It’s been 2 years since Xiao He’s bizarre double CD “The Performance Of identity” (2010) was released thru tenzenmen as catalogue number 050TZM, marking a half-century of releases for the label. As one of the most important avant-garde artists in China, his astonishing creativity doesn’t change or vanish with the passing of time, instead he becomes more distinctive and interesting. He keeps on playing his solo symphonies and “universal experimental folk”, which has gained him much appreciation and a glowing reputation. Xiao He and his songs have been to dozens of countries and whilst performing last autumn he jumped off the stage and broke his feet! This new album, Silly’s Ballad, was created while he was instructed to rest at home by doctors, with his feet set in heavy casts. Xiao He wrote all 12 songs with an acoustic guitar, he even recorded them while in bed and on the couch. The new album overflows with beautiful melodies and classic folk arias.
He writes of the album, “While I was recording [the songs], cicadas were tweeting, and sometimes even a plane passed by. I tried to record without any external sounds before by thickening the walls of my studio, but at the same time I was isolating beautiful things outside.” So, when Xiao He returned to write love songs again, he was inspired by diverse colours and sounds. Besides the self-deprecating title, natural feelings hide in every sentence of the lyrics, reflecting Xiao He’s wisdom and philosophy. The use of narrative poems throughout the album helps Xiao He express his mystical world in sounds and words.
More to the point, this being catalogue number 100TZM, marking the full century for tenzenmen, this folk album will be released in a very special and limited format: not on CD, tape or vinyl, but as a ‘musical artbook’. It is perhaps the first of its kind. This multimedia truly enables Xiao He’s creativity better expression. The artbook contains 12 different pictures of leaves, drawn by Xiao He in Zurich in 2010. Those leaves lay scattered on the mountain road Xiao He walked along every morning to exercise. The 12 songs correspond to 12 different leaves. High-end headphone brand 233621 has generously provided specialized custom-made headphones for this ‘album’. Furthermore, this musical artbook also includes three music videos that were commissioned to three up-and-coming and very talented directors: Yu Liwei, Yang Jin and Zhang Yuedong.
Xiao He expressed his wishes for the artbook: “I hope this album will become the glorious road along which a silly person is looking for another silly person.”
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He Guoheng, known in the world of music as Xiao He, is one of the most creative and influential artists in the Beijing music scene. Besides his recordings and his solo and ensemble music performances, he is active in drama, writes incidental music, and is a creative force in the underground movie industry. He is also the head of Maybe Horse, a Maybe Mars sub- label dedicated to supporting and developing Beijing’s and China’s most innovative folk and ethnic musicians.
At the same time Xiao He, which is the alias he settled on for his folk and improvised music performances, played guitar, drum and accordion at River, a legendary old Beijing folk bar. Between these two projects Xiao He quickly developed a serious following among artists and music fans in the China music scene. In 2003, Modern Sky, China’s largest independent label, released his first CD, a live recording called “The Bird that Can Fly High Landed on the Cow that Can Run Fast”. Almost immediately this was received as one of the most important recordings in contemporary Chinese music.
Except for a very few special performances with Glorious Pharmacy, today Xiao He only plays solo performances. Calling these multi-faceted improvised performances “Free Folk”, as much to express his anarchic playfulness as to suggest the total freedom which he approaches musical instrumentation, vocal performances and stylistic experimentation, he has become the inventor of a deeply weird and immensely moving style of music, mystical and surreal, which abruptly veers from the plaintive cries of Mongolian or Western Chinese music to the barbed and sometimes childlike humour of the avant garde. Complementing his stylistic creativity is a wholly unique way of playing acoustic guitar, loops, synthesizers and any other instrument that catches his fancy.
After his 2009 European tour, Xiao He released his second album in China with Maybe Mars. Consisting of improvised live and studio performances and two separate CDs the new album is a milestone for Xiao He. The live CD is based on 30 hours of recordings going back three years, which he has assembled as his “Personal Symphony” and, selected from six different shows, focuses on the irreversible and unrepeatable character of live performance. The other CD was recorded in his studio and focuses on the quality of the sounds and experimentation with the recording process and juxtaposes thousands of ways of combining vocal sounds with the sound of his guitar as he wrestles with and reinterprets his understanding of Minimalism.
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