The CTM festival, a.k.a the Festival for Adventurous Music & Art in Berlin earlier this year placed a lot of emphasis on early electronic music from Eastern Europe, especially music from the USSR. One of the main attractions of CTM festival was "Generation Z: Renoise", an exhibition on "Russian Pioneers of Sound Art and Musical Technology in the Early 20th Century". For a whole month, the exhibition space down the hallway of the Bethanien was filled with a variety of noise instruments made from metal and wood. Guests were turning handles, banging gongs, drilling against large pieces of sheet metal to their heart's content, and the clickety clack, rumble, boom and twang never ceased. It was like a collective improv noise performance. These machines were replicas of the noise machines invented by Vladimir Aleksandrovich Popov (1889-1968) in the 1940s.
For many years, the imagination of Soviet art in the minds of the general public were dominated either by the dreadful description of a mechanically produced novel by George Orwell, or the forced cheerfulness of North Korean patriotic songs on youtube that are so often the subject of ridicule by bored netizens.
"Generation Z" is a reminder of a USSR that wasn't all kitsch. During the early 20's, there was a brief flash of creativity in Russian history, when artists and scientists strove to create a communist utopia where man and machine were one. Noise orchestras, post-human discourse, experiments in graphical sound and musique concrète appeared, way before anything similar appeared in the West. These projects were the brain child of the Russian avant-garde groups, heavily influenced by Russian futurism and further inspired by Lenin's 1920 dictum "Communism equals Soviet power plus the Electrification of the Entire Country". Unfortunately, these progressive ideas were seen as hostile to the authority of the Bolshevik government. They were gradually repressed by Lenin and brutally abolished by Stalin.
The main star of the exhibit was Leon Theremin (1896-1993), who invented the famous theremin and who also worked for the KGB making machines for espionage. Works of lesser known artists who were nonetheless way ahead of their times also featured in the exhibition. There was Arseny Avraamov (1885-1944), who was already experimenting with the prepared piano, and Dziga Vertov (1896-1954), who was already toying with pre-recorded music and musique concrète.
However, the most interesting part of the exhibition for me was its introduction of the various organizations, or to use the curator's own words, the various "network cultures", which are "based on numerous cross-connected "creative units" comprised of artists and scholars" that sprouted in attempt to contribute their own version of Soviet utopia. For instance, Proletkult, founded by Alexander Bogdanov (1873-1928), was a organization that aimed to re-examine traditional art, literature and science through cybernetics in order to create a new proletarian culture. It opened studios in worker's unions all over the country, using nonhierarchical methods to encourage workers to express their own voice.
"Generation Z" focused on the noise orchestras that sprouted accompanying the experimental theaters that performed under Proletkult. The display of instruments used in these orchestras were imbued with a heavy punk DIY spirit, as they were commonly made with household objects such as chairs, pig bladders, or abacuses. This was in accordance with the Constructivist slogan "art into life", which, according to scholar Konstantin Dudakov-Kashuro, made "no distinction between everyday life and art, production and culture, work and leisure, musical instruments and working tools." Of course, there was a more pragmatic reason underlying these high claims: Russia was facing a lack of materials to create traditional instruments due to the ongoing civil war.
While organizations like Proletkult were busy cultivating their utopia from a class-based approach, others did so through the attempt of fusing man and machine. A radical institute called The Central Institute of Labour (CIT) was founded in 1920 by Alexey Gastev (1882-1939) and supported by Lenin. Heavily influenced by Fordism and Taylorism, Gastev sought to realize the man/machine metaphor through biomechanics: Instruments for photography and film were found within the institute, monitoring the workers' movements in order to calculate the most efficient working method. The ideal was that by the completion of the training, "full automatism" would be attained and workers' mind would be freed to engage in new stimuli.
