Review: Sun Yizhou & Mai Mai – Shanghai Live: Electronic Duo (self-released, May 10)

a3948575520_10I miss live music so goddamn much. It’s not like it’s likely that I would have seen this Shanghai duo set by Chinese sound artists Sun Yizhou and Mai Mai even if there weren’t a global pandemic still persisting, but so many things about it remind me of what we have all been missing: the unique resonance, both acoustic and atmospheric, of particular venue spaces; the infectious serendipity that only seems to fully manifest in truly spontaneous improvisation; the feeling of bearing witness to something lost to time even as it occurs. Both Sun (who is—get this—even younger than I am!) and Mai are relatively new faces in the global scene, with only a small handful of releases between them prior to this performance, but despite the exploratory, almost primitive presence that their minimal electronics setup possesses, Shanghai Live feels like a meeting of two established musicians who fundamentally understand each other. Mai, usually a guitarist, relies solely on a basic pulse generator for his contributions, a rather plucky, somewhat naïve-sounding device whose restrictive artificiality favorably resembles Eric Laska’s oscillator assaults or Sachiko M’s empty samplers. The twiddling arpeggios and pure frequencies twist in and out of sublime harmony, both tonal and textural, with Sun’s mixer feedback, the two elements often melding in moments of indistinguishable unity. This piece exudes “liveness” through and through; it’s quiet and reticent but never timid in its ever-moving experimentation, and thus the familiar visual of performers hunched over arsenals of arcane soundmaking supplies is abstractly embedded in the music itself.