Saturday 1 Feb 2014
The past month has been busy. John Young and I have been making preparations for the Installation event that will take place at DMU 17 February. Myself and Andy (and John- possibly) will be giving a talk about the installation on the evening of 17 February. The installation will then be available to view for the remainder of that week during Confucius institute opening hours.
In the meantime, I have finished the second acousmatic piece connected to the project. You can find a link below. It is also on the works page. It is called Sacred Voices, and is created nearly entirely from the Pandas I recorded in Chengdu.
Sunday 5 January 2014
First of all, a very Happy New Year!
Yet again, I have been so busy that I have been unable to update to the rigours of PhD commitments!
The opening at DMU was fantastic! The USTB delegation are over in a couple of weeks, and John and I have been invited to the proceedings. Then, during cultural exchanges week, the installation will be on display. Andy and I will be presenting an introduction to the installation.
The G70 at Gleneagles was AMAZING!!! Prof. Stollery, had the audience held in complete silence…
And Prof. John Young gave a very interesting talk regarding my work and the project.
It was a real honour to have both my current supervisor and my former supervisor speaking with me at such an event, and thanks must go out to both of them and to Judith McClure for the invite to talk.
I am now frantically composing the second acousmatic piece as part of a commission. It is currently featuring a lot of the Pandas I recorded in Chengdu. I hope to have it completed by the end of this month.
Monday 18 November
Yet again, it has been a mad month- this time however, for PhD reasons. I had my first year review- so a mini viva basically. I passed no problem, but it was a massive work up none the less. I’ve also been giving some conference presentations.
I had the great pleasure of being invited to a reception with the Consulate General in Edinburgh last Friday (15 Nov). I popped along with Andy as he was invited also, and a fine evening was had mixing and mingling.
This Friday is the soft launch of DMU confucius institute. Unfortunately John will be in Brussels, and Andy is in England, but does not feel able to come up for the occasion. I too was supposed to be in Brussels, but I am very lucky that Prof. Simon Emmerson has agreed to come to the opening with me.
Then, next Tuesday, Prof. Young and I will be flying up to Edinburgh in preparation for the G70 summit at Gleneagles hotel. John, Pete and I are all talking there, so should be a very, very exciting event.
Tuesday 15 October
I really need to stop leaving long gaps in between updates! Its been another very busy period for the project. Firstly, after much preparation, the University of Aberdeen Confucius Institute was opened by First Minister Alex Salmond. It was a really wonderful event!
The build up was manic. It involved a lot of collaboration with Pete Stollery in Aberdeen via Skype to get everything just right- as well as a tonne of help from Pete Batchelor on the programming, along with John Young attempting to keep me sane throughout. It was a real relief to make it up to Aberdeen, and a real pleasure as it is one of my favourite places to be.
I even had my own tech support for a couple of days. Pete Stollery offered his services! I can’t help but laugh at how much the tables have turned- only a couple of years ago, I was the one doing tech support for him. Anyway, Pete was amazing and didn’t even mind me setting him to work on tuning all 21 strings of the Guzheng. Well, I guess viola players have to be good at something right… (sorry Pete!) As well as tech support, Pete was my sound guy at the opening… and the person keeping me semi sane as it turned out that I had to do a very short speech to accompany the extract of Our Song.
It all went down very well and I’m happy enough with the installation now as well.
There are however lots of events coming up. The DMU opening is now slightly confusing as the installation won’t be shown until February. I had planned on being in Brussels when the CI now opens, so am swapping Brussels for Leicester as Andy has decided not to come down for it. John Young is in Brussels at the time and so the lovely Simon Emmerson (yes the guy who features in Simon’s Teahouse) will accompany me instead.
Thats the 22 November. I had an invite from SCEN a few days ago to a reception with the Consulate General of China in Edinburgh, so myself and Andy will be there on 15 November. Then, on the 27th November, the amazing SCEN G50 event takes place. I’m playing an extract of Our Song, but I also have both Prof. Pete Stollery and Prof. John Young joining me. I’m absolutely honoured and thrilled that they agreed to travel to Gleneagles and talk alongside me. I’ve no doubt that they will inspire the delegates of the conference as much as they have inspired me over the past few years!
I’ll continue to update when I can, but the next couple of weeks is full of conferences and training course. All good fun…
Sunday 17 September
Apologies for the lack of correspondence on here! The past month has been rather busy trying to finalise things for the openings. I rewrote all the sound to the videos, so they do look good now! Then, two days where spent in a video lab to completely re-render all the videos in order that a universally acceptable codec can be applied. This is all whilst attempting to do my PhD which has been shoved unceremoniously to one side over the past few months! However, i am back on the ball, and hopefully I’ll get 1-2000 for my thesis out of it.
In other news, the Guzheng for DMU arrived. I had a great time attempting to put it together and tune it. This week will be spent perfecting the setup as the Aberdeen opening is next week!
Saturday 17 August
This week has been rather productive. Between last Friday, and Thursday 15 of August, I completely rewrote most of the sound for the installation so that it was more in line with the visuals that Andy came up with. Thats one of the things with collaboration, you have to be prepared to go back and touch up work based on what your collaborator comes up with. I’ve had to do far more than what I would have liked to, but the bulk is done now, and I am happier with the overall result. I’m just waiting on a video coming through from Andy (who is at a conference in Australia- lucky so and so), but in the meantime, I am mastering the videos I have.
I started mastering the longest video today- stasis. Its taking me far longer than I hoped. I want to get it just right, so it is a somewhat laborious process of listening time and time again, trying different volume profiles, panning etc, to see what works. Then of course your ears become tired very quickly as well. As a result, regular breaks are required.