Unfortunately, most of these projects came to a nasty end. Bogdanov's insistence on Proletkult's autonomy from the central Communist was viewed as a threat by Lenin. As a consequence, Bogdanov was removed from the leadership role of Proletkult, while Proletkult itself was made into a subsection of the governmental cultural agency. It was closed down by the Communist party in April 1932. in 1938 Alexei Gastev was arrested for "counter-revolutionary terrorist activity" and executed the following year. The CIT was subsequently closed down. By the mid 40's, these projects had been erased from the "official" history of Soviet Russia. New ideas were stifled because under Stalin's regime, anything that was beyond immediate comprehension was branded as "formalism", idle contemplations of the petty bourgeois and should be immediately banned. What was left was Stalinist realism, a cookie cutter style that existed only to glorify Communist rule.
One wonders why Lunaacharsky's proposal to composer Sergei Prokofiev: "You are revolutionary in music as we are revolutionary in life – we should work together" faced such a sour end. Proletkult sought to spread culture among the proletarians, the CIT sought to realize Lenin's electrified communist moto. Clearly they couldn't be seen as immediate threats to the revolution. "Generation Z" blames the authoritarian nature of the Bolshevik government: "By their very nature, authoritarian states are not interested in supporting ideas that incite society to any activity that might undermine their authority." While this may be true, the exhibit's clear-cut distinction between the "artistic and scientific Utopia" of the 1910s and 20s and the "totalitarian, highly centralized anti-Utopia" of the 30s to 50s tantalizes the visitor, beckoning to them to fill in the gaps.
Noise Machine invented by Vladimir Popov and reconstructed by Music Laboratory.
Is there no contiguity at all between Utopia and Dystopia? Further studies show that this is not the case. For instance, while the exhibit portrays avant-garde artists striving together towards an electrified communist utopia, some may argue that the idea of the Russian avant-garde and the Communists working arm in arm is a misconception. According to Gassner Hubertus's article "The Constructivists Modernism on the Way to Modernization", many of the Russian Futurists were anarchists before the 1917 October Revolution. They differed from the Bolsheviks in that they distrusted any form of institution and insisted on the autonomy of art from the government. The insurgence of the Bolsheviks however, created a vacuum in the governmental art department, as right-winged conservative artists were mostly sympathizers of the previous social democratic government. The traditional preservationist approach to art on the Bolsheviks' part, on the other hand, was interpreted by the leftist anarchists that artistic freedom could once again fall back to institutional tutelage that haunted the 300 year czarist regime. Some avant-garde leftists thus decided to work with the government and gain at least some political leverage.
While they enjoyed a honey moon period around 1918-19, in which various avant-garde museums and exhibitions were held, institutions became increasingly centralized after the end of the Civil War in the autumn of 1920. Publications ceased to exist and autonomous artistic organizations were dissolved. In a letter criticizing Proletkult, the communist party accused the futurists involved of exerting subversive influences in the organization. Facing this series of defeats, the avant-garde leftists had to rethink their position in society. They came up with constructivism, which attempted to identify the artist with the worker and their artwork as product, thus the slogan "art into life", as mentioned in Dudakov-Kashuro's commentary on Soviet noise orchestras. Though this concept claimed to renovate the relationship between art and everyday life, the price was the disavowal of the artist as subject, as the poet Mayakovski clearly revealed in his statement in 1920: "We declare: to hell with individualism, to hell with words and emotions... so that we can even renounce our own personality... the poet can't be forced but he can force himself"
The artists justified themselves by identifying with the workers in a worker's state, but art risked losing its critical stance to life. Indeed, some critics argued that constructivism wasn't a merging of art into life, but a liquidation of art into life. Marxist scholar Dave Walsh even went so far as to accuse the constructivists for paving the road to Stalin's later oppression of art:
"There is no question that the Futurist-Constructivists, as well as the early Proletkul'tists, provided certain slogans, issues and ideological weapons that were seized upon by the Stalinists and utilized against artistic production itself. The diatribes against inspiration, intuition, "soulfulness," "haziness," etc., were used to regiment and straitjacket the artists of a later period."
Of course, this is in no way to say that the artists got what they deserve, but rather it was an attempt to offer a contiguous transition of the gap left by "Generation Z" in their Utopia/Dystopia dichotomy. It would be insensitive and irresponsible to say that things would be different if those in the avant-garde had done things differently. Art and culture is the most fragile organ of a civilization. In such turbulent times they didn't really stand a chance.
