A late afternoon start time and an unexpected, last minute change of venue probably account for the horde of people that didn’t come June’s talk. Nevertheless, the crowd that ultimately made it were treated to two works by critically-acclaimed international composer-musicians…considering the (impossible-to-top-in-Beijing) pastries provided by Opera Bombana, and the sacral, 600 year-old Chinese temple feel and acoustics of our temporary digs @ Contempio, I’d say that’s a pretty good deal for the 0 RMB price of admission. Not that I’m trying to tempt you to come to our July talk or anything… ;)
The Chinese musician, instrument maker, professor, and programmer, Meng Qi, opened up the event with a performance-experimentation using a newly designed, hybrid instrument of his.
As you can see in the photos, the as-yet unnamed instrument has a metal box encasement, which houses the electrical imagic/wizardry created by Meng Qi that serves as an interface between computer and external blue strings. Admittedly, Meng Qi is still “learning” is instrument, but in having been its inventor, there is essentially no prescribed way of playing “properly”. Meng Qi is both teacher and student.
This question was brought up in the (so fruitful I was genuinely upset when it needed to end) discussion: In an age of makers, incredible experimentation, and a proliferation of never-before-seen instruments, what happens to academic notions of musical training? Clearly, the time-honored methods of expression and teaching for certain instruments will still exist; kids will still want to pick up the piano, violin, lute (forgive me, I’ve gotta give a nod to the lute every now and then; I’m addicted to pre-bedtime reading lute recordings – oh, the blessedness of lute-induced REM cycles!). But it is also clear that the age of blending both acoustic-analog and electric-digital is still in its infancy, and the swathes of unexplored territory before us are unthinkable. This is the kind of prospect that has always given reactionaries pause; it is the kind of development that led Delacroix and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts to snub visionaries like Courbet, whose scenes of domestic realism and socioeconomic complexity seem today as inevitable and commonplace as faux Louix Vuitton smart phone covers.
Despite slight differences in age and training – Jacopo Baboni-Schilingi comes from a more classically-trained background – our speakers both took to the developments and possibilities of electronic interfaces at an early age. And while the opening of the creative floodgates has led to an ever-expanding field of amateur “bedroom composers” offering their works for sale and/or consumption online, they don’t see this as a bad thing. In their minds, this creative flurry for the most part inspires professionals like themselves to raise the bar ever higher, both for themselves and their field(s).
The brushed metal waves coming from Meng Qi’s creation echoed throughout our little chamber and called me, for one, into trance. This use of feedback, even in its experimental phase, could very well be a lute replacement; I’m just not sure how much reading I could get done simultaneously.
The piece Jacopo Baboni-Schilingi chose to play for the audience was the result of the kind of interdisciplinary, collaborative work that takes him around the globe these days. Based in Paris, the French-Italian composer, lecturer, and researcher is currently touring heavily in Asia. For him to have taken time out of his frenetic schedule and given us an experience of his piece, which melds his electronic score to the moving visuals of his multi-media artist co-developer, was no small treat. The piece was impactful coming from his laptop; I have to believe that seeing it presented in one of its intended environments would be truly captivating.