Comprised of multi-instrumentalist Yan Yulong, Liu XInyu (guitar), Wu Qiong (bass) and Li Zicaho, the Beijing, China-based experimental psych rock quartet Chui Wan, take their name from the Taoist philosopher Zhaungzi’s treatise on inner sageness and outer kingliness, Qi Wu Lun. They’re also part of an ever- growing list of Chinese bands performing Western music receiving interest and publicity here in the West, proving how ubiquitous certain aspects of American culture actually are these days.
Interestingly, as Zhaungzi writes in the Qi Wu Lun: “When the wind blows, every sound may be heard therein.” And it’s this very concept of seeking the infinite within the mundane that has been a major influence on Yulong and Xinyu’s improvisational compositions which eschew easily discernible melodies and vocal harmonies for movements based around minimalist drone and densely textured sound that possesses a rather painterly quality – with each sound being much like the stroke of a brush across a canvas. In fact with the release of their critically applauded debut effort White Night on China’s preeminent indie label, Maybe Mars, the band’s work received praise from the likes of Time Out Beijing and China’s Global Times and MTV Iggy – and as a result, Chui Wan’s profile grew so large nationally that they toured with Psychic Ills across their homeland, including shows in Beijing, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Kunshan, Shanghai, Wuhan, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Macau. Additionally, the Chinese quartet have received greater international attention as they’ve played at Helsinki, Finland’s Niubi Festival and have played several shows across Northern Europe and Scandinavia including Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Tallinn, as well as France.
And with each member’s side projects and solo projects, Chui Wan have established themselves as one of the key acts in Beijing’s experimental music scene. Their self-titled album has already seen praise in their native China by SmartBeijing.com for a “more lush, more dense musical offering than their 2012 debut.” It’s received quite a bit of attention across both the blogosphere and major media outlets here in the States – including this band. And they’ve been touring across the country to support the effort with a series of West Coast dates remaining.
In any case, the album’s first single “The Sound of Wilderness” possesses an eerily atmospheric quality that reminds me quite a bit of both The Church and Disappears Kone EP. Starting off with gently ringing feedback, the song follows with chiming guitar chords, before complex syncopated rhythm, bass and dreamy vocals join in and slowly begin to build up in intensity. But pay attention to the fact that you won’t notice a recognizable hook or chorus – the song’s focus is on creating a particular mood through the repetition of a theme, that’s subtly varied and held together by the rhythm section. Repeated listens of the song evoke naturally observed phenomenon – of viewing brewing storm clouds moving over the horizon, of smoke appearing like floating serpents before your eyes; a brief yet gorgeous burst that will quickly dissipate before you can catch it.
The video directed by Zhang Jinglei follows four regular people with different careers – a tailor, a cook, a railman and a security guard – as they going through the minutiae of their everyday lives as they attempt to reach some level of enlightenment and fail. As Jinglei wrote to the folks at NPR:
“When I first got this song and listened on the street, it’s 30 seconds-long high-frequency prelude just sounds like enlightenment to me. I felt my view was slowly taken over by pure white color. People are trudging, moving like black dots.
“I asked the band about this song. Yan Yulong told me he got the inspiration from Tomas Transtromer’s poem ‘From March 1979.’” He noted that the poem references snow – in particular a snow-covered island – and that it just hit upon the sensation of “pure white” that he had when he first listened to the song. Jinglei expanded upon the story based on each band member’s characteristics with each receiving a level of enlightenment through from the wilderness by different senses – touch, taste, hearing and vision. They try to find complete the enlightenment they’ve been seeking but they fail miserably and suffer as a result.
Thematically, the video also takes its cues from the same poem that inspired the song as Jinglei told NPR. And it ends with how the poem begins, with the four members of the band realizing that “individual words without combination have no connection or power. The four finally understood it. They exchanged and combined their feelings, kept going. What is the enlightenment in the end, and if they can find it, is not important.”
Visually speaking, the video is stunning and there are sequences that as a photographer I absolutely envy – the four members of the band walking from each quadrant of the compass (East, West, North, South) towards each other in the snow under two bridges; the opening sequence in which the city seems to come alive as the song starts; the members of the band walking about in what appears to be a wintry wasteland with particular objects that would test their strengths.