Li Jianhong

Li Jianhong

interview by Francesco Nunziata
You're active in various project: D!O!D!O!D!, Second Skin, VagusNerve. What about these project?
The band Second Skin has been a long past. I think it was not very mature. D!O!D!O!D! was one of my favorite band. But after one formal releasing, the drummer Huang Jin went back to his hometown and joined a local rock band. It was a great pity that he stopped drumming in the way he did in D!O!D!O!D!. That's why we stopped that project. VagusNerve is a cosmic psychedelic band I formed with VAVABOND. Both of us are fans of sci-fi movies and mysterious things such as the universe and the ancient aliens. Also we are big fans of old psychedelic music such as Hawkwind, Klaus Schuzle and Guru a Guru. So we made this band.  We wanted to make it more rock n' roll but we couldn't find bass and drum so it became cosmic and psychedelic like what you hear now. During our performance and lives we always imagine that we are in a huge spaceship that is sailing I the darkness of the universe. Kind of like the scene in the movie "Aliens". 

And the old project Tomeclub?
It was organized with my friends when I was in Hangzhou in early 2000s. It is an art organization involves not only music but also poetry, novel, video art, etc.. After two exhibitions, the organization gradually faded out.

I forgot to mention Pisces Iscariots...
It was a contemporary group. Before the 2pi Festival 2004, we found out that Yao Dajun, Yanjun and I were all Pisces, so we made a group for performing on the festival. This groups had no regular performances. After that we only had another concert on mini midi Festival of 2006 and then it was over.

li_jianhong_02You are the founder of 2pi Record label. Do you want to speak about this experience? What’s your idea on the recent development of the peer-to-peer experience?  
My original intention to found 2pi Record was to provide convenience for releasing mine and my friends' music. In early 2000s there was no regular labels that could publish our music, neither now. So in order to show that we had already made difference sounds here in China, I and my friends found this very primitive label, which proved to be very significant for the scene and our existence during that period. After that, we also curated an annual music festival for five years, inviting active and growing sound artists, noise bands and experimental musicians of that times.
I'm always dreaming of having a great label but it is very difficult. Now in China there are few people still buying CDs. Most people choose to download or directly listen to music online. There are still small markets for cassettes but it is too expensive to make CDs.

Your albums reveals different approaches: Bailey-ian fractured improvisation (such as "Drama Script"), a mixture of electroacustic, concrete music and drone (such as "Flowing, Randomized Screen" on “RTV-702”), colossal jam of free psychedelic-noise (I’m thinking of some section of “Sang Sheng Shi” or “1969”), monumental juggernauts of cosmic-drone music (the magnificent “Classic of the Seas”) and the “environment improvisations” of the CFI Records box. Where is, at last, your musical central driving force?
It is true. It seems that I made music of various styles but they are in fact linked with each other, especially on organizing the structure of emotion expressions. All my work has certain timeliness, some of which that I will never repeat. The central driving force for me is only one thing - I only need to be honest to myself. I do whatever kind of music that I want. Since I started from the willing it make what I want to do, now I shouldn't lie to myself. I won't continuing playing psychedelic guitar and giving up free improvisation because the audience like it more. Each period gives me different understandings and feelings. I'm just showing myself and my thinking in each period with different skills and forms. That is also one of the reasons that I don't listen to my previous albums. I think they were the past.  

I think “Sang Sheng Shi” is your masterpiece, a great effort to mix Hendrix-ian trip, the visionary imagination of the german Kosmische Kuriere (Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, etc.) and the noise delirium of japanese legend Les Rallizes Dénudés. You agree? Do you want explain the genesis of this album?
The musicians you mentioned are of my favorite. But I didn't think much when I recorded that album. It was in fact a little bit sad during the recording. Maybe because I didn't feel well those days. I was kind of difficult in life during that time and had nothing to do. Then I felt it might be time to record a long recording. Then I made it. It was a really hot summer. I finished the recording without any stop in a small room without an air conditioner or a fan. Then I got heatstroke. Afterwards, when I listened to the recording I felt super great. It felt like coming back from death and several after-lives. It also has great narration and scenes. So I named it San Sheng Shi, which is a Chinese traditional story about after-life. But I haven't listen to it for years.

