Review: Li Weisi – 车间四重奏:警报器操作指南 (self-released, Jan 25)

Although Beijing sound artist Li Weisi works with a variety of approaches for his releases and live performances, all of his music is united by a playful yet somewhat scientific curiosity, like it’s figuring itself out at the same time you are. Yan Jun describes him as “one of the few Chinese electroacoustic music composers who strictly keeps ‘experimental’ as a game without personal aesthetics influences. [H]e is one of the slow and quiet people who reflect reality through music, deeply”; this adherence to the barest, purest of sounds and textures is perhaps best illustrated by Li’s newest release: 车间四重奏:警报器操作指南 (Workshop Quartet: Guide of Hand Operated Siren). The intricate, closely mic’d miniature motorized object soundscapes are immediately reminiscent of the work of Rie Nakajima, but Li tends to evoke more of a cluttered tabletop workspace rather than Nakajima’s spacious floor-spanning improvisations. At any given moment it could either be the result of one complex Rube Goldberg– or Tinguely-esque contraption, or simply the collective chorus of countless tiny centrifuges and cranks and clickers, coaxed along with subtle yet purposeful gestures like the gentle urges of a patient sheep herder. On “死人” (“Siren”), there’s even more ambiguity with the presence of lawnmower-like buzzes—is Li grooming a diminutive yard with an equally diminutive weedwhacker, or did he just leave his windows open on one of those afternoons when everyone simultaneously decides to work outdoors? But before I have time to ponder such superfluous implications, I’m already chasing after the next brain-massaging timbre like a waddling toddler trying to catch a firefly.

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