Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Ok, it looks like I'm able to post on my own blog again. Aparently the back end of Blogger is open from China tho no Blogger blogs are viewable here. Somehow tho, Blogger wouldn't even come up in the ghetto Internet "bars" of Shenzhen, or at least the one's I was using. Now I'm in Beijing like 1km from the Forbidden City and things are working fine. Go figure.

REWIND. Last Saturday, I ended up in the apartment of Shenzhen music critic Lawrence Lee for a noise jam session/ preliminary recording session with Karkowski & LIN Zhiying, which was mostly about hanging out and playing with computers. (See Lawrence's blog for pics and parallel accounts, including one - Metal Machine Music - I can't access until I figure out this proxy stuff.)

Karkowski had played a noise show the previous night in a Shenzhen warehouse art space (see post below for review of his HK show a week earlier) to 200-300 people - they came coz it was free - including a bunch of army guys all fatigued out, who stood in formation and clapped at the end.

There was a brief interview after the show, and Karkowski was evasive as ever. Lawrence called his interview style "minimal" on his blog, but it's more that he just doesn't talk about music - with anybody, and he fully admits it. "I've played five shows with Merzbow, and we never talk about music. When we play, we just open up our laptops and start. That's it."

Still, there are a couple things I think I might be able to add. At Lawrence's place - a phat studio on the 20-something floor of a building where HK biznessmen keep there Shenzhen girlfriends - Karkowski picked a book off the shelf, Curtis Roads' Microsounds.

"Hey Lawrence, have you read this?"


"Me either. But I also have it."

Then after pausing a second, Karkowski picked up with a laugh, "But hell, I don't have to. This granular synthesis, that's what we're doing right here!"

Microsounds - interpolating from a quick scan of the introduction - is a sort of hipster textbook for computer programmers, mathmeticians, and music theorists. The main idea it develops is of quantum particles of sound even more basic than tone and timbre. These are "grains" of sound, and you can plot them on an x-y axis, generate them with equations and all sorts of shit. It's very much theory, and pretty mathematical. And I think this is what Karkowski and a lot of other noise artists are getting at and why they don't want to explain their music. Coz check it, when making noise on the laptop, Karkowski now uses a special patch in MAX/MSP that generates random sound - literally just generating random variables for the x and y coordinates on the sound field or whatever you call that and another variable for duration. He can set it on full automatic, which he did when jamming with Lin, standing up from the computer and swigging some beer, saying, "Look, it's running all by itself now."

After the jam session, Lin, a 23-year-old kid who's been into experimental noise since he discovered Merzbow at 17, was a little vexed. "I couldn't really tell which sounds were coming from you and which from me."

Karkowski, drinking beer, was a bit flippant about it. "Yeah, me either, but who cares? I thought it sounded pretty good. Does it really matter?"

Weirdly, on the plane from Shenzhen to Beijing today (Feb. 28) I read something in Peter Hessler's China Peace Corps book River Town that bears in here. Hessler is writing about teaching English lit. to Chinese college students in podunk Sichuan and finding the student impressions fresh and real compared to the readings of university lit crit nazis. Thinking back to Princeton or Oxford - the dude went to two fucking bluechips - Hessler laments:

"I was disturbed by the politicization of literature in the West: the way that
literature was read as social commentary rather than art, and the way that books
were forced to serve political theories of one stripe or another. Very rarely
did a cirtic seem to react to a text; rather the text was twisted so that it
reacted neatly to whatever ideas the critic held sacred...."

In Karkowski's case, just subsitute "music" for "literature" and "songs" for "books," and maybe there's some insight to be gained into his music and why he babbles and changes the subject when asked about it (and also why he makes fun of DJ Spooky for eating up deconstruction, etc., etc.) It's a new on art for arts sake, maybe a techno-modernism, and what better way to expell politics than barricading yourself behind some pure math.

Karkowski is also totally hopped up on Asia. "There's no more dynamic place in the world." He's into wierd micro-scenes from Singapore to Harbin - the West is where he goes to get paid - and he trips on Shenzhen because it's such a brand new futureland, at 10mil and climbing the fastest growing city in the world, a Le Corbusier-like strip of towers and highways built on the bulldozed rubble of an old fishing village, an identity that's been completely replaced. Karkowski has said before that what he does aims to destroy "music," and when I asked if he still feels that way after the Friday night show, he answered, "You could say that what I'm doing today is trying to destroy what I did yesterday." Shenzhen offers that same kind of total iconoclasm.

...anyway, enough of noise. way too serious....punk rock tour begins friday....

