Yan Jun x Yan Jun: absolute music no. 2
Q: How did you come to this? Is it your first video work? How could you regard such an easy and boring thing as art? Have you decided to not work hard anymore?
A: I’m sorry if I have to call it music or art. You don’t have to do so. I know it’s not fair that some people spend months and years to work on polishing one single piece. But it’s fair at same time that they are respected by the masses. At least they are morally respected no matter whether their works are boring or fantastic.
I started making music without any instrumental experience when I was 30 years old. Before that I was a rock critic. I have tried to make drone music, soundscape, electroacoustic music and so on; I play improvised music now. It’s different than the jazz-oriented classical improvised music. When I was a rock critic I fought people who thought it wasn’t music. Then as an underground music promoter, I fought rockers who thought it wasn’t music. Then people who thought outsider music, noise, and improvised music are not music. Now I’ve given up defending. Perhaps I’m wrong but I just exist here. Sorry, but no one can delete it.
Q: Why did you take the 10 seconds of operational fault as part of the work? How do you regard this genre? Field recording with video? A movie of a field recording? Video documentary with operational fault?
A: Perhaps just “video.” No doubt it is, right? According to the fault on sound, I’d call it part of the field recording. And field recording for me is a kind of music.
First, the fault happened without any influence of my will, taste, or design. Machines are part of the nature, or environment if you prefer. Humans, in this case Kang He [the camera operator], are also part of the nature. I can’t ask nature to give me a better reality according to my (or others’) taste. And actually I really like this 10 seconds of sudden muteness. You can hear his hands from the beginning. David Shea said “if a sound happens once it’s accident, twice it’s structure.” For me it happened twice as well: once in the recording, once more in listener’s mind.
For the classical experimental composers, fault is not accepted unless it’s part of their design. Especially for the so-called indeterminate music conditions of music that should be strictly set. The composers were gods above their materials.
My friend told me that Haydn composed small pieces while he had no money to pay a full orchestra of players. I like poor composers. My cameraman, Kang He, said if he had a 24-70 lens, the video would be different — but he has no money to buy it. But the result of his 300 euro lens, the scale of the light, and the granules, make it perfect on its own.
Q: You mentioned “no special technics and equipments were used. No special phenomenon was investigated. No special concept and development…” in the text information about “absolute music no.2.” It sounds very punk: no! no! no! In spite of the video’s being slow and quiet?
A: Ok, this rhetoric is “sentence parallelism” according to my dictionary. It’s an old style in my writing since I was an angry critic. It was very popular when I was kid because Mao Zedong used it in his impressive, eloquent style. But the root could be traced back to some traditional literature styles from 2000 years ago. Today, it’s really popular in official texts and lectures. As well all other mainstream brain-washing occasions. I’m sorry that I’m part of this language, or this language is part of me. And I’m not a punk. I’m too old to die young.
Q: So after all those “no”s, is it not anymore a minimalist work or conceptual work as you refused? Or is there actually another layer of concept?
A: It’s true that I don’t have any concept for this work. For the first “no” I meant I don’t like the fashion of “sound exploration” by telling people you are smart enough to find spectacle. It could be huge or tiny, but anyway it’s spectacle if you stop at “exploration.” I’m attracted to strange sounds and all the phenomena, but this time I just wanted to enjoy a very simple thing: watching the wall. I do enjoy the walls, washing machines, fans, lifts, and super boring, super long art films. It feels nice to enjoy it without any reason. Being simple is a luxury. But I think every human being deserves some luxurious moments in life.
But in regards to minimalist art, I have to say it’s too much luxury for me. I can’t afford it. In many cases it takes more money, better equipment, experienced labor, professional social division of labor, or trained performers. But I live in a reality in which most venues and museums have no earth ground for their electricity. I prefer noise.
(A question from Kang He) Why does “absolute music” have no title?
YJ: I don’t know why they translate “absolute music” into “music that has no titles.” Somehow it’s nice. But still I feel strange with “absolute.” There is no “absolute” in my world. Perhaps there is but I’m not sure. I’m sure the sentence “there is no…” is not absolute. But I’m not absolutely sure. This is a concept very far from my knowledge and experience. Such as ice for the insects who are born and die in the same summer. Or as minimalist art for people who live in China’s countryside.