1. The theremin
2. Noise Machine invented by Vladimir Popov and reconstructed by Music Laboratory
3. Portrait of Alexei Gastev by Z. Tolkachev
4. CIT poster: “Let’s take the snow-storm of the revolution in the USSR, let’s put the rhythm of american life and perform well-adjusted work like chronometer.”
Opinions, Dreams & Videos
The John McBain I am sharing with you here is an American underground guitar hero. So underground not only have you never heard of him, you can't easily find his likeness online.
Through the series of videos and commentary below you will be able to chart McBain's evolution from psyching it up in New Jersey's most THC encrusted basements to soloing in Seattle's grunge supergroups, from jamming in the desert with Josh Homme to laying down some of the most subtly dense recordings of modern times.
He may not be famous, but McBain has managed to play an important part in a number of emerging scenes over the last 20 years. And just as these scenes threatened to get huge, McBain either walked away or was passed over. It is not always easy to distil McBain's influence in each of the acts he has played with although there is a common thread: an unremitting commitment to explore the possibilities of psychedelic rock.
I cannot pretend to have heard every McBain track nor am I overly familiar with his life and ideas. The obscurity of work makes such biographical details all the more difficult to find. But this is just reason why the world needs to be introduced to John McBain and his psych guitar. Through his work we can track a path across the margins of American alternative music. And the best way to assess a figure such as McBain is through what he does best - play the guitar.
It's a satanic drug thing...
Having played in a string of garage projects in late 80s New Jersey, McBain and his buddies hooked up with "Dave Brock lookalike" Dave Wyndorf and started getting some local attention gigging as Monster Magnet.
Monster Magnet is still chugging on at venues around the world, turning out ever more processed and unimaginative albums. Some would say that in spite of the band's rise to mid-90s alt fame and a fleeting flirtation with mainstream success in the late 90s, Magnet's best days where when McBain was part of the set up. Two 1991 recordings characterise this era: Tab and Spine of God.
The Tab EP is notable for the track ‘Tab…’, a 32 minute trance-inducing meditation on the realms of analog recording. Held together by a metronomic bass and drum loop, Monster Magnet seemed to want to make ‘Tab…’ as trippy as possible. McBain's rhythm guitar floats around Wyndorf's processed vocals as all manner of distorted and indulgent sounds compete to be the most outrageous. A sound engineer at the time applauded this as "the return of drug rock" and I think he was right. This fuzzed out groove became one of the foundations of the dopily named ‘stoner rock’ sub sub genre.
More compact than Tab, Spine of God is no less extravagant in it's homage of 70s rock. Beginning with a flanged drum solo, Monster Magnet pays closer attention to the dynamics of song writing and the listener is rewarded. While ‘Ozium’ is cruisy and drawn out, the album's highlight is undoubtedly ‘Spine of God’. Centred on a hypnotic guitar riff, ‘Spine of God’ rises from the slightly paranoid medina of the verse to the crunch and roar of the epic chorus. All cloaked in unapologetically acid-soaked histrionics.
Unfortunately as Monster Magnet's profile and responsibilities grew, McBain's discomfort grew too, and his anti-social behaviour led to his dismissal.
Following on an invitation from his friend and former tour mate, Soundgarden's Ben Shepherd, McBain moved to Seattle.
Early 1990s Seattle is a place of myth. For a guitarist seeking respite from the pressures of rock ‘n’ roll, Seattle would not seem an obvious choice. In his time there, McBain lent his hand to some classic underground recordings. 1993's self-titled Hater was the first.
My friend gave me her copy of Hater because, in her words, “it was too country”. Compared to Soundgarden, perhaps. But compared to Garth Brooks, not at all. Hater has the feel of a bunch of talented guys letting loose from their grungy day jobs. Compact but loose, it is an enjoyable slice of early 90s alt rock. This track, ‘Sad McBain’, opens over a furious McBain solo while vocalist Matt Cameron reels off what seem to be a collection of McBain’s notable sayings. Notably, “LA rock sucks”.