Sunday, February 26, 2006

THE WIRE hits China

First off, I didn't even know The Wire article on Taipei was out yet until I met this blogger at the Dickson Dee-Karkowski noise show in Shenzhen earlier tonight (2/25/2006). He's already got a scan of it on his web site ( http://www.chinesenewear.com/gno/) which is probably the best China music blog IN ENGLISH! on the web. Props to Lawrence, his name. I'm meeting him for coffee or whatever tomorrow.
What this all heralds I don't know, coz the article leads with politics and the jailing of a Chinese dissident for posting some punk rock lyrics on the internet by the most hated band in China, Pangu. The timing, with me just entering China for this gonzo rock tour, is either auspiciuos or ominous, which means actually both. After the show, when I told Lawrence I live in Taiwan, he was like, "The Wire just -"

"Yeah, I know. I wrote it."

"So you're ...."

"Yeah, that's me."

I wonder about the reaction elsewhere, like what are those fuckin punks in Chengdu gonna think of it? I get the feeling that word spreads fast here, sensorship being what it is.

....technical aside. This Chinese Interenet is bugging the holy bejeesus out of me, though I finally got on - you can post on blogger, you just can't read it. Also, I keep hearing stupid rumors, like, you can get to Blogger if you go to English language Google first and post but not read (bullshit). Another good one was that to get English Google you could just type it backwards: elgoog. Not only does that make absolutely no sense at all - Google isn't blocked - but it also doesn't work. There are also proxies to get around the Great Firewall, I've met people who know how but haven't figured it out for myself yet.


Shenzhen has a weirdly high proportion of foreigners with dreadlocks and oversized sports jerseys, even a couple of black guys. There are not too many lao wai here, and hip hop wear is of course a strategy to get laid... which is all to say that, yes, this has been a much softer landing than last time, summer of 2000. Then I ended came off the train and through customs at Lo Hu without any renminbi and only a phone number for my contact, and to tell you how much I've learned this time was exactly the same. But only two prostitutes chased me around the Shangri-la Hotel this time in my scramble for cash and a phone connection - in 2000 I'd been shaking them off like flies, and I never did find any money and ended up in a 45-minute cab ride to the middle of a factory zone, with a scheming hitchiker for a companion and ended up in a karaoke hotel staffed at all times by 200 whores and shining like the lights of Vegas in the desolation of this industrial dessert. I was covering a factory opening, and the Taiwanese boss, i.e. my expense account, said he'd pay for the cab after I used my last few Hong Kong dollars to call him long distance via his Taiwan cell phone, which was then forwarded back to Shenzhen. It was the only way. The boss was of course in a different karaoke with undoubtedly even more and probably cheaper whores when I got to the hotel, but at least the cash was there. So I sat down in the restaurant and billed some food to my paid-for room and began talking to the two white guys sitting there, who filled me in immediately on the prices: US$100 bucks for a night if you picked one from the karaoke line-up, but you could get one for US$65 if you asked a certain bellboy. This seemed excessive, but maybe that's what you'd expect from a Controlled Market Economy.

I heard many other things about prostitutes that trip - for example, that they'd parade through the streets of downtown Shenzhen wearing numbers, so anyone in a hotel could order easily by phone - but they are no longer roaming the streets like zombies. Now they are quartered away safely in saunas, massage parlors, barber shops and the like. There is a block of narrow alleys where they sit in open store fronts on couches and show cleavage and look bored, but you can find that anywhere. It seems relatively tame. Relatively.

The great thing, which I found out about too late, is that there is 24-hour bus service direct from Hong Kong's girlie bar district of Wanchai to a row of saunas in Shenzhen not far from where I'm staying, chez Dirtstar. The city is actually a giant strip many miles long but only a few wide; it has clumped atop Hong Kong's northern border like gunk on top of a rounded skylight. The border is a filthy moat and many miles of razor wire. Population is now around 10 million, compared to 7 million two years ago and almost none in 1979 when it became the SEZ - special economic zone. "From 1992 to 2002, the number of people per square kilometer in the city had risen from 825 to 3,597 with an annual growth rate of 15.32 percent, the highest growth rate of cities in China."(China.org.cn) It's the fastest growing city in the world. Immigrants, tons of them, and that means good Shinjiang noodles, and if there's a lot of beggars, hell, they just make it feel like a real city, not some hospital shopping malls like HK or Singapore. Shenzhen may be a place with no history and huge billboards that say; Consumerism will set you free," but anyplace with poverty also has soul. Yesterday I spent the afternoon taking photos of elementary school kids trouncing around on a half-destroyed old-style village surrounded by highrise apartments, a scene you can probably find everywhere in China. The new, demi-wild SEZ reminds me in a lot of ways of Taipei when I just got there, circa 1995. That's where the lao wai with dreadlocks come in, fuckin mackin it, coz anything goes as long as you know which chicks are with gangsters. The last two nights Dirtstar took me out to a club called U-Bar, where a 10-year expat from Providence, Rhode Island, Jesse was on the decks spinning all kinds of nasty, bumpin hip hop and reggeaton. Hip hop seems less a global scourge if its good, which is the problem with Taipei. If you put the Shenzhen and Taipei club scenes in a horse race tomorrow, Shenzen wins by maybe a length and a half. First, they play music other than 50 Cent and Shaggy, and second, people dance to it. I only saw a couple of geezers in the house wining their "second wives." Local kids no how to move; I even met a Taiwanese kid, Bat, who teaches hip hop dance in Shenzhen, Guangzhou and one other city. The market is friggin exploding, and if you ask how much the party is bumpin, the answer is: more.

