Chinese Sound Salad

I was in China from the 13th of June until the 31th of July 2013. I was arriving from India.

It’s been a long time since the last salad, I hope you guys are not too hungry. This mix reflects my experience of China. There are no less than 18 different ingredients in this Chinese salad, so pay attention if you want to know what is what, here are the stories.

The first thing that struck me upon arriving was how quiet Shanghai was, compared to India. But “quiet” is hard to record and quite boring, so the first thing you’ll hear is the second thing that struck me in China, the insects. I thought all along that they were called “orioles” but I had a look, and orioles are actually birds. These insects can be really really loud and can be heard anywhere where there is a tree. A bit like the cicadae in South of France in summertime. I could never quite understand what my mystery insects were, but I was obsessed with recording them at first. I must have at least 10 recordings of them in different places. So that’s the first ingredient of the salad. Those ones were recorded in Hangzhou. If anyone know their names, in Chinese or English, I’m always happy to learn something.

I was also pleased to find some street music again in China – something you don’t come across too often in India. So that’s what you hear next, street music performed by this blind man in Beijing.

P1260766Ingredient #2 – Street music in Beijing

Then comes the cacophony of touristy/commercial street in Yangshuo, a town with a beautiful scenery where quite a number of foreigners dwell. I avoided going through that street as much as possible, especially in the evening. The way I recall and experienced the atmosphere of the street, it was muuuuch more aggressive than what it will sounds like here though. It looked like this.

P1240797Ingredient #3, a busy street in Yangshuo

Chinese people seem to love recording things even more than I do. Or more precisely, they seem to love amplifiers and loud-speakers. One particularly amazing thing that you will hear next is a home-made ad for a little shop. They are everywhere and they are incredibly annoying. I mean, for the passer-by it’s quite alright, especially if you don’t speak Chinese. But I have been wondering the whole time how the heck the owner or sales people in the shop can spend their whole day next to it. I’m sure I would destroy the device within the first week. Or maybe they don’t even hear it anymore? This particular one was recorded in Yingtan, next to a clothes-shop. As I am a kind person, I have only bothered you with three iterations of the ad, but you’ve got to realise, it goes on for hours.

I couldn’t resist recording the stop announcement in the metro, because I love the way the man says “left-eh side”. So that’s the next ingredient.

After the metro comes another example of the Chinese love for (low-quality) amplifiers with the old-fashioned “ancient peep-show” man in Shanghai (layang pian). His show is the last of his kind and here he is, trying to get the passerby’s attention.

P1230599Ingredient #6,  ancient peep-show man in Shanghai calling to the public

I then sprinkled some more orioles mystery insects recorded in Shenyang. Those ones are funny, they sound like a starting engine or something. But maybe it’s just me.

For the last two recordings, you might have heard some drums going on, and there will be more right now. It was the students in Zhuhai training for the Dragon Dance for the Chinese New Year ceremony. As a bonus, you’re getting a little gallery of dragon training. It’s was very interesting to watch them, the dance is very physical and hard to master, that’s why they are training all-year round for it.

Ingredient #8, Dragon Dance training in Zhuhai

A big part of my time in China was spent eating delicious Chinese food, often specially prepared for me. Interesting looking food is around at all times and the next three short recordings pertain to food. The first one is of a meal being prepared for me in Yingtan. The second is by a woman cutting chili in Yangshuo. It looked like she was spending her whole day cutting chili, wearing gloves and goggles for protection. The third one is of sporty sweet makers who throw down a big pestle onto a wooden plank to break up hm… well, I don’t remember what. Some sort of Hangzhou local sweet specialty. Nougat or something similar. I thought I had taken a photo, but I can’t seem to find it. Sorry.

The next two ingredients where recorded at a temple in Shanghai. First, monks chanting. Secondly, the sound of falling coins. People try to land coins into this big copper ehm… thing, it’s for good luck of course (or to make you prayer/wish come true).

Shanghai templeIngredient #13, Falling coins

The longest excerpt of them all comes next, it’s a demonstration of a erhu, a Chinese two-stringed instrument, kindly performed for us by a man in an instrument-shop in the  back lanes of Shenyang. Jiesu and I also tried it, but I’m going to spare you our attempts.

ErhuIngredient #14, Erhu

Right after it comes a weird harmonica that a man in Hangzhou was playing. It was, guess what? Amplified! Does the tune sound Chinese to you?

Amplified harmonicaIngredient #15, Harmonica-man

Then we leave the music behind to focus on rhythm. While I was visiting the Imperial Palace in Shenyang, a bunch of young men dressed in military uniform was going in circles around the yard shouting stuff. That is what is next in the salad. Here they are running around.

At the Shengyang imperial palaceIngredient #16, Trainees shouting

And now that we are getting to the end of the salad, two example of the Chinese love for recorded announcements and the little lift music to go with it (I guess when everything is on a bigger scale because you’ve got 1 billion people in the country, it makes sense to record stuff beforehand). The first one is the little music they play just before arriving at the terminus station of a 24 27 hours train-journey. To softly wake up the people who are still sleeping, that is. And then the closing announcement at the Forbidden City in Beijing. With the little piano again in the background.

That’s it. There is one main ingredient missing though, if you’ve been to China yourself you’ll be wondering where it’s gone: the SINGING. Chinese people love singing. Combined with their love for amplifiers, it means a love for… karaoke.  That’s right, they looooove it. It was everywhere around, all the time, so I have decided it need to have its own little salad. See you soon for a Chinese Sound Salad – Singing Special!

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