I also found a solution to the interesting codec problem. I’m glad I’ve finished what I’ve needed to do so far before my deadline of 1 September- I have to re-render each film after I have mastered it, in Final Cut in order to have a codec that Max/MSP likes! It also doubles up the size of the file. This could be fun!
I’ve also completed the 1 minute excerpt that Aberdeen Uni requested, so, I am currently running on schedule. I have a meeting with Profs Fennell and Stollery next week to finalise the opening events and to talk progress! Flight up to Aberdeen for the opening has already been booked! Very excited to be in Aberdeen again.
Anyway, I’ve been at it since 10am yesterday, time for some sleep before I start it all again this morning…
Tuesday 6 August
Things are now starting to come together for the installations at the DMU and Aberdeen Confucius Institutes. I now have most of the videos from Andy, and will now spend August redoing much of it to ensure that the music and visuals work in harmony with each other. It means that all other work is at a standstill for the moment, but hopefully everything will eventually get back on track.
The innards of the installation are pretty much complete, although I am encountering a rather interesting codec issue with sound which I am also trying to work around.
Saturday 27 July
I’m now back from Germany, after a lovely if not rather intense workshop with the legend that is Francis Dhomont. In my absence, Andy has been working away on videos. Once these are all with me, I can begin mastering and fixing bits of the sound. Its hard to finalise sound in the first instance when visuals are going on top. Its been a learning curve.
The acousmatic piece 我們的歌 (Our Song) is now complete. Prof Fennell has had a listen and it got the thumbs up- so good news.- it also got a thumbs up from John Young, so I do have something to put into my PhD portfolio too! I just have to make a 1 minute sample of it for the opening itself. I have also made a start on the innards of the installation- the fancy tech stuff that will make everything work. Max/MSP has always scared me a little, however, the marvellous Dr Peter Batchelor took on the task of teaching me some concepts of the program and together we have made a start.
There have been a number of tech issues over the past week which have been holding us up somewhat, however, all going well, the main parts of the installation will be complete shortly.
Very excited about the openings!!!
Monday 8 July
Apologies for the delay in posting here! Its been a somewhat manic few weeks! However, you will be pleased to know that things are coming along ok in terms of the project outputs! I have completed all the sound for the installations, and Andy is now busy working on the image. You can have a look at the first output of the project on this site. The work is called Simon’s Teahouse and is dedicated to my second supervisor Prof. Simon Emmerson.
I’ve also now finished a rough draft of my acousmatic piece based on the trip. It is (currently) entitled 我們的歌 (Our Song) and will be premiered at the University of Aberdeen Confucius Institute opening- September 27 2013. I’m off to Weimar for a composition workshop in a few days, so will be offline, but when I get back, it will be full on building the guts of the programme that will run the installations and mastering the videos.
Sunday 9 June
Don’t worry, we haven’t gone AWOL- rather we have been very busy working on the outputs of the SCEN music project. In fact, we are currently preparing for a presentation at the next SCEN event on Friday 14 June in Edinburgh! My acousmatic piece is well under way, and Andy and I have spent a lot of time together on collaborative pieces too. In fact, we’ll be premiering our first piece at the SCEN event.
Sunday 19 May
As Louise has noted, and as you may have seen, despite our return from China, we’re still adding bits and pieces to the website. There are now image galleries up for Louise’s last few days in China, and please check out the archive page for the photographs we thought summed up each day we were there. Louise is also currently working on the soundmaps and soundscapes, and I’m looking forward to revisiting China via sounds.
We’ll carry on updating the website and blog over the coming months with updates on our compositions and installation work. Please do continue to check on the site, and also please send us your comments about the sounds, images, and anything else that might have caught your interest.
Saturday 18 May
I arrived back in the UK late on the 15th of May, and back in Leicester the following morning. No rest for the wicked however, as my PhD supervisor Prof John Young wanted the full run down of the trip. We had a great catch up and have a plan for moving forward and completing the commissions that lie ahead. After that, I crashed and burned with jet lag. I can’t really complain though, as I got a free upgrade on the flight from China!
I am currently working with Andy to update the site completely. We will continue to update you all with our progress as far as possible! So stay posted!
Lastly, I must say a massive thank you again to Judith McClure and the team at SCEN, Iain Valentine and the RZSS team, USTB, Central Conservatory, Profs Barbara Fennell and Pete Stollery and of course Prof John Young.
Tuesday 14 May
I’m so, so sad that today was my last full day in China before catching a taxi to the airport tomorrow morning. However, the way I spent it was just incredible and will live with me forever.
After managing to arrange a time to meet with Prof. Wang last night, I decided that I would go to the Green Goat Taoist Temple, before hopping on the Bullet train to Dujangyan. The Temple was absolutely stunning, and quite different to some of those we’ve seen on our travels. I thoroughly enjoyed looking around. As usual, one cannot take photos of the inside of the prayer rooms, but some of the Spirit animals and statues where truly fascinating.
I then took the Bullet Train from Chengdu to Dujangyan. It’s a Satellite town around 56km away from Chengdu, but only takes 40 minutes to get there. The train was incredible and this model is the pride and joy of China’s train fleet.
After meeting Prof. Wang and his lovely assistant Cindy at the station, we took a 25 minute drive out into the mountains to the Dujangyan Panda Reintroduction Centre. This centre has a close relationship with Edinburgh Zoo and was involved in the latest attempt to get our furry friends in Edinburgh Zoo to mate. It isn’t open to the public and so I truly was honoured to visit.