SEZ Arrival

Dude, just got to shenzhen today, and fucking blogger is blocked here! goddamn it. i met with some people in hong kong yesterday who "knew" the mainland, and they refused to send me certain emails until i got back. they were like, "Your using Gmail?! It's Google!" (Here substitute "Evil" for "Google" and watch their motto go to hell.) Other China email advice came when I got here from Dirt Star, who I'm staying with. He said a string of his emails got blocked because it had "Chin3se G0v3rnmint" in the subject header (fucking weird, but I don't dare write it for some reason). So I'm still using gmail and ther eare like at least 150 kids in this dark cave of an Internet cafe, so it doesn't feel that threatening, except that I had to show my passport to get a computer. And believe you me, I'm real fucking happy about leaving a trail of paper computer use records all across China. Should have brought a laptop, so I could go online incognito at Starbucks for free, then all I'd leave is a damn trail of carmel macchiato stains on my one pair of blue jeans from here to Beijing and Chengdu and back. Oh well. (BTW, clothes are so cheap here I almost regret bringing any at all.)

Otherwise this city is awesomely weird, like someone with a thousand billion dollars decided to build a city in 25 years with only 1950s space age comic books for a blueprint. The convention center here, brand new, everything is goddamn brand new, looks like its interior could hold all the jet liners parked outside around Taipei's CKS Terminal One. There is a gold skyscraper. No shit. Maybe 50 stories, so only so-so tall for here, and every reflective window, corner, antenna, windown washing equipment on the roof, whatever, it's all gleaming like the turds out of King Midas' ass.

The one good thing is the mobile phone market, sort of. It seems as completely unregulated as China's economic growth and looming environmental catastrophes are out of control. (Going through Immigration, a fellow whitey, one who said he'd lived in Guangzhou for 10 years, warned, "The line starts here, and on the other side the air turns blue and it smell like shit all the way to Beijing.") Coming through into the plaza outside the Lo Hu train station, where I'd crossed the border, I bought a phone number for 120RMB cash, no questions asked. The only problem is every cell phone in China is 11-digits long, and the lady explained to me that you have to dial an extra 5 digits in front of that to get the cheap rate of zero-point-something RMB per minute. I was gonna asked why, but then I reminded myself, "Oh yeah, now I'm in China."

Sunday, February 19, 2006

An article pitch I just sent to a music magazine, and also what I did yesterday:

In about a week and a half I'll be in Beijing to speak with and see
performances by FM3, inventors of the Buddha Machine and China pioneers in
minimal techno and ambient. I realize the Buddha Machine is pretty huge now -
this little looping transistor radio-like device originally used to
automate Buddhist temple chants but then converted for ambient sound art by
working with Cantonese factories - but there's lots and lots going on in China
now if that would be too dated by publication, and Beijing as always is
the big center. Last night in Hong Kong I saw and spoke with
Dickson Dee and Zbigniew Karkowski at the launch of a tour that goes
into China tomorrow (Monday). Karkowski said this is something like his 7th tour
of China and that the crowds he's getting are big, sometimes up to 400. He says
he's performed with at least a couple increadible musicians, including one kid
from the frozen industrial city of Harbin (north of Beijing) who was making
"increadible noise, and when I asked him, 'have you ever heard of Merzbow, White
Room, people like this?' he just shook his head. It was amazing, this was
amazing real noise music, and he was just reacting to his environment!" I
will probably be touring 8-9 cities in China with a band, checking out music
scenes in various cities, and I will also spend time in Beijing talking to
leading music critic and experimental artist Yan Jun, FM3, the people
at Sanshui Records (who release CHinese breakcore, ambient, etc.) - they're
actually something of a clique. If you haven't had anything on China lately,
this would be an excellent time.