I like very much also the recent “1969”. Why a title like this? How you came in contact with the Peruvian label Buh Records?
It is a label from Peru. The holder of the label contacted me through email, asking if I'm interested in releasing an album under his label. I like Peru very much because of  Machu Picchu and Inca civilization . Cool, I thought. So I said yes.  It is not a complete album. There was another track that was not included since the limits of 40 minutes. If possible, I'd like to release it again with all 3 tracks.

lijianhong_01Lately, I reviewed also “Classic of the Mountains and Seas”, another terrific work. Do you want to speak about this one?
Thanks for the review. Yes I think my psychedelic guitar is very cosmic. It was not made with looped beats and melodies that make people sleepy but a lonely trip of the inner self. Such lonely and solitude scene always appear in my solo project and also in VagusNerve's music. When I was doing the recording of "The classic of mountains", the image that always appeared in my mind was I was in a dream, looking down on those dark mountains.
There was a small episode about this album. What I gave to P.S.F were two original tracks without Amy mastering because I thought they were more professional than me. But I didn't tell them clearly so they directly released the original tracks. Haha but it was also very cool.

How you came in contact with P.S.F.?
They were very interested after listened to my first solo albums. Then they arranged a Tokyo/Osaka tour for me and republished  D!O!D!O!D!'s Ghost Temple. Then they release "Classics of Mountains and Seas".

You recently collaborated with Caligine
I haven't listened to this album yet. It was recorded improvised in the bar where I was working at that time. To me it might not be a very good release.

Zbigniew Karkowski called you "the best noise musician in China”. Do you agree?
It was long time ago. I think in noise music, Torturing Nurse and Nojj are much better than me.

When you musical career began?
It was about mid to late 1990s. After 2000 I gradually began my personal projects of music creation and performance.

Which are your most important musical influences?
The biggest influence I got is the traditional Chinese culture.

Could you be more specific about this "Chines culture" influence?
Such influences are closely related to my living environment. They are subtle and imperceptible instead of being sudden. And they do not only influence my music creation but also all aspects of my life. I love reading ghost stories, fairy tails and stories of how men became gods of ancient China from my childhood. Now I still keep this hobby. They are full of imagination and sometimes sad and dark, and even very psychedelic. For a period I was even longing for the lifestyle of Chinese ancient hermits. I think such images and imaginations are also reflected in my music such as "San Sheng Shi", "The Classics of Mountains and Seas" and also in the "Twelve Moods" and "Empty Mountain" of my environment improvisation series. Decades ago, when I began to make experimental music, I read some words from "The Book of Music". It said that music is made from people's heart, which influenced me a lot at that time. It means that all the music is made from people's inner world and it is their emotional reflection to the outside world. Music is emotion - it gave a clear direction for me to judge experimental music and to express myself through experimental music. I'm never a technical person in music. So this blur but very tolerant attitude fit me very well. "The Book of Music" is a book about ancient Chinese aesthetics, in which it defined the relationship between music and human and the environment, and also brought out the definition of music. Although sometimes I was attracted by western music and some new forms, my one and only goal is to express my emotions fully and accurately through my music. Of course, such influences are not restricted on Chinese traditional aesthetics, other things such as Zen, believe in souls and mysterious folk culture, and even the lifestyle and attitudes of my parents influenced my music creation. Although being broken by Chinese values of nowadays, such tradition always help me with my thinking and when dealing with the essence of things.

Which guitars, pedals and amplifiers do you like best and why?
The guitars I use now are mostly half-hollow or hollow ones with F holes, such as Ibanez 2630, es-125 and es-330 of Gibson. They can reach my require in all levels. For example, es-135 is comparatively light and its p90 pickup can make the noise and feedback I need. In outdoor recording and performances, I can use the original sounds directly from its. In Mind Fiber and some of my environment improvisation I always use the original sounds without amplifiers. For effect pedals, I mainly use all kinds of fuzz and then wha. Fuzz pedals I often use include fuzzface and fulltone 69. For wha pedals I'm using Ibanez WH10 all the time.