There are 8 pandas at the centre at the moment- ranging from 2 year olds (babies) to 5 year olds (teens) and 8 and 9 year olds (adults). I had the privilege to record them, feed them and learn about their habitat, the problems they face, and about the species themselves from Prof. Wang, which was just an incredible experience. Whilst the pandas are kept in their enclosures for their own safety, they are being trained for reintroduction into the wild. The enclosures where big and spacious and there was ample room for them to run around and to chomp bamboo. I was amazed at how active they where and also the number of calls they where emitting! More like a hoot than anything else. I got some great recordings that I will use to inspire me in various pieces.
After a look around what will be the education and visiting centre, Prof Wang and Cindy took me to the Dujangyan Irrigation project. This was just insane. The reservoir was made over 2000 years ago and still supplies Chengdu with its water!
Finally, we all had a lovely traditional Sichuan dinner together, before I was dropped off at the railway station and made my way back to Chengdu. It is a day that will remain with me forever! I really have to say thank you to SCEN, Judith McClure, Iain Valentine, Prof Wang and Cindy for making the visit possible! I can’t imagine a better final day in China!
Monday 13 May
Today was obviously slightly different as I am now on my own again due to Andy’s early departure. I was up bright and early to attempt to cover as much as possible (I blame the wildlife for me being awake at 0500- see sound of the day). Unfortunately, Chengdu has its problems… namely a lack of English speakers! I guess that could be a massive hint that I really, really, really have to improve my Chinese!!!
After walking around in circles for three hours, I managed to find a hotel with English speaking staff, who very kindly wrote place names in mandarin for me. One of the things I learnt from my previous trip to China is that taxi drivers rarely have any knowledge of the English language. The easiest way to get around (full stop), is to have a list of places written out in Chinese!!!
Finally, I made it to Tianfu Square. I found this to be quite surreal. There were loads and loads of police in swat uniforms all around the square (I had to be very careful photographing and recording), yet the square was nothing on the scale of Tiananmen Square in Beijing! The sheer height of the statues and other architecture set against the cityscape was, as usual, very impressive!!
After this, I explored the Chengdu Metro on the way to Wenshu Monastery. Rather new and hi tech it has to be said, and in direct contrast to the crammed environment on Beijing Metro trains, these trains where relatively quiet. That said, Chengdu only has two metro lines at present – as usual though, they are building more!!
I have to plead guilty now that I became a little distracted at Wenshu Monastery. The buildings leading up to and within the monastery where utterly gorgeous, but then, so where the gardens… I got lost. But in a good way this time! I came across bamboo woods, and gorgeous bridges with locals sat upon them slurping tea (they don’t call Chengdu teahouse city for nothing!!!). Then, I heard something that sounded rather like a cow… I discovered a mini lake full of turtles, baby turtles and lots, and lots of VERY noisy frogs… I will leave the rest to your imaginations!!!
After this, I decided to see what the Chengdu tea culture was all about, and dragged myself (it was boiling by this point…) to a teahouse teaming with locals. After much difficulty ordering oolong tea in Chinese, I fished out my phrase book, asked what the waitresses recommended and ended up with Bamboo tea. Immense… 2 hours and a whole pitcher of water later, I leave the tea house. Naturally I also captured sonically, the various shouting matches (poker) and slurpings going on!
Tomorrow is my final day in China. I still have a lot to cover, but I have a meeting with Prof Wang tomorrow evening to record some pandas! In the earlier part of the day I will cover Remnin Park, a Taoist temple and sample yet more tea culture!!
Sunday 12 May
After a rather bumpy (though comfortable) 16.5 hour long train journey, we arrived in Chengdu and checked into the hotel. Some of the scenery on the way down from Xi’an was just absolutely stunning! Chengdu seems to be very, very different from Shanghai, Beijing or Xi’an. I noticed that there is no longer the abundance of spirit animals at the doorways of buildings. The rate of construction in the city is just insane – high rises springing up everywhere!
Andy had to go to the airport to catch an earlier flight home, but not before we had one last meal together. Actually, we decided to ask our hotel receptionist where she recommended locally… As a result, we ended up at a local hotpot place! Now, I’ve been to a few places abroad, but having the entire restaurant staff serving us, attempting to speak English (and phoning their friends to help!) and generally being amazingly generous and welcoming was something else! I get the feeling that Westerners are not that common in these parts… or maybe it’s Andy’s red hair!!!
We had an absolutely incredible meal of Sichuan hotpot! Of course, this is Chengdu’s speciality… The waitresses brought out a huge variety of meat, bitter melon, bamboo shoots – all dumped into a huge cauldron of boiling chilli broth and cooked by us until ready to savour.
I love China so much!
Saturday 11 May
Today was a fairly easy day around Xi’an. We started off with a visit to the Bell Tower, where bells were rung to mark the dawn of the day. There’s an extensive collection of bells in the tower, and you can climb up the stairs to get a view out over the city. One of the highlights was a stall-holder selling musical instruments, who serenaded the visitors with ocarina melodies as we wandered around.
We then caught a bus down south to the Big Goose Pagoda, possible named after a goose that assisted the monk Xuanzang and his companions (Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy) on his quest to recover Buddhist scriptures from India. The temple complex is amazing, with some truly stunning images of various gods, as well as a beautiful and huge statue of Buddha. The pagoda is seven storys tall, and the sights of the city from the top stretch out for miles.
The area around the temple complex is a huge urban park, with stalls and statues littered around everywhere. We relaxed in a local bar with a cold beer, which we drank in the proper fashion, out of bowls. I don’t think they were too used to Westerners, as the locals kept asking us questions in Chinese, which we just could not answer, then kept laughing along with us as we made helpless hand gestures.