The Evil McBain
The Desert Sessions series of albums are best know as Josh Homme and a bunch of his mates jamming in the California desert from 1995 onwards. The project's evolving sound reflects its revolving membership and, unfortunately, is a bit hit and miss.
While most albums see Homme and his merry men making punch tunes punctuated by wacky interludes, it is on Vol.1 and Vol.2 where they take off in space rock mode. No doubt due to McBain's presence. These were Josh Homme's first easily available post-Kyuss recordings and it is one of the great shames of modern rock that McBain and Homme didn't collaborate more. These recordings easily fit into the “robot rock” mould of early Queens of the Stoneage, where driving fuzzed out guitars are well complemented by soaring analogue keyboards. Initially released on vinyl, Vol.1 And Vol.2 were compiled on a CD released by the late Man’s Ruin label. Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, you can listen to the full EPs here:
Escrito por Homme/McBain
For those who got past the "features former members of Kyuss" sticker on the cover perused the liner notes of the self-titled Queens of the Stoneage LP, a line in Spanish might have caught his or her eye:
Escritas pr Queens Of The Stoneage Exepto por 'Juan Regular' Escrito por Homme/McBain/Bomb The Sun
McBain and Homme's collaboration on ‘Regular John’ is the epitome of Homme's then oft-quoted “robot rock” and yet possibly typified his desire to make music that "Girls want to dance to". The tight riffing floats over the bouncing beats of drummer Alfredo Hernandez. As big beat electronica was wooing punters across America, Queens of the Stoneage were returning a dancing groove to rock at the end of a somber decade of grunge bookended by the twin inanities of hair metal and rap-rock. John McBain only helped out on ‘Regular John’ but this song remains a QOTSA live staple to this day:
In an interview from 2006, McBain noted :
I`m not interested in fame. Music is an outlet for me that I appreciate and take very seriously. It`s a really personal part of my life. I make music for myself. And I`ve seen too many "famous" friends of mine either completely fall apart physically and spiritually from the pressures of the "music biz" or transform into ego driven assholes. And in every case their music suffered. No exceptions.
Importantly, McBain’s anonyminity is in contrast to his friends and former bandmates from groups such as Monster Magnet, Soundgarden and QOTSA. This quote pointedly decries the pressures of fame.
John Paul McBain
Releasing four albums of garage-psych between 1997 and 2003, it remains a mystery how Wellwater Conspiracy didn't capture the imagination of rock fans. Remember, it was in the early 00s that “rock was reborn”, as retro-tinged bands such as The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Vines and the The Hives all released popular albums that played around with the meat and potatoes templates of garage rock. However, none did it as well Wellwater Conspiracy. If only they added a 'The' to their name, fame and alt-adulation could have been theirs.
‘Sleeveless’ from their first album is McBain's favourite and perfectly encapsulates Wellwater Conspiracy's twin muses of the freakbeat and 60s psychedelia, infused by the vision and experience of these Seattle grunge survivors.
Asides from the Soundgarden rhythm section (and fellow Hater and Desert Session collaborators) of Ben Shepherd and Matt Cameron, the Wellwater Conspiracy was joined at times by Josh Homme, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder and other Seattle Musicians.
Centaur Of The Sun
Undoubtedly his crowning achievement, The In-Flight Feature (2006) is a cornucopia of stereo textures and warm wah-wah work. Utilising all the available effects of the studio and drawing on his years of experience, McBain crafted a delightful excursion into the potential of sound. Ten tracks long (with three bonus tracks), the echoes, tremolos and drones of The In-Flight Feature evoke the comfort and indulgence that the album's title alludes to while not getting bogged in retro trimmings. I recall reading at the time that McBain expressed interest in soundtrack and production work. If that's the case, then this is the best business card on offer. It is decidedly fresh. All the songs are brilliant but I shall include this one as it the fan made clip was endorsed by none other than McBain (see the video's comments)
This most recent (2012) recording offers the latest McBain incarnation. Jamming with the grizzled looking San Francisco three-piece Carlton Melton (who I amusing saw referenced as "psych lifers"), McBain adds some layers of fuzz and overdrive to what amounts to a heavier and more sprawling continuation of the ambience of The In-Flight Feature. This vinyl-only release is fortunately available on YouTube:
Myth making is integral to rock. Much of the time it is unfounded, as in reality the artists neither have the skill or charisma to warrant such adulation. However, the sublime and sustained guitar work of John McBain is enough to generate an aura of respect, if not a myth of its own.