Crowd-wise, going to a noise show is kind of like riding the subway - everybody just sits through it and at the end they just kind of wander off in a stupor. The only difference is that after a noise show your ears are ringing. The typical questions that follow, are: so, what did you think of that? It's fishing for something to say about it, because nobody has any fucking idea how to describe 70minutes of modulated sine waves, feedback, and static but the big fear for all hipsters is to sound uncool. Sure, you gotta walk into noise shows with an open mind, but I wish people would sometimes just say, 'dude, what the fuck was that all about? that sucked.' I should bring a banker.

Karkowski didn't suck tho. In the world of loud-ass jet engines and generated noise, somehow he manages to be good while others are okay. Dickson was doing something interesting with a turntable - some scrub record that just generated noise, which he modulated realtime with controllers, etc., i.e. nothing canned - and it was good for 10-15 minutes but went on too long. I wonder where the hell is the structure, and by that I mean in big terms. Too much noise is random brain paths. Even though it's totally abstract, you can tell the brain is going: I think I'll do this, oh, and let me do this scratchy tone, let me speed up here, let me do the slowdown lowdown. It's too all-over-the-place; too many tangents. What's wrong is forgetting about the listener, because good stream of consciousness (think Faulkner) still has an overarching plan and tells a story, i.e. it's edited. Vs. bad stream of consciousness, which is what you usually get. Technological innovation's not enough. I think Karkowski knows all this and gets it right, even though he's also 100% live, and at the start of the show he is bobbing his head, like he's rocking it, like there's a beat even though it's just steady blasting white noise - and after a bit, I was feeling it too. I don't know exactly what he's got going, but he has something. What's intersting and analyzable is that in his loud-as-shit music he interlaces different timbres. 100 decibels of medium-low register droning won't hurt your ears like static with high pitched spikes will, and he interweavs these things giving you an experience. He was also not too long, 10-15 minutes or so, and maybe with noise and sound art, that's wise. In the entire history of music, I don't think anyone has produced an hour-long composition that counts as good music without weeks or months of work. Noise is no different.

For info on this China tour, check Dickson's blog.


Ma Ying-jeou also makes the cover of a Chinese news mag on the HK news stands, but here the take is different and perhaps telling of mainland concerns. The magazine is called Wide Angle, and I can't remember the exact wording of the cover text, but it's something like this: If the KMT retakes Taiwan's government, what then? The photo is totally different from the candyboy Ma on Time Express - here it's grainy black and white, hard news gravity. The interesting thing about this kind of viewpoint coming from China is - after sucking up to Lien Chan, James Soong, and specifically the KMT as a party; and if Beijing's first choice of a Taiwanese political candidate short of one they'd appoint themselves actually becomes president - well this getting what they want may turn out to pose a serious problem. The question Wide Angles's cover seems to be asking is: well, if we get the guy we want, holy shit! does that mean we actually have to work with him?

Personal note: Could this be an upside to a Ma presidency? I'm still trying to prepare myself.

Friday, February 17, 2006


The current copy of Time Express on HK news stand shelves has Ma Ying-jeou as cover boy and sporting this gushing grin that makes it more like he wants people to pick him up and hug him than vote for him. It's a near-total puff piece (from a magazine that's basically an ESL tool anyway) , and I expect we'll be seeing a lot of them until Taiwan's next presidential race gets into hardball mode. But this kind of thing will be paving the way. HKese, and even Chinese, really like Ma, probably because he seems sensibly whimpy to them. But talking to an HK gallery owner the other night, a person who aligns himself KMT, believes Chen Shui-bian's use of the assassination attempt amounts to election fraud, etc. - i.e. is predisposed in many ways to like Ma. But his honest judgement is that Ma is too much of a wuss to deal with Beijing without being made their bitch. "At the end of the day, Chinese politics is a very macho culture." This is also the line of Kaohsiung taxi drivers and the rest of Taiwan's south. It's funny to hear a mainlander agree.