We had to head back to our hotel to grab our bags and get ready for our long overnight train journey to Chengdu, so that’s our last of Xi’an. When we get to Chengdu, unfortunately I’ll have to leave early, for family reasons. Louise will carry on, shouldering the burden of getting photographs as well as recording sounds, but she will be cavorting with pandas, so she will still have a good time. I’ve really enjoyed this trip, and the experience of being in China for the first time. I can’t wait to come back again.
Friday 10 May
We took a trip out of town to see the Terracotta Warriors today. It’s actually quite an easy and interesting trip to make – after a small search, we found the right bus to take from the rail station, and after an hour of travelling through the suburbs, industrial and rural surroundings, we arrived at the site of the Terracotta Warriors Museum.
Approaching the museum itself, you wander through a village of shops selling souvenir replica warriors, hats, food, furs, clothes, and more replica warriors. It’s bustling, and everywhere you go someone is trying to sell you something. It’s exhausting just getting through that gauntlet.
But when you get through to the museum, and go into the huge buildings arching over the pits where the excavations are still ongoing, it’s another of those breath-taking sights we’re getting to see in China. There doesn’t seem to be any credence given to the idea that small is beautiful, beautiful has to be big and impressive – and the warrior excavation pits certainly are. The first one is truly immense, and the scale can only be hinted at in the photographs that will go up shortly. You pass by trenches full of individual statues of soldiers with the odd horse here and there. There is no way of counting them, the pits are just long lines of statues.
The other two pits are also impressive, though not on the same mind-blowing scale. The battered remains of soldiers are on view in pit 2, while pit 3 has a set of 4 horses drawing a chariot – except the organic material of the wooden chariot and the leather harnesses have long since rotted away, so the charioteer is standing behind the horses instead.
The spectacle is very impressive, though I have to say that the exhibition in London a few years back let you get much closer up to the warriors. But even that experience did not prpare me for the scale of the site here.
After our return to Xi’an, I had a wander around the main shopping district, and came across a few undeniably cute puppies for sale, as shown as the image of the day for 10 May. The main shopping street has a bit of a resemblance to most Western cities, with McDonalds, Starbucks, Clinique and other familiar names prevalent amongst the home-grown stores.
As we were walking back from the restaurant where we had yet another tasty meal, the end of the day was completed by an impromptu performance by some musicians and dancers, carrying out flamboyant rotuines while wafting pink and green fans around.
Tomorrow is our last day in Xi’an, but we have a late departure on our sleeper train to Chengdu. That still gives us time to go up into the Bell Tower and visit a couple of temples a bit further out from the centre.
Thursday 9 May
Today was our first full day in Xi’an. It is a real contrast to Beijing, or even my previous visit to Shanghai- I’d compare it to Leicester and Birmingham in terms of scale. There are no underground trains here, but rather loads of underpasses which enable you to walk around relatively safely. These are all well lit, complete with shops, cafes and escalators!
Xi’an itself is an amazing mix of old and new. Our first stop today was the Xi’an city walls. These were rebuilt in the 80′s and they are simply spectacular! It is rather bizarre looking beyond the walls and seeing massive high rise buildings for the foreseeable distance. It reminded me of New York or Toronto rather than China!
As no one appears to speak English here, we have truly had to fit in and live like locals. As a result, we landed up in two excellent restaurants today- and being the only Westerners, we somehow managed to order! The food was spectacular!!
We also visited the Xi’an City Temple- which was amazing! I got some excellent recordings- which I hope to use in future pieces- the content of which will be a surprise. The mosque was also excellent! Very different from the mosques we are perhaps used to in the UK.
Finally, we haggled and bargained our way through tiny alleyways in Xi’an- certainly an experience- before settling down to a traditional XI’an meal of lamb and noodle stew!
Tomorrow we head for the terracotta warriors!
Wednesday 8 May
We are now in Xi’an, after a surprisingly comfortable train journey overnight from Beijing. There was a huge crowd to get on the train, but as we had bunks secured in a sleeper cabin, that wasn’t too much of a problem for us. Although it proved a bit of a challenge fitting our luggage in with that of the Chinese couple who were sharing our cabin, but we managed it in the end.
The train boasted an exclusive buffet car for use by the sleeper customers, though we only managed some tea in the morning. We made use of the morning hours on the train to prepare a lot of sounds and images to load up on to the website. As we found that the hotel we had booked into had much quicker, hard-wired internet on offer than the one in Beijing, we’ve availed ourselves of a bit of a catch-up on the website.
We’ve updated the ‘Memories of China’ section to include our experiences in revisiting those memories. We’ve also created a new section, the ‘Archive’, which holds the images and sounds of the day from previous days, to make them easier to find again. The sounds and images galleries have also been updated, to get them bang up to date.
As a result, we haven’t gathered much material in Xi’an as yet. It’s a city which is both modern and old at the same time – it was the ancient capital of the country before Beijing, and there are some substantial relics of that imperial past. However, the streets around our hotel are broad boulevards with arrays of modern shops on every side, with Western names fairly frequently showing. And then, there is little else written in English, and very few people speak any English, which is quite a change from Beijing. Those we have spoken to (in an attampt to find a booth where we could buy our onwards train tickets to Chengdu) were unfailingly kind and helpful, even coping with our hopeless attempts at Chinese, and communicating with us in gestures. It worked – we have the tickets secured now.
My first impression is that this is a city with a lot of expansion happening, but with a well-established sense of its own identity. The problem with language only reinforces my determination to get better at Chinese, but the welcoming attitude of the people we’ve met makes me think I’ll like the place just as much as I liked Beijing (which is a lot).
Tuesday 7 May
Today made up our final day in Beijing! I’ve really loved this city- its such a contrast to Shanghai. Anyway, today we made our long awaited trip out to the Great Wall of China at Badaling! We decided to take the train from Beijing. It was fantastic- it only cost 70p for the journey out. 30 mins after leaving the station, we cleared the smoggy air of Beijing and had our first hint of the Great Wall.