Describe your music...
My music is a carrier about my life.

li_jianhong_inlay_01Has your music a philosophical or spiritual value?
To be honest, I have never really clear my mind and conclude about such questions. So I cannot give a quick and clear answer when I am questioned with such questions. I'm not an academic musician. But I'm very sure about one thing. That is I'm always looking for a form that can express my mood clearly and accurately. The more privet and clearer, the better. It should be clear and direct like a mirror under the sunshine.  

What about the Chinese musical scene? Others local musicians or bands you want to suggest?
The new music scene here is during a quite normal development period without being too exciting or too depressed. Some active scenes are still going on, such as Miji Concert (free improvised and avant-garde) held by Yan Jun, NOIShanghai (noise music) held by Torturing Nurse, Sheng Dong Ji Xi (free improvised, jazz and crossing-border art) and RESO ( free improvised) held by Maimai. There some new booming scenes such as Zooming nNght and System Error. Such scenes shows the directions and capabilities of active musicians from all perspectives. If you are interested, you can dig to more active groups and musicians through such scenes.   

What albums are you listening to right now?
Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia – “An Audience With…”
MEV&AMM – “Apogee”
Nikhil Banerjee – “Rage Sudha Rasa”
ONJT+ -“Lonely Woman”
Silver Convention – “Save Me”
AA.VV.  - “Amplify 2002”
AA.VV. –“Ghayal Masterpieces”
Aoki Takamasa – “RV8”
Burning Tree – “The Lammergyer”
Raoul Björkenheim -“Apocalypso”

What you know about italian rock music?  
I don't know it well. I only listened some progressive rock of 1970s from Italy, such as Il Balletto Di Bronzo, Le Orme, etc.

I know that you had to come in Italy in October. How did it go?
It is a great pity that our visa application got declined by the German embassy. We mentioned visiting friends and they thought it was right for us to apply tourist visa. So we should learn to lie sometimes. We planned to visit some cities in Germany, Poland, Slovenia, Austria, Hungary and Italy. Thanks for all the friends who helped us with organizing the tour for us. We will come next year.

Reccomend us 5 chinese records...
For Chinese albums, I'm always and only recommend this series very seriously - " A collection of music played on the Guqin". It is my eternal favorite. It is the greatest recording of existing Chinese classics. All the solo albums of those Guqin masters included in this series are highly recommended, too.

 CD, CD-R 
 Talking Freely Before the Beginning (2003, 2Pi Records) 6
 RTV_702 (2004, 2Pi Records)


 Drama Script (2005, 2Pi Records)


 A Brief History of Time (2006, Post Concrete)


 Currents Disturb Moods (2006) 
 Dirty Eye (2006) 5
 Bird (2007, 2Pi Records) 6
Sang Sheng Shi (2008, Archive) 8,5
 Lovers With Cloisonné Bracelet (2009, Tipped Bowler) 6,5
Classic of the Mountains and Seas (PSF, 2009) 7,5
 Environment Improvisation (2010, CFI Records - 3xCd)6
1969 (2012, Buh Records)7
  此刻,如同活人 (2016, Modern Skies) 
 Lonely Lodger (2017, Concrete)5
 院子里的回授 Feedback In The Courtyard (2021, C.F.I. Records) 
 Live (2004, Sub Jam - con The Other Two Comrades e Yan Jun) 
 Live In Nanjing (2006, 2Pi Records - con Li Tieqiao, Huang Jin e Ji Mu) 
 See You New World (2007, 2Pi Records - con Itta e Marqido)5
 4 Way Split (2011, Fuzztape - con Torturing Nurse, Orgasm Denial e Mei Zhiyong) 
 Bleeding Universe (2012, Red Venice Records - con Ana Venus)5,5
 Shiyun/Yuxuan (2013, Nothing Out There - 2xCd; con Caligine e Zhu Xiaolong)6

巴黎現場 Live in Paris (2015 - con WEI Wei &  WANG Ziheng & LI Qing)

 歲寒三友 Les trois amis de l'hiver (2023, WV Sorcerer Productions)
 My Revolt (2003, 2Pi Records) 
 Pisces Iscariots 
 Live At 2pi Festival 2004 (2004, Kwanyin Records)5
 Ghost Temple (2005, 2Pi Records)6
 Lo Pan (2009, Utech Records)6,5
 Go Back To The Sirius (2012, Utech Records)6
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