Just found out that the US ambassador to China, Clark T. Randt, was "Bush’s fraternity brother at Yale." HK gossip, which first off is basically supportive of Randt as a 3-decade China guy who actually does know his shit and speaks fluent mandarin, says they weren't just frat brothers but actually roommates from sophomore year on, and a few other things as well, which of course, I have absolutely no way of confirming.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


I've been invited along on a 14-city tour of China with a Swedish hardcore/ punk band called Insurgent Kids. The invitation comes from one of the Wuhan punks, a kid Andy hooked me up with (Props). The tour looks like this:

3月03日 周五 北京@13 CLUB
3月04日 周六 武汉@左眼酒吧
3月05日 周天 长沙@
3月06日 周一 桂林@算了吧
3月07日 周二 dayoff (阳朔)
3月08日 周三 dayoff (阳朔)
3月09日 周四 昆明@说吧
3月10日 周五 重庆@第一现场
3月11日 周六 成都@小酒馆
3月12日 周天 西安@
3月13日 周一 南京@82酒吧
3月14日 周二 杭州@31艺术酒吧
3月15日 周三 上海@
3月16日 周四 济南@
3月17日 周五 北京@无名高地

Like Hunter S. said, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."

I also met a former banker/ finance guy turned author and publisher, who's done a couple off-the-wall titles like this children's book:

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'This book is inspirational and desperately needed.' - National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders.

Pub. A&C Black, London

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


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Lucky that my first evening in town, Hanart Gallery had a show, which not only gave me something to do, it gave me a chance to meet Johnson Chang, who's not only one of the most finger-on-the-pulse guys in the Greater China art market, he's also an alum of my college, class of '73.

On exhibit were two Yunnan artists, Chen Changwei (陳長偉) and Zhao Guanghui(趙光輝) who work with fiber glass and auto paint - they farm the actual work out to some fender repair shops. Zhao made mock-future cars, the most interesting one pictured above.

I spoke to him briefly, said he should make it into a submarine that could be piloted by a child, then mass produce them and use them to invade Taiwan. Despite my insipidly mumbled Chinese, he might have even understood; he's got this clever yokel's face, and he showed crooked teeth at the punch line. Still, it was probably funnier for me.

I asked the other artist, Chen, why he felt like making a big 2-meter bust of Mao. His sculptures all have mottled, rumpled surfaces, a conceptual left turn from the gloss finishes. I heard one wine drinker say he considers it "half digested but not completely digestible," which gives an impression of what he's thinking, but still doesn't really do it for me; ditto for the work. (The whole show was an ironic future thing, not the freshest idea. One piece by Zhao consisted of car parts made to look like bone fossils and half burried in some sand. This was in a corner of the gallery. I thought it should have been installed on some beach Planet of the Apes style. He said he'd never seen the movie.)

So when I asked about Mao, the answer: Because I really like Mao Zedong.

This was good practice, because I'm trying to train myself to not gaff when I encounter people who actually still venerate Mao, though of course when this does happen it is invariably in oddball ways only the Chinese education system can explain.

Mao could really do things. He knew how to clear out everything and replace it with something new. As an individual, if you kill someone or destroy things you are a criminal, but as a leader it's different; it may be for the greater good. And being able to overturn the old culture and replace it is what is needed now. As an artist I can appreciate that. Mao should have been an artist. As a political leader he may have been terrible, but he would have been a great artist. People have said so before. It's hardly a new idea.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Filipino fund-gutting

A workers watchdog group, the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants, has since the beginning of this month been accusing the Philippines' main liason office in Taiwan, the Manila Economic Cultural Office (MECO) of funneling 30 million pesos to current Philippinnes president Gloria Arroyo in advance of her last election in 2004. MECO gets its money from fees charged to Filipino workers in Taiwan, 235 million pesos in 2005, according to APMM. These fees are supposed to take care of its budget and provide services to resident workers (yeah right). Financing embattled Arroyo's reelection would be a scandal, though scandals are so dime-a-dozen in the Philippines it's hard to gauge how big a scandal. Also, it's still not clear where evidence of the alleged transfer comes from, but the story has gotten some attention in a CNA story in the China Post, where MECO denies the accusation.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Mei's in the NYT

The New York Times Travel Section just published its latest report on Taipei, and the WHERE TO SHOP section includes this on Mei's Tea Bar:

New Yorkers in search of tea will notice a familiar name — Ten Ren, (www.tenren.com), the Chinatown purveyor of oolongs, is all over Taipei. But for a more intimate purchase of fragrant leaves, visit Mei's, 16 Lane 37, Yongkang Street, (886-2) 2394-2425; its proprietor, also named Mei, is a government-approved tea sommelier. (The state exam involves sampling 30 brews and identifying their mountain of origin.) Deep-pocketed tea lovers should ask for Assam from Hua Lien County, 3,200 Taiwan dollars for 2.2 pounds.


this is just to make the blog appear so i can format it