Upon arrival, we decided to follow the advice we had read on the internet and take the route to the left, rather than the one to the right. There is a very good reason that most people take the route to the right of the wall- far easier, fewer steps… However, I’m glad we took the hard route. The scenery was just stunning! Blew me away!
After managing to catch a city bus back to Beijing (less than 30p for the journey) we decided that as we had time, we would go to the Yong He Gong temple. This was just immense… I wish that Andy had told me about the giant Buddha before i saw it and recorded my reaction, but I’ll forgive him… The temple was just absolutely beautiful, and so calming. In contrast to the roar of traffic beyond the temple walls, there was an amazingly serene quality.
Finally, we decided to try and hunt down Simon Emmerson’s tea house memory. The lovely man emailed us back with the tea shop name in Mandarin and its full address. This time, we were far more successful!!! The teahouse was located around the back of a Hutong. It had a beautiful courtyard garden and several individual tea rooms. We really did not want to leave!!! Thanks Simon!!!
Anyway, we have a train to Xi’an to catch… Over and out…
Monday 6 May
Today was a less strenuous day in terms of walking around vast imposing sites, but was quite demanding in other ways.
We started off with a visit to the University of Edinburgh’s office in Beijing, where we met with Dr. Nini Yang. After a quick chat with an animation student interested in the opportunities available at Edinburgh (and who had an impressive portfolio of his drawn work with him), we spent some time talking with Dr. Yang about the University’s activities in China, her substantial role in helping to bring pandas to Scotland, and other institutions in Beijing, such as the Beijing Film School, who may be interested in our work and meeting us on any potential future vists. We had lunch with Dr. Yang, and then headed off to our next appointment.
This was a visit to the Central Conservatory of Music in China, a massive and massively impressive institution just west of Tian’anmen Square. We were invited by Professor Xiaofu Zhang to give a lecture to him and his postgraduate students. Louise gave a very successful speech on electroacoustic diffusion, and I followed up with a quick introduction to electroacoustic audiovisual compositions and their diffusion. The students were very receptive, and the professor was also very welcoming and encouraging. We definitely hope to visit again in the near future, and see some of the students if they decide to visit or continue to further studies in the UK.
Our last appointment of the day was at Tian’anmen Square where we recorded the lowering of the flag at sunset, the sister ceremony to the raising of the flag we had recorded earlier. Although there were still huge crowds, it was a much quieter, more sombre occasion, but also strangely moving.
That’s most of our time in Beijing over now. Tomorrow we will make our long awaited trip out to the Great Wall, then get on to a train for a long, 18+hour voyage to Xi’an, our next stop on this trip.
Sunday 5 May
The initial plan for today was to go to the Great Wall of China. However, we had issues finding the bus stop and missed the tourist bus out… 3 hours later and no joy. We have quickly discovered that one cannot rely on maps here! Anyway, it was a very productive day none-the-less as we went to the stunning Temple of Heaven and Forbidden City. We will go on Tuesday now before we head to Xi’an for the next part of our Chinese adventure!
I will try and upload my sound of the day from the Temple of Heaven when my internet signal is strong enough, but I was blown away sonically by the park leading up to the Temple. It was just an en mass community get together!!!
The Forbidden City was just that… big, imposing and beautiful. I’m sure that anyone coming near back in the days it was used would have been very, very scared!!!
I’m absolutely loving Beijing! It is so, so different from Shanghai!! One thing I really don’t like however is the smog. Yesterday was really, really bad and obviously the heat didn’t help matters.
Tomorrow will be spent with our friends from the University of Edinburgh International Office and at the Central Conservatory of Music. I’m pretty excited about that. I’ve been working on my presentation and had lots of contributions from Profs Stollery, Harrison, Berezan and Drs Moore and Dow. They really have been invaluable! Thanks guys!!
It also turns out that Simon Emmersons teahouse may still be in situ. It seems that it is located at the back of the temple and not the front where we went. If there is time, we may pop along for a cup of tea!
We also went shopping last night… well, actually, we made it to one shop… Andy now has a new friend, but I think all will be revealed when we return to the UK!!
Saturday 4 May
I definitely agree with Louise that the staff and students we met at USTB are all amazing. The campus was a bit difficult to figure out, but our hosts made us very welcome and took us all round it.
Today ended up being a slightly later start than planned, as I slept through my alarm clock. We set off a couple of hours late to get to the Summer Palace – which, despite the name, refers to a huge collection of pavilions, pagodas, stupas, gates, islands, statues and everything else you could want to see. The weather was sunny and pretty hot, but that meant it was great for taking photographs. I took about 700 while we were there, in just under 4 hours, so I hope some will be of use for our compositions and installations.
We didn’t get to the Drum or Bell Tower – instead, we had a quick visit to the Confucius Temple area to see if we could track down the teahouse mentioned by Professor Emmerson in his contribution to the ‘Memories’ page on the site. We couldn’t quite place it, but there is a lot of building work going on just opposite the Temple, so the teahouse may indeed now just be a memory.
After a quick stop in a neighbouring bar, as the teahouse was no longer an option, we moved on to a main shopping street – Wangfujing Dajie – a wide open paved area with immense Western style shopping emporiums lining the street. After a short walk up the road, we ducked into a side hutong, which was full of side stalls selling food and souvenirs. After snapping yet more photos and capturing the ambient sounds, we tried a couple of the items on offer, and then ended up in an excellent fish restaurant to finish up the day. The star item was a strange purple concoction made up of potatoes and either beetroot or blackurrant. Despite looking like a lumpy ice cream, it was very tasty and disappeared very quickly.