Whether he was behind the times or ahead of them, for the most part John McBain remains part of none of them. To this end, he exists as a footnote in the annals of alternative rock. It is fitting that for a man who worships the underground sound, it is in relative obscurity that he will remain. Nevertheless, I remain hopeful for the future.
I’m not really sure what McBain is doing these days. Fingers crossed that he is bunkered down in his studio and laying down tracks for some more epic sonic excursions.
(Photo by Boolve under Creative Commons License)
We met Kate (US) and Davos (Australia) who form the band Hi-Life Wedding. They now live, work and create their music in Taipei. The band’s main influences range from the pop-music of Hot Chip & The Beatles, the electronic production of German Paul Kalkbrenner and the literature of Franz Kafka. Hi-Life Wedding believes that music and all art is a form of expression that can help us create a life where we are more free of the constraints of our modernity.
Usi AJ (Photo courtesy of Morris Tsai)
When a little birdie told me about the Renlai World Music concert at TienEducationCenter on August 19, I felt that as a citizen of the world, I should be experiencing all kinds of music.
And it was free and I had a hot date.
In my mind, world music is a conglomerate of pony-tailed musicians wearing baggy-clothes sitting around on pillows cross-legged playing sitars and didgeridoos.
Professor Osamu Yamaguti is a world famous ethnomusicologist currently engaged in research as a visiting professor in Taiwan's Nanhua University. He recently gave a conference about Belauan culture organized by NTU, after which he also agreed to be interviewed by us. In this video, Prof. Yamaguchi shares with us his opinions about the importance of music in preserving culture in Micronesia, and the similarities of certain Micronesian cultures to those of the aborigines of Taiwan.
Image and Imagination 亞洲的想像花園
“But you know, music has no boundaries. Music can make two countries friends. Music can pull so many people together.” He said in a firm but passionate tone.
Karamoko Camara is a master of African drumming and dance from Guinea, in West Africa. When people hear African drums, it often brings to mind the image of a crowd of people playing drums with their bare hands in a circle. “Djembe” is the most well-known kind of West African hand drum, which is played outdoors. He lived for almost eleven years in Japan, teaching and playing African music. This made him a cultural ambassador for West Africa.
“African music is powerful; you cannot play slowly, when you are happy, you play your happiness with the sound of your drums. Some people think it is too loud but it is the tradition. Our ways are our life. When you play in a happy way you can see the audience is happy also. In the local village, we play to celebrate a birth or as part of a ceremony, such as rainmaking.” He added.
He could not be happier that his host family plays Djembe as well, since he cannot live one week without touching drums. His host father, Sun Dafu (Daouda) is not only an enthusiast of African drums but also established the “African Culture and Art Association” in Taiwan. He teaches and organizes different workshops of African music and dance around Taiwan.
Moko noticed the differences in how people in Japan and Taiwan accept African music. He thinks Taiwanese are more receptive to it. In the countryside, even if the event was held in a little restaurant, people would make the effort to come and see him perform. People in Taiwan are more open than in Japan. “If you are lucky, you can find audiences who like African music, sometimes you discover that it is not to everybody’s taste.”
Watch Moko's performance at the Homestay closing banquet
The Fukushima nuclear tragedy in March 2011 sparked a global discussion on nuclear energy in the 21st century. This question was discussed with particular vigour in Japan's neighbor Taiwan, a seismically unstable island with a voracious appetite for energy.
