• Reviews

    王长存 – Homepage

    CDr, self-released, 2012

    This one is a little gem. I was abssent-mindedly scrolling through my Twitter feed a while ago when I came across 王长存 (Wáng Chángcún) announcing that he was going to play a live set in Hangzhou without any hardware/software except for Google Chrome running on a laptop. At the time, I thought this to be an extravagant claim or an ironic form of minimalism, I imagined that he was just going to use some fancy web-based sequencer or simply play samples and field recordings, and I dismissed the whole thing as a clever statement of net-artsy fun: as this review explains later on, I was wrong. However, some days later, I apprehended that 小王 (xiǎowáng, little Wang, yeah) was going to perform all his major releases at the North Hotel in his hometown Harbin. Wang Changcun has been doing experimental stuff (actually orbiting around the uncomfortable zone of ambient/minimalism/field recordings) for quite a while, being featured on the already historical China: The Sonic Avant-Garde Post-Concrete compilation, then becoming a Sub Rosa pupil and slowly amassing a noteworthy résumé of playful and elegant sketches of sound-related artsy programming (or net art, if you care) that would make any contemporary Tumblr-curator happy; yet, the sole thought of listening to his entire musical production in a freezing hostel in Harbin made me cringe in lethargic horror (you can put your patience to test here with the whole set, if you dare). Anyways, looking at the tracklist of this behemoth celebrative live set I decided to rehash his beautiful 2006 record Parallel Universe, and I ended up suggesting it to a friend that liked it to the point of deciding to release his next EP. The circle was closed in December when, by chance, he ended up playing his Google Chrome set right here in Hong Kong. As I said, I was wrong: with one laptop, a calculated darkness and some speakers he blew the audience away.

    For Homepage – the name of this set, a version of which is contained in this super-limited (5 copies!) CDr I got from him – Wang Changcun does indeed only use Google Chrome, but the sources of the sounds are in fact several .html pages containing Timbre.js patches that he programmed in order to obtain a slowly and unpredictably morphing synthesis, building blocks of swelling dissonances assembled and overlaid in different ways during the course of every live performance. The tones of Homepage are subtle and glassy – like thin tubes of a transparent vitreous alloy in which small particles collide and scatter, tumbling across the curved surfaces of sinewaves. As the traces of the collisions interweave as a small and undulating subtext beneath, the main wave mutates and shift according to partially unpredictable algorithms. The bass end is lush, throbbing, supporting an atmosphere that vacillates between meditative voicings and unsettling, sharp tremolos over minor, unresolving swells. The result is a placid rustling of membranelike drones that envelop the act of listening with a purifying simplicity: in a live setting, Homepage sounded astonishing, with the clash of frequencies generating extremely positional effects, gifting each member of the audience with a unique rendition of the piece enriched by microtones and auditory illusions that changed according to the subtlest movement of the head. On CDr, the outcome is definitely more bland, favoring the soothing and tranquil quality of a palette of sounds that, despite its simplicity, never becomes childishly chiptuney or faux-industrialist. I am fairly impressed of the direction Wang Changcun is headed – although I enjoyed his previous output in an ambivalent way, I admire his dedication and compositional straightforwardness: just as Flicker was just a collection of extremely naturalistic and unrefined field recordings, Homepage maintains a very precise trajectory, exploring limited possibilities without self-indulgence.