We tested out the advice given to us by a couple of people we’ve met in Beijing – don’t trust the maps – by going to the junction where a subway station should have been, but wasn’t. After a bit of a long and weary walk, we returned to a subway station we’d been at earlier, and finally got back to the hotel – ready to grab a few hours sleep before yet another (planned) early start to go off and see the Great Wall.
Friday 3 May
Today was our first full day (though I would argue our second after our super early arrival yesterday!) in Beijing. We started it by getting up at 3am (China time) to take the 3 mile walk down to Tiananmen Square for the famous flag raising ceremony. We arrived well in time, but it was already crowded by the time we arrived!
I will upload some sound from the ceremony when the internet works properly, but it was immense! The square is huge and as a result the sound rebounds. I decided to use the Mono microphones on this occasion in order to focus the sound on the ceremony rather than the hundreds of people. Thankfully Andy brought along his monopod- meaning that we managed to get some video of the ceremony. After this, we went off to USTB- DMU’s partner for their new Confucius Institute.
I knew from my previous visit to China that Chinese hospitality is amazing, but Li Bei and her lovely group of Postgraduate students where just…. amazing! I hope to welcome them to the UK some day! USTB’s campus is very different from DMU’s. It is huge! I also had an encounter with a sewer, but thats for another time. I am now sporting a lovely bruise!
Yesterday evening we met up with Bihe Wen, of whom I first met in Brussels last year. He took us to a local dumpling place which was just immense!
Tomorrows plan is to visit the Summer Palace, Drum and Bell tower and a couple of temples and tea shops hopefully! I will update sound when I get stronger internet!
Thursday 2 May
After a somewhat longer sleep than planned for, we’re back up and running. The sleeping receptionist turned out to be awake, friendly and very helpful when we returned to the hotel. Although the rooms weren’t ready, we left our luggage and went for a wander. We’re staying in one of the hutongs, the older narrow streets just north of the Forbidden City, and it’s quite different from the busy expanding skyscraper city we passed through on our way in. It was a fascinating journey in – the airport signs were in Chinese and English, so it wasn’t too alien an experience, and the main roads are not too different from any large city. But this central area is decidedly of its own character. The alleyways are narrow and the architecture much more in line with the various films I’ve seen of China over the years. There are birds chirping everywhere, small cute dogs roam the streets, and lanterns are strung overhead, waving in a gentle breeze. Our initial wanderings round the area have given me a few more images which I’ll upload shortly, and while I don’t think I had quite the same culture shock as Louise did for Shanghai, I think that’s because this is the intricate absorbing cityscape I had hoped to see in Beijing.
Thursday 2 May
Greetings from Beijing!
We landed at 0450 this morning in Beijing after a relatively smooth flight. From the moment I stepped on that plane from Amsterdam to Beijing, I had memories from my previous trip to Shanghai flooding back! Thats probably partly because we where flying China Southern Airways- which, as the name might suggest is a Chinese airlines. The crew where incredibly friendly, even when I failed miserably time and time again to ask for cups of tea in mandarin.
We got a taxi into town as it was so early, and we are both absolutely exhausted after what has been pretty much 48 hours non stop since Andy arrived down to Leicester. What a happy chappy he was- typical taxi driver, speeding around Beijing like a loony and writing down things for us in Mandarin at the same time as driving and talking on his phone…
My first impressions driving into Beijing City, was that it was rather similar to Shanghai- lots of huge half completed high rises and towering cranes drifting off into the skyline. However, we arrived at our Hutong and during our search for the hotel (which we haven’t actually checked into yet) we explored our surrounding area. Compared to Shanghai, this is what I thought China would be like last time! Small streets, people doing tai chi, lots of bikes, pig carcasses being carried around on rickshaws amongst other things. Actually, the first sound I heard this time in China (other than the jolly taxi driver) was… birds!!!
I’ll record once we’ve had a kip… oh, that’ll be after we have woken up the guy who is fast asleep behind the reception desk at the hotel that is supposed to be open 24 hours… nothing surprises me here!!
Wednesday 1 May
After an incredibly smooth flight, and one of the softest touchdowns either of us have ever experienced, we’ve arrived safely in Amsterdam, our stop off point before the much longer flight to Beijing. (Louise has of course pointed out that the pilots for our first flight were female, and thus much better at flying than men…)
We have a few hours here before our 9 1/2 hour flight to Beijing. While the early start was not fun, Schiphol airport has a lot to look around at, so it looks like a bout of window shopping (I’ve already been through the electronics shop) while we wait for our call to head off east.
Tuesday 30 April
Equipment testing and final checks today, as we’re off in the small hours of tomorrow morning. Louise and I have taken a walk around the DMU campus, Louise recording a sample sound walk while I took a lot of pictures and a few short movies to test the camera. The soundwalk can be accessed on the soundmap screen, We got a few nice pictures around the site, with a spire catching my attention as we walked up towards it, while the swans on the canal were hard to resist. The photographs can be seen on the images page. We also had a couple of serious conversations with the project advisor, Prof. John Young…
Sunday 28 April
Here is a rough itinerary for the trip…
Day 0 Leicester to Birmingham International Airport- 30 April 2013
Leave Leicester 30 April 2300 by train to B’ham international. Arrive 1 May 0030.
Dep. BHX 0600 =>
Day 2- Beijing 2 May 2013 Thursday
Arr. PEK 0520
- Sound/ video walk of Beijing (maybe… dependant on jetlag…)
Day 3- 3 May 2013 Friday
- Tian’anmen Square – Raising of the Flag
- Visit to University of Science and Technology Beijing (DMU CI partner)
- West of City Centre
- Afternoon:- Travel to Drum Tower and Bell Tower
Day 4- 4 May 2013 Saturday
- Tiananmen Square
- Morning:- Travel to Temples of Heaven and Earth.