Opposition to nuclear power in Taiwan is not new. Former movie star and spiritual author Terry Hu's involvement with campaigns in the early 1990s is but one high profile example and eRenlai has probed the issue here. The Fukushima incident, Taiwan's ageing reactors and the ongoing construction of a fourth nuclear plant have coalesced a range of social responses in recent years. In this context, the underground electronic artists behind I Love Nuclear!? have come taken nuclear power as an "object of criticism as well as a space for introspection". Their music "is foregrounded against nuclear power as well as the craziness and absurdity revolving around it". The result is a bouncy, glitchy electronic nightmare. But a well-meaning nightmare, as the music was contributed free of charge and organisers will donate profits to the Green Citizens' Action Alliance for Anti-Nuclear Purposes.
Unlike the majority of electronic music compilations, I Love Nuclear!? is not structured around a single easily identifiable sonic template. Metal riffs and lurking psytrance grate against bleak industrial beats. Lush ambience leads to the familiar throb of house. The unifying theme is a dark audial portrayal of the confusion and fear that nuclear power generates. The contrasting styles employed by the artists could be seen as the various phases of the nuclear issue - development, progress, protest, decay, meltdown, destruction, apocalypse, mutation. Just as the various styles of music are all 'electronic', so too are the moods evoked all 'nuclear'.
I Love Nuclear!? appears to have been compiled not as an enjoyable listening experience or something to shake your booty to, but as more of an experiment in letting music generate a palpable sense of the unease and imminent danger so inherent in nuclear power. In the interests of fairness I have given each track a 140 character summary. Tweet style, yo.
|The poster that is enclosed in the CD|
1. 只是魚罐頭 It’s Just Canned Fish by Blackbells
Spooky looped distorted vocals. Gradually building dread. A faux-ambient portent for the warped digital tunes to follow.
2. 機器人的烏托邦 The Utopia Of Androids by Vice City
Am I in Düsseldorf circa 1991? The tinny bass drum üm-tish üm-tishes into some floating synths. Even if your skin is peeling off from nuclear flash burns you’ll still be able to slo-mo shuffle to this.
3. 美帝的禮物 A Gift from the American Empire by Iang
Ethno-ambience morphs in and out of power-chord laden psytrance metal. If you put a mic next to a drum of radioactive waste it sounds like this.
4. 沒有人反核 Nobody’s Against Nuclear Power by Yao
Minimalist pops and bleeps and buzzing bass. Tinnitusinal outro. Relatively easy listening. Thanks Yao.
5. 怪獸電力公司 Monsters, Inc. by Aul
Like a electroencephalogram attached to Mike Wachowski's brain or a malfunctioning nuclear plant alarm, this track will drive you cRäzY.
6. 那天春天寧靜的海 Remember the Silent Sea that Spring by Koala
Classic psytrance, the most danceable track thus far. Your getaway music for when the reactor overheats and becomes unstable.
7. 台電的移動城堡 Taipower’s Moving Castle by MAD+N ft. Troy
Epic synths, glitchy paranoia, soothing piano and an uber-gloomy finale. I love it.
8. 我如何學著停止煩惱並愛上炸彈 How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb by Roweing
More retro Euro-beats and arrhythmic percussion. Claustrophic and nauseating. Kubrick would be proud.
9. 黑色狂歡派對 Dance to the Scam by Betty Apple
Betty gets funky and then freaks out, scooping out your brain and filling it with digital detritus and toxic gloop.
10. 黃色蛋糕 Yellow Cake by VARO
I think Varo is some sort of post-nuclear mutant, that's the only way he/she could compose this. Just as it starts feeling comfortable, the music gets weird. Again.
11. 都是為了世界和平 It’s All For The Peace Of The World by TJ Zhang
No beats here. Just a surreal conversation between two mutants scavenging the remains of Taiwan’s Longmen reactor 500 years in the future. One chanting a baritone mantra, the other whimpering and quivering like a scared guinea pig.
12. 讓你瘋狂的要我 I Want You to Want Me by 灰雁
The piano is all Summer of Love 1989. I can see the yellow smiley faces and goofily grinning ravers. But the glow sticks they are waving are actually spent nuclear rods.
13. 核廢永久遠、一噸永流傳 A Family Heirloom by Alöis
Static and eerie, this is the sound of Geiger counters scouring the ruins and scorched earth, finding nothing but death. The legacy of Sector 7-G.
