• Civilization and All Its Created

    Madness & Civilization – Civilization and All Its Created

    Civilization and All Its Created

    Madness & Civilization
    Civilization and All Its Created
    CD-R, TIC Productions, 2008

    No, this is not an audiobook of Madness and Civilization, Michel Foucault’s 1961 genealogy of folly and no, the CD isn’t damaged and the first track is supposed to be ninety seconds of hissing, bitcrushed noise reverberating over a gurgling bass. This is not a meme either, although the small portrait of Foucault at the center of the white cover might make it look like post-ironic graduate student humor; the second track is a progressive layering of multiple time-stretched audio clips driven into digital distortion, climbing up in pitch one after the other. Under the “Michel Foucault 1926 – 1984” dedication, two lines of text (the album title?) read “civilization and all its created apartness, crazy, rapacity, corrupt, anomalism…”, and the third track puts this object squarely in the category of noise music: the panning is extreme, and a droning bassline pulsates on the right while a magma of overdriven hiss churns on the left – after a minute, a sudden jolt fractures the composition and throws things off-kilter, as sequences of sweeping digital clipping stutter from different locations in the stereo field. This could be a lesser Merzbow record about a peculiar Japanese bird, if only the cover didn’t anchor it to the weird undergrowth of late-2000s Chinese noise. I forgot where I bought this CD-R, and only vaguely remember it being the last one of its kind, housed in a broken jewel case – it might have been Beijing, but it was probably Shanghai. Track four continues the surprising tour in lo-fi deconstruction, as bouts of spurting and hissing frame a recurring synth beep, sudden microphone pops, and a continuous grinding sound in the background. The aesthetic purpose is clear, as is its enthusiastic lack of direction.

    According to the few traces of this record available online, its title is Civilization and All Its Created, and it is the first full-length record released by Madness & Civilization, a noise project of a certain 楊彬 (Yáng Bīn) from Kunming, Yunnan province. Also known as “Moose”, Yang Bin loves Death in June and Current 93 and has previously formed some bands which all quickly fell apart – after setting up Most of the Taciturn, his first solo project, he established Madness & Civilization in 2008. Some concrete tinkling sounds introduce track five, featuring ominous synth lines and fragmentary samples coming in and out an unstable droning distortion, a funky bass counterpointing the collage as harsh noise restlessness veers toward the playfulness of a certain post-industrial lineage. Released by Beijing-based TIC Productions in 2008, this record is clearly a concept album: as Yang Bin asks from its liner notes,

    Human beings are bound to go mad to the degree that non-madness becomes just another form of madness. Are there still people in China who care about Foucault?

    With its booming tremors crisscrossed by metallic synth squeals, track six seems to share this existential despair about the questionable status of Foucault’s heritage in the People’s Republic. The label’s record description introduces Yang Bin as a state-owned enterprise employee who enjoys delving into philosophical and historical questions, “thinking while reading, doubting while thinking, and hating while doubting.” Madness & Civilization is his new “weapon”, a harsh noise project dedicated to “the most extreme and violent music in human history”. Track seven sounds like a ring-modulated lead fed into a short delay through a broken cable – it might not top the world chart of extreme musical violence, but it’s definitely irritating.

    Before this record, Madness & Civilization released the demo single 198-964, clearly titled after the date of the Tian’anmen protests crackdown. Surprisingly, unlike most cultural artifacts nodding towards the event, this record’s page is still available on Douban, and one listener comment even reads

    I think of the Summer Palace, and I also think of those young people, and those equally young soldiers. The generation of our parents has experienced the fluttering of white clothes, the age of college campus poets. I haven’t experienced it personally and I feel lucky, but I also feel sorry.

    The stuttering continues on track eight, now coupled with rising and falling volumes, as if the signal path broke down under signal saturation. Writing about Madness & Civilization, Yan Jun connects its output to the arrival of broadband internet in the country, which put an end to the last ideological decade of the country’s cultural landscape: “violence was over, and pornography began”. Prompted by Yang Bin’s vague melodies and fuzzy noises, he concludes:

    Rather than calling this noise, it is better to say that the author finds himself among fragments of language, trying to recompose them back into a once-complete subject: he also wants to cry.

    Track nine quickens the pace, as rhythmic surges of bubbling synth overlap with flanger-processed noise crackle. Only around fifty people have listened to and rated Yang Bin’s records on Douban, and their relative obscurity has afforded their pages a degree of invisibility to censorship; it is unclear how much Civilization and All Its Created manages to “kidnap people’s homesickness by using seemingly unfamiliar materials,” as Yan Jun suggests, but this record remains a quirky chapter in the history of Chinese noise. The last track ends in a thunderclap and a prolonged synth scream that suddenly cuts to silence.


  • 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.