- Afternoon: Travel to Summer Palace
Day 5- 5 May 2013 Sunday
- Great Wall of China- Day excursion.
Day 6 – 6 May 2013 Monday
- Recording the sounds and sights of the morning rush hour
- Edinburgh University Office visit at 10am
- Morning:- Travel to Forbidden City.
- Afternoon- Talk at Central Conservatory of Music
- Recording the sounds and sights of the evening rush hour
- Evening:- Record lowering of the flag at sunset in Tiananmen Square.
- Visit to Night Market (if not already captured)
- Night Sound Walk
Day 7 – 7 May 2013 Tuesday
- East of the centre
- 9pmish -Train to Xi’an
- Arrive in Xi’an mid-afternoon and transfer to hotel
- Afternoon/ Evening
- Sound walk around Xi’an
- Excursion to Terracotta warriors
- The Tomb of Qin Shi
- City Walls
- Big Goose pagoda
- Temple of the Eight Immortals
- Muslim Quarter
- Great Mosque
- Forest of Stelae Museum
- Drum and Bell tower
- Depart by train for Chengdu 1900
Arrive Chengdu- 1140 =>
Afternoon- Sound walk around Chengdu
- 0700- Set off for Chengdu Panda Base.
- Late Afternoon/ Evening
- Teahouse culture, probably in the Wenshu Yuan area (see below)
◦ Wuhou Ci area
◦ Wenshu Yuan Chan (Zen) Buddhist Temple
◦ Qinyang Gong (Green Goat) Taoist Temple
Day 15- Depart for Birmingham
Day 16- back to Leicester
Andy arrives tomorrow. I’m veeeery excited about this!
Friday 26 April
A pre-trip reflection…
A couple of nights ago whilst doing some work for the project, I came across a report I wrote after my first trip to China in 2011… I’m so glad that I documented the trip like this, as I had actually forgotten a lot of the detail of what I heard. It’s fine listening back to field recordings, but there is perhaps nothing quite like having the background to those recordings! I thought I might post some snippets here in anticipation of what I might hear on Thursday morning when I arrive in China again…
My work ‘Culture Shock’ also reflects on my previous experience in China- you can listen to it here.
I really can’t wait to hear China again, and to be able to reflect on its sonic environment!
Welcome to Shanghai… (October 2011)
I feel that it is essential to give the reader an insight into Shanghai and China itself. As a ‘westerner’, I had arrived in China with many preconceptions due to what I had heard and read about China. Some of these were true, others- well, they were wildly off the mark.
Shanghai is one of the biggest cities in the world – and it continues to grow at a rapid pace. When on approach to Shanghai, we flew over the city for over half an hour before finally landing.
The first thing I experienced in China was the Maglev train. It runs between Pudong airport and the city at an astonishing 400 km an hour. The journey only takes 8 minutes to cover nearly 30 miles - in comparison to the metro which takes two hours to complete the same journey!
I had never expected China to be this technologically advanced, even though Shanghai is considered a ‘demonstration city’ and home of business and commerce.
The first thing I experienced outside of the airport was the metro. The most significant feature of which was the sheer number of people. It was a theme to be repeated for the remainder of my time in China. Just as you thought you wouldn’t get another person onto a metro train , everyone would be jostled about, and another 10 would leap on. All in a very orderly fashion- no arguing, just acceptance that this is what happens here.
Stepping outside the metro was also a rather surreal experience. The first thing I heard was not people, but car horns. Looking around, they were everywhere. Cars and bikes. I quickly learnt two things about being a pedestrian in China. Pedestrians are not the only ones to use pavements (mopeds, motorcycles, rickshaws and bikes can too), and attempting to cross a road in China can be a very daunting (and dangerous) experience. There is no such thing as a crossing code and vehicles (of all kinds) pay no heed to poor pedestrians trying to cross at a zebra crossing- even if a green man is signalling it is safe to do so.
Sonically, my first opinion of the city was very, very noisy and therefore extremely frightening and difficult to comprehend.
One of my habits when I am abroad, is to conduct an early morning sound walk around the place I am visiting, in order to gain a sonic insight into my surroundings. Shanghai was no different. What was bizarre was what I noticed before even leaving my hotel room to conduct the sound walk at 6am.
Shanghai has to be the only place I have visited so far, where I have not heard any birds or crickets or cicadas, as would perhaps be expected from a location such as China. I have my own theories about this in that habitats have been destroyed due to the ferocious expansion of the city over a relatively short period of time.
Everywhere you look, you can observe metro lines and hundreds of flyovers enabling people to move from one part of the city to another. Indeed, it is literally a concrete jungle.
Friday 26 April
As we get closer to the departure date, there seems to be even more to deal with and even fewer hours in the day to get everything done. All the equipment has been booked, and we have a test day early next week to make sure everything is fine before we jump on the plane.
I have been shamelessly cribbing Chinese language help and advice on where to eat in Beijing from fellow Edinburgh postgrad student Yang Ding (Cassie), who comes from Beijing. Apparently my pronunciation is terrible, as she laughs at nearly everything I say, and then tries to teach me the correct way to say it, only for me to fail again miserably. But she has been busy writing out phrases in Chinese characters for us, which is immensely helpful and we’re very grateful to her.
The itinerary is still not quite there, as we seem to be adding in extra meetings every other day. I have a feeling it will be subject to a fair amount of change even when we get there. But that’s all part of the excitement.
