Limited edition of 160
Out on February 28, 2021
Yan Jun: toy piano
Zhu Wenbo: toy piano
Composed by Zhu Wenbo
Recorded by Yan Jun at Studio h, Beijing, July 25, 2020
Mixed by Yan Jun
Mastered by Hiroyuki Ura
Ftarri e-mail interview with Zhu Wenbo
Q: When and where did you start your musical activity?
I grew up in Qingdao and started listening to rock music in high school. It was the late 1990s. I learned some instruments at that time, first guitar, then some years later harmonica and piano, though I'm not good at any of them.
At that time I really wanted to form a band, because I didn't have the confidence to write songs and play alone. I needed some help! But finding suitable band members is such a difficult thing. Finally, in late 2008, my friend Ma Meng and I formed the duo Fat City in Beijing. Both of us really liked no wave, prog rock, krautrock bands at that time, such as DNA, Suicide, King Crimson... But as you can imagine, it is difficult to sound like them with just a duo...
Almost at the same time, my friend Michael Pettis, who ran the club D-22 (a legendary rock bar in Beijing), invited me to do an "experimental rock weekly series" in his club. I said yes very quickly, so that I could invite bands I wanted to play with. That was the beginning of Zoomin' Night, in August 2009. After a few months I found that organizing a weekly experimental concert in Beijing is not an easy thing, so I pushed myself to learn and think more about these kinds of music--not only how to play or recognize different styles, but also how to collaborate and expand the local scene. I think I learned a lot from these experiences.
I also learned clarinet in 2013, and tried to use it to play improvisational music. Of course, anything can be used in improvisation, but at the time I wanted to use an acoustic instrument, without guitar pedals or software, just pure sound.
Then in 2015, the clubs where I organized concerts (first D-22, then XP) closed. I was too tired to keep organizing a weekly series, so I changed Zoomin' Night to a cassette label. I think I've learned a lot from running a small label for the past five years.
Q: When did you move to Beijing?
I moved to Beijing in 2000, to study in university. In 2004-2007 I was in Hunan for a master's degree. After that I moved back to Beijing.
Q: When and how did you first meet Yan Jun? What projects have you done with him?
I read Yan Jun's articles in my high school days. At that time he was one of the most famous music critics in China, and the music writer with the most avant-garde taste. I think I first met him in 2001, at some rock concerts. We started becoming friendly (but in slow steps) around 2009. I invited him to play in Zoomin' Night, and he invited me to play in Miji Concert, which he organized. Then we introduced our non-Beijing friends to play in each other's concerts.
Yan Jun went to Berlin for a residence in 2016-2017. During that time I helped him run Miji Concert in Beijing. After he came back, we ran Miji together in his studio. It was more or less one concert every two months in 2019, but a lot less in 2020.
We produced the compilation There is no music from China in 2016-2017. It was released by New Zealand's End of the Alphabet and Zoomin' Night.
During the quarantine time in 2020, we organized "Miji 66," inviting some musician friends to write compositions for an audience to perform--people with no music background. Then we turned that idea into a real performance, Musiklos 4. In that two-day performance, artists contributed their own works or used the pieces from Miji 66, and they were played by the audience. Before the concert we spent one day in a workshop with the audience.
Q: Why did you compose "Footprints"?
In the early days of quarantine, a Canadian musician asked me to do a remote collaboration. We decided to write compositions and record separately. So I wrote this piece, but he ended up not writing a piece. :)
Reasons for writing this piece: First, I wanted to write a melody-based piece. Before that, most compositions I wrote were time-based, and the musicians could play almost any note or noise in the performance. In this piece I wanted to try something I had not done before. The inspiration for "Footprints" came from a piece by Manabu Suzuki on the CD Kantoku Collection. It was a midi-piano work, just the same four short melody parts but formed into different groups.
I used a guitar to write a short, simple melody. It's beautiful, I think. After that I only kept the notes and removed the other music parts, such as bars and lengths. Musicians are supposed to play these notes in a formed sequence, separately, and they can be in a different octave, at any speed. Then it loops back to the beginning. So the melody appears, then disappears again. I also added two "random parts" in the notes, and musicians could play any note or any sound in those parts. These became the first part of "Footprints." Then I made some variations based on the first part to write part two and part three.
Q: Why did you choose Yan Jun to play "Footprints" with?
"Footprints" can be played by any number of musicians on single-note instruments. One summer day, I visited Yan Jun's studio and found a toy piano there. Yan Jun said he found it on the street. Then I got the idea that I could record "Footprints" with him, because I also have a toy piano. I thought it could be an interesting duo. And it's a "skill-less piece," especially for a toy piano. Pressing the keys is the skill. So one week later, I took my toy piano to Yan Jun's studio. We played the piece slowly, note by note. And I made little adjustments--sometimes we played the same notes in different octaves together, to make it sound more suitable for a toy piano duo. It's interesting that Yan Jun didn't know the notes on the piano. I put the names of the notes (CDEFGAB) on his piano's keys...
Zhu Wenbo is a Beijing-based composer/musician/label owner/concert organizer active on the experimental/improvised music scene. He organized the concert series Zoomin' Night from 2009 to the mid-2010s, and subsequently ran the cassette label of the same name. The instrument he plays most often is the clarinet.
A specialist in experimental composition, Zhu Wenbo contributed compositions and performances to the Ftarri label's 2018 releases Ftarri Fukubukuro 2018 (meenna-879) and Trio and Septet (meenna-876). For Ftarri Festival 2019 he wrote the new work "No Joy, Sisyphe," which was commissioned by Ftarri and performed by the Ftarri Ensemble (of which he was a member).
"Footprints," a piece composed by Zhu in 2020, is comprised of very simple series of short sounds. The musicians are given a great deal of freedom, and neither the instruments used nor the number of players is fixed. In the summer of 2020, Zhu visited the studio of Yan Jun, the leading figure on Beijing's experimental/improvised music scene. He noticed a toy piano in the studio and thought of performing Footprints on that instrument. Zhu brought his own toy piano to Yan's studio, and they recorded a two-toy-piano version of "Footprints" (producing the instruments' unique, somewhat metallic sounds slowly, note by note). This three-track album starts with a 20-minute piece, followed by two variations of 20 and 5 minutes.
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