14. 進化特區 Evolution by Tech Yes
Industrial chaos. Your mum will hate it. The most challenging track here ends in a crescendo of static. The discordant ripping of a scratched CD evoking the death thralls of an earthquake-shattered reactor.
I Love Nuclear is a unique aural representation of how the complexities of nuclear power in 21st century Taiwan might be understood. It is not always easy listening. But since when did a nuclear meltdown sound good?
For samples, you can check out http://i-love-nuclear.bandcamp.com/album/i-love-nuclear-preview
Note from the editor:
The album (250 NTD) can be purchased in the following locations...
Kaohsiung - Booking
Beacons of hope 亞洲的人文引擎
In the following video Chen Xiaoqi, a theatre student at National Taiwan University of Arts, discusses the concept of rave parties both as a form of theatre and as a form of protest and how the interactive and decentred nature of parties affects the social aspect of the art of DJing.
Let me admit it: Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, situated on the Guadalcanal Island, does not strike the visitor with awe. Cavernous Chinese shops filled with all kinds of goods, administrative buildings and houses in concrete scattered around the roads that run parallel to the coastline, commercials for "Solomon Telekom" and the "SolBrew" beer, the two brands that seem to monopolize the advertising expenditures of the country... nothing that really draws the attention. On the hills, a monument adorned with granite plaques recalls the naval battles that ravaged the island during WWII. Modest but numerous Adventist, Catholic and Protestant churches are landmarks all along the way. In the haven and on the beaches, carcasses of warships still lay down, giant ghostly presences. But there is also a kind of softness in the atmosphere, a mixture of gentleness and restraint in people's conduct that, from the start, intrigues and seduces the newcomer.
In Honiara, a wide field has been surrounded by high fences in preparation for the festival, and is divided into two villages – traditional houses hosting on the one side the different provinces and cultural groups from SI, on the other the delegations from abroad, among them the Taiwanese one. A vast public, mainly local, attends the dance and music performances, looks at the handicrafts for show or for sale, marvels at the similarities and differences of languages and customs witnessed from one island to another.
I am usually a bit dreary of festivals and other public events, but this time I find myself thoroughly enjoying the show. I especially like to stay in the SI village, with the huts under the shadow of the giant trees, and to watch the performances offered by tribal groups from the mountains and the coast. The dancers from Isabel Island are my favorites.
Contacts are easy and relaxed. Dancing, panpipes and drums, tattoos, weapons, canoes... I enjoy myself like a child, far away from the megacity of Shanghai where I usually live. Near the main venue of the festival, the little village of Doma, right on the seashore, offers performances from the various tribes living in Guadalcanal Island. Children play on the sand, the music of the drums and that of the waves join into one. The Pacific starts to operate its magic.
Not far away, within walking distance of the fishing village of Lilisiana, the festival gathers local people between the seashore and a lake. The setting is modest, but groups are coming from far away villages, some of them from the mountain bush, and other from the coast. Mathilde, a woman form the Lau tribe, tells me that she takes care alone of a plot of land, where she cultivates cabbage. Her English is quite good: she has worked for five years for a Catholic NGO, she tells me, and in 1997 she even went to the World Youth Day in Paris. She directs the dancers' troop of her village, and performs with much gusto and sense of humor.
Photos by B.V.
The following video is an interview and a performance by Arasuka'aniwara, a panpipe collective from the Solomon Islands:
This video is currently not available for readers in Mainland China.
Focus: The Solomon Islands
In Dec 2012, A DJ collective called "Soundfarmers" from Taipei released an electronic music compilation "I Love Nuclear," which has been reviewed in Paul Farrelly's eRenlai article A Sonic Meltdown: A Review on "I Love Nuclear!?"
Study, graduate, work, start a family,
I've tried my hardest, but I've always been down and out. Whose rules am I supposed to be playing by? What course have I been put on?
Let's break the rules! Take the piss, to get back a bit of logic!
by Zijie Yang, translated by Conor Stuart and Julia Chien from the original Chinese, photos by Park Swan
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