Friday 19 April
Its been another mad, mad week. Finally, we’ve managed to get our Chinese Visa applications in. It involved a long and complicated process of getting invite letters from one of the institutions we are visiting in Beijing, and then collating documents and booking details for flights and hotels together and sending up to Edinburgh so that dearest Andy could take my passport and his along to the consulate yesterday. Fun… thankfully, everything was in order and we should have visas on Tuesday… YAY!!!
We’ve also found out that we’ve got a couple of super important meetings now in Beijing too. We’ll be presenting something (don’t know quite what yet) to the USTB students and staff, and we will also have a meeting with Prof. Xiaofu Zhang. He basically setup electroacoustic music in China. I don’t know about Andy, but I am excited as much as I am very scared about the prospect of meeting the legend!
Of course, we will also be meeting up with Wen Bihe in Beijing. Bihe is a student at the Central Conservatory and I first met him in Brussels last year when I was competing in l’espace du sons concours du spatialisation. His work Vague Image was our imposed work. We’ve kept in touch ever since, and I’m absolutely thrilled that I’ll be able to meet him again in China.
We will put up a itinerary very shortly, having to juggle some things around now that we have meetings, but we are confident that we will fit everything in!
Finally, its St Georges weekend down here in sunny (yes the sun has come out!!!) Leicester. Perfect opportunity to do a test run for the sound mapping we will be doing in China. Anyway, got to go and collect some kit!
Friday 12 April
This week has been rather crazy to say the least- but you will be pleased to learn that preparations for the project are coming along nicely. In actual fact, we had some amazing news yesterday. Aberdeen Confucius Institute, led by Professor Barbara Fennell, have also come on board to support the project and commission a installation and performance for the opening of the Aberdeen Confucius Institute later this year! Its really fantastic the kind of support that this project is attracting! I have to say on a separate note, just how proud I am to be doing some work for Aberdeen- I did my Undergraduate degree in Music there, and really, the final couple of years there set me on my compositional career!
We’ve had some other successes too! After a lot of panicking, we finally booked some flights! So we will be leaving May 1st!!! Our kit hunt went pretty well too. I’ve worked out some reasonable kit that won’t make me stand out too much- so result on that front!
The project will go live shortly for SCEN members and ambassadors to share their thoughts! So excited!
Saturday 6 April
So, its the 6th of April today- that means that bar anything major going wrong, at this time next month we will be on our penultimate day in Beijing before catching a train South. We are hoping to book flights next week, and then get onto our Business visas. Once those are sorted, we’ll try and get some kind of itinerary up here! Like Andy, the next week will be spent on paperwork and sourcing kit to take across. I’m a little nervous about recording with a rycote wind shield and the attention that may attract- especially as a Westerner!!!
People have been asking me how I’m feeling about the trip, especially given the fact that I had complete culture shock when I visited Shanghai in 2011. Actually, I’m really, really excited! Despite experiencing culture shock last time, I said I wanted to go back to China and see more. Last time in China, the thing that really hit me the most was stepping off the Maglev airport train into the streets of Shanghai and experiencing the sights, aromas and sounds! I’m really looking forward to experiencing those moments again, and will be interested to see what Andy thinks of it all given he hasn’t had the pleasure of visiting China before!
As Andy said, we’ve just secured a large grant thanks to the Confucius Institute at DMU, which will open in September. Andy and I will be doing a sound installation alongside the commission that I am undertaking for SCEN. DMU’s partner institute- University of Science and Technology Beijing have invited us to their campus. Thats pretty exciting. I visited Shanghai conservatory of music in 2011, but didn’t really get to ‘experience’ Uni in China as I was there for a performance. We will hopefully also be visiting the Central Conservatory of Music too!
Finally, I want to second Andy’s thanks to various people- they are all listed on our ‘supported by’ page. In particular, Judith McClure of SCEN who encouraged me to become an ambassador and continue to engage with China after my previous visit. Prof Pete Stollery who has supported me through the conception of this idea (and of many other projects in the past), Esther Dudley of DMU Confucius Institute who took the time to listen to our ideas and take it forward to assist in further commissions. Last, but certainly not least, my PhD Prof John Young who has been so patient and really has supported the project from day one!
Friday 5 April
Well, it seems appropriate to start off the blog with the news that we’ve had the main funding confirmed, so it looks as if Louise and I will definitely have to learn Mandarin extremely quickly!
There has been a lot of activity, particularly over the past week, to sort out the main details of what we’ll be doing. We’ll only be in China for 2 weeks, and in that time we plan to visit 3 large cities, starting with Beijing, then catching a train to Xi’an and then another one on to Chengdu. Not having been to any of these before, we’ve been frantically reading up on the local sights, sites of interest, and the best parts of each city to catch a glimpse of what China is like to live in, if only for a few days.
It’s a fascinating and exciting opportunity, and I can’t wait to get on board the plane. In the meantime, as well as trying to get my head round Mandarin, I’ve been comparing camera equipment – would a DSLR be enough? Would it be better to take an HD camcorder? As I need to capture both still and moving images, should I take both? (Given the low baggage weight limit for the flights, I suspect the weight of the equipment will become much more of a deciding factor than anything else!)
It’s already taken a lot of hard work to get us to this stage, and that’s in the main been down to Louise, who came back from her previous trip to Shanghai full of enthusiasm, which has continued in her ambassadorial work for SCEN. And of course, many thanks are due to the folks at SCEN, and at the Confucius Institutes at De Montfort University and the University of Aberdeen. Professors Peter Stollery at Aberdeen and Peter Nelson at Edinburgh have also been very supportive. And the superlative Professor John Young – without him, none of this could have happened. We may even have to bring some tea back for him…