Review: Zhao Cong – Fog and Fragments (presses précaires, Nov 17)

One of two inaugural releases by Anne-F Jacques’ new imprint presses précaires, Fog and Fragments is the newest entry in the sparse discography Chinese sound artist and improvisor Zhao Cong (not to be confused with the much more famous, and unsurprisingly much less interesting, classical musician), continuing their series of various collaborations with frequent creative partner Zhu Wenbo. I first became aware of Cong through her Amplify 2020 piece Homework, which I believe was incorporated due to Yan Jun’s astute curation in the Eastern realm of the sonic avant-garde, but the 17-minute wisp of non-musical insubstantiality wasn’t really my thing; this tape, however, very much is. The two sides of the C26—its cover, along with that of Gudinni Cortina’s tape as well, adorned with a geometric sketch that appears to have been drawn with a mostly dried-out washable marker, an aesthetic choice with which I was quick to fall in love—present reticent vignettes of théâtre d’objets, breath, and silence. Cong’s minimal contributions of “sprays, voice, poker card, poker card shuffler and some other objects” are spare but sparkling flecks of gold in a cozy darkness, unfolding in a way somehow at once organic and sporadic. It’s impossible not to become engrossed in the detailed miniatures of shift and shuffle; whether Cong is exhaling a wet hiss through bared teeth, squeezing a fine mist out of a plastic bottle, or simply observing the brooding, meditative hum of her mundane surroundings, every second feels purposeful and saturated with significance. I’m particularly drawn to the alternating interplay between the soft tactile textures and conspicuous digital silence in the second part.