing the “sound of Taiwan”. It resonated with my childhood and I really want to share with people how wonderful this small island is. This EP, Huang Hun Meng You, is one of the imaginations that came from this idea.
What do you usually start with when working on a new piece?
I mentioned I started with visual, so I have a habit of always building a landscape in my mind first. Then I would imagine walking through that landscape and hiking in the mountains. On the way there are some indigenous children playing in the tribe, imagining what it should sound like, write it down or paint it, then begin to find the sound which fits the description most, then chain it up together.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do you think do humans excel at and machines excel at?
I mostly work with Supercollider and Ableton Live depending on the situation, I also like to collect some sound sources or create my own controller for performance. I always think technology is a tool to fulfill our creativity, but sometimes I am also inspired by the tools themselves. Machines build a shape, and humans fill the content. Machines can produce beautiful works, but the soul is by the person and the story he/she wants to tell.
What do you think makes music an experimental/ambient piece? What do these terms mean to you? What made you want to pursue these genres of music?
For me experimental music is a collective of music which is not pursued for good listening–some even aim to make you feel uncomfortable. The commonality I found is that they all have a strong purpose. There are several types of experimental music. Some people focus on the sound, they let the sound be created by itself, so rather than controllers, they are more like executors; some have really strong political meaning, some come with performance art. My work is more soundscapes and immersive interactions. Although there are still some beats or melodies, what I’m really trying to do is to invite listeners into my daydreams.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you?
Take it easy and do whatever that can inspire my enthusiasm. If I feel bored when I’m doing my work, it will only be boring.
Do you feel that it’s important that an audience is able to deduct the processes and ideas behind a work purely on the basis of the music?
I’m quite neutral on this topic. I think it depends on what the producer wants to achieve. For my works, I really hope the audience can feel something and have connections with their experience first. But it’s important for me that they can easily find the description if they are interested in the idea of this work.
In how much, do you feel, are creative decisions shaped by cultural differences?
A lot. Every time I experience a culture shock, it inspires me to review myself. Cultural differences are like a mirror. By looking at it I can also review myself. And then I figured out something around me which I thought was nothing but actually it can be a really interesting topic.
The relationship between music and other forms of art, like painting, photography, video art and cinema has become increasingly important over the decades. Do you feel that music relates to other senses as well than hearing alone?
Of course! Our experience is not only built from all of our senses. When we watch a performance or cinema, the feeling or the meaning of a scene could be changed totally by different music.
Do you think it’s important that artists don’t feel constrained by a genre or expectation of a genre?
About this topic I was influenced by my professor Yuan Kung Ming when I was 19. At that age I was worried that I can’t find which genre my works are. He told me don’t care about that, just keep on doing what you want to do and your genre will come out. After 9 years I figured out that the genre is not a rule that we should follow, but it’s just a collection of the works which are already created.
Do you ever feel that music of these sorts should not reach to a wider audience so the original value that makes these genres so authentic never loses its norms?
I think I haven’t been in a group of any genre, so I never think about this question before. The meaning of music for listeners not only depends on music itself, but something has chemical effects between the music and the listener, and probably there will be more creative stuff or new genres coming up. It’s a really good thing!
黃昏夢遊 Huang Hun Meng You is a hauntingly beautiful EP. Tell us about creating 黃昏夢遊 Huang Hun Meng You… What was the motive behind the mood of the EP?
After I moved to Berlin, I fell in love with Taiwan’s mountain, sea, and cultural festivals when they are nine thousand kilometers away from me. They are so close to nature, the island I lived on which I ignored for the whole twenty years as a city kid. I used one afternoon to imagine what was the moment I’m closest to them.
The first part is my high school life. My high school was just behind the temple. Every year when there was goodness’s birthday party, people in the town were so busy preparing it. The night market was over night and so did the fireworks and temple music. Second part is the funeral. It was a great impact for me in the funeral. It was not only to say goodbye with our family members, but also a ceremony for people who are still alive in this world. The last part is the mountain. 58.5% of Taiwan is covered by forest and 268 mountains higher than 3000m, it means you can go to mountains easily from any spot of Taiwan. In these few years, I go hiking every time before I leave Taiwan as a ceremony.
I collect all my imaginations and transfer into the sound, in another word, this EP is sounds of my childhood.
What does this EP mean to you?
It’s like a part of me, a beginning of the journey to trace back my life and my hometown.
Is there anything you are working on right now? What can we expect from you in 2020 and 2021? Do you have any more projects coming up?
I’m planning to do a mixed reality project. It will be shown up with a storytelling escape game. This time I’m not only doing audio or visual, but building an environment for an immersive experience. I’m looking forward to seeing how audiences will interact with this project and what kind of experience our audience will get.