But if there is a piece of work that has no title, people will give it a title. It’s difficult to keep anything with no name. Language doesn’t allow it. It must be a black hole, a god, a devil, or a new life between ‘not-pregnant’ and ‘pregnant’ (according to the German saying). You know I desire to visit this no-name-land and I’m trying through contradiction.
Q: Why this title? What is “absolute music no.1?”
A: First, I would have something simple and universal. But I don’t like “untitled.” Then “music that has no title” comes. This is nice and comes with an ironic effect in English. Because it’s not the old European stuff at all. Being ironic is always good.
I’m not sure if I will entitle one of my unpublished works as “absolute music no.1.” I would make it totally no information and no title. But how can I present it to a curator, an editor, and an audience?
Anyway this piece is very musical. The structure, the bass line, the dramatic light on the wall, and so on. There is no music that absolutely exists on its own. Music is a phenomenon of the brain. After hearing so much music, we are able to hear music from the omnipresent noise. And in my case, they are always better than compositions or improvisations from human hands. Here I decided that this 42 minutes of video and audio is music. I am the composer as well. I hope it is not too composed. I hope I can compose something that makes people fall in love with non-composed things.
Q: After reading the answer of the last question, I feel this piece of work is not as simple as you declared before. Can you still enjoy it without thinking through any concept or idea?
A: Concepts and ideas are always inside the things in front of us. We deliver our sense and ideas at same time to the world we create. Or, better said, rationality and sensibility are the same. I’d like to invite people to enjoy my work without any language, but any work creates its own language in which people let their perception and experience have an impact. I’m not that kind of romanticist who refuses rationality, logic, and language. That’s the most abnormal thing humans want to do. And actually no one can do it because the world is a whole. The great sensibility is the great rationality. The non-language is the abyss of language. I always feel my rational ability gets better after tasting nonsense things, such as the sound of a fridge.
Q: But the masters always say you have to get rid of your boat in order to arrive the other shore…
A: You should say this once you arrive there. And there is no there but only here. There isn’t even a river. And fuck your masters.
Q: Fuck you.
A: Why not, fuck your masters and fuck me.
(a question from the wall) Hmmm, ok, hmmm, so, neige, neige neige, may I ask a question? As you know, I don’t exist either as a subject nor an object without your mind and language. There is no “I” and no “wall” for me outside of your human culture. According to this condition, I, let’s assume, as part of your idea, am wondering: how do you feel my existence as a part of you? Do you feel a foreign object of your own body? Do you feel open enough to embrace all the walls and others? Do you still believe you are changing the world (as you declared many times when you were young) when you’re watching and listening to me and the others?
YJ: I’m sorry (again) for the huge words of “changing the world”. It’s really a spectacle and you can see how they’re selling it today as a kind of alcohol. But for sure the world is not an absolute existence separate from us. In my cognition, a wall was not a wall but something later following the process of seeing, hearing, and studying language. I often hear do [as in solfege “do, re mi, fa . . .”] here and there with or without going to music lesson. This do becomes part of my world. And this world is therefore shared with some other people’s world (but not the ones who live in different time or space out of European notation system. But still could be compared to their own ones). I’m not good on do and re so I spend more time on listening to a wall. I think it’s not enough to just fix a notion with a word. There is an absolute do but there are also millions of concrete dos in each case. I want to touch the wall and words. By this action I was changed by the world.
Yesterday I was listening to some music: Oval, Pharaoh Sanders, 25th generation of Kanze-ryu masters, Wen Qiansui’s Cantonese opera, Henry Wolff and Nancy Hennings, and perhaps something else. It’s different than listening to a wall, or, more frequently, sirens of the trains passing by my home. I think about the artists when listening to those works. Good or bad, or “yeah he was so young so naive.” But there is no artist for the siren and the wall unless I declare myself the artist. I would say as part of my language the wall is same effect but less verbal (but much more generative). As a listener of all of these sounds, I was touched by them. But stepping forward, I let them touch me. It’s important to be a master instead of a consumer of language. And it’s immoral to be a smart or muscled musician who knows how to manipulate audiences.