Interview-Alistair Noble/White Fungus

►白木耳雜誌 White Fungus 14th/Wang Fujui interviewed by Alistair Noble


A: I’m interested to know about your early experiences and education. For example, did you study music? Learn an instrument? Were you always interested in technology, or did this come later?

F: My works came from my love for listening to music. My elder brother and I both liked music very much when we were young. When I was in junior high and he was studying at the Affiliated Senior High School of National Taiwan Normal University (HSNU) we often bought cassettes, LPs and CDs together in record stores. We mainly listened to rock n roll in the earlier period. Later on we could copy CDs onto cassettes after borrowing, because at that time the protection of copyright was not strictly implemented in Taiwan. We had a SONY CD walkman at home. We often listened to CD samples and rented CDs, and the genres got wider including jazz and music with stronger experimental qualities such as the ECM label. I then entered HSNU as well and spent lots of time on music and films, and gradually shifted the focus of my life from studies to these interests.
I didn’t have any formal musical education, nor did I learn to play any musical instruments. My intrinsic ability for music creation came from massive amounts of listening, and watching live performances. I studied statistics in university, and at that time I found out I was not bad at computer science. After graduation I worked as a programmer for two years. I didn’t use computers at all for my earliest works. Instead, I used various hardwares such as effects unit, auto mixer, and multitrack recorder. In 1998, Atau Tanaka performed in Taipei demonstrating live interactions with sounds and images using body sensors, which surprised us. He also showed us the software Max/Msp at Etat Lab ( I then started to learn Max/Msp/Nato, Pure Data/Gem and electronic sensor-related techniques on my own, and applied them in my works. I joined the Etat Lab in 2000 and we began a series of art creations about the combination of technology and media. Since I prefer working with sounds, I applied the technology to creating sound arts.

我並沒有正式學過任何音樂課程或學習演奏任何樂器,我的創作本能來自大量的聆聽和觀看現場表演的經驗。大學念的是統計,就學時發現自己的電腦邏輯能力不錯,畢業後做過2年的程式設計師。早期的創作完全沒有使用電腦,而是使用效果器、混音器、多軌錄音機等硬體。1998年田中能(Atau Tanak)來台北表演,現場使用肌電感應器(Body Sensor)與聲音和影像即時互動,讓我們大開眼界,並在在地實驗(Etat)介紹Max/Msp軟體,我才開始自己學習Max/Msp/Nato, Pure Data/Gem和電子感測器相關的技術,並運用在創作上。2000年加入在地實驗媒體實驗室(Etat Lab) ,我們開始一連串有關科技與媒體結合的藝術創作,由於自己偏愛聲音的創作,所以也運用科技在聲音的創作上。

A: How did you get interested in noise and sound art?

F: During the time of my music exploration, the genres of the music I listened to got wider and wider, and became more experimental. I remember it was around 1989 when I started to listen to industrial music. I rented the laser discs of Einsturzende Neubauten’s 1/2 Mensch and Test Dept.-Program For Progress at the laser disc rental centre operated by Taipei Pioneer. In Taipei it was raining non-stop for over a week, and I had a very bad mood when I watched the gloomy film of 1/2 Mensch. At that time I wondered if it could be called ‘music’ at all. It was pretty unusual for these two films to show up in a Taipei laser disc rental, and actually not many people rented them. Later I bought these two discs when the rental shut down for business. Then, for no reason, I started to like this kind of music, and started to listen to noise music.

F:在接觸音樂的過程,聽的音樂類型越來越廣,也愈越來越實驗,記得聽剛工業音樂(Industrial music)時期(約在1989年),在台北Pioneer的影碟(Laser Disc)出租中心,租了Einsturzende Neubauten-1 / 2 Mensch和Test Dept.-Program For Progress的影碟,在台北連續一週以上的陰雨,觀看Einsturzende Neubauten-1 / 2 Mensch的陰霾影片,心情真的非常差,我當時是非常質疑這是「音樂」嗎?這2部片會出現在台北的出租店真的很不尋常,其實也沒甚麼人去租,後來出租店出清我們就買下它們。之後不知為何就陷入喜歡這類音樂,然後就開始接觸噪音音樂(Noise Music) 。

A: I know you spent some time in San Francisco around 1995-7. Can you tell me a bit about what you were doing there? Was this an important time for you in developing your ideas?

F: I established Noise in 1993, issuing publications, cassettes and CDs. I had frequent mail communications with experimental musicians in foreign countries, and I was hoping to travel abroad to meet with them in person and exchange ideas. I went to study in USA in 1995 and in the beginning settled down in Sacramento for a while. Joe Colley lived there, and he was the first I met and someone who influenced me most deeply. We went hunting for music related equipment like effect units and synthesizers etc. in flea markets together. It was there I bought my first synthesizer, a second hand Casio CZ-101. I gained much knowledge about sound art-related techniques when I had chats at his place, and this opened up the path for my works. The first performance I saw in Sacramento was given by Joe Colley and Merzbow. Joe Colley’s music tended to explore the possibilities of experimental sounds, which was different from violent noise art works. Then I moved to San Francisco, and absorbed new things like a sponge. I saw many experimental musical performances and experimental images, and had experiences with some subculture. In the mean time, I edited the last Chinese-English bilingual issue of Noise magazine, which had interviews with experimental noise artists and musicians around the SF Bay area. I met some good friends at that time like Scott Arford and Randy Yao. Joe Colley also moved to SF. My early sound art works were included in the 1998 CD collection Soundtracks for Bride of Sevenless [] issued by Auscultare Research run by Randy Yao. The biggest gain in SF was that I learned to open up myself to accept new things.

F:1993年開始成立Noise廠牌,發行Noise刊物和出版卡帶和CD,跟國外的實驗音樂創作者有密切的信件往來,所以希望到國外看看並和這些創作者接觸交流。1995年到美國念書,剛開始在加州Sacramento住一陣子,Joe Colley就住在沙加緬度(Sacramento),他是我最早碰到也是影響我最深的創作者,我們一起去跳蚤市場尋找音樂相關的效果器和電子合成器等,我的第一台電子合成器就是2手的Casio CZ-101電子琴,在Joe Colley的住處閒聊時,獲得很多創作技術的相關知識,也開啟我創作的路途。在沙加緬度我看到的第一場表演是Joe Colley和Merzbow #註,Joe Colley的音樂比較探索實驗聲音的可能性,和激烈的噪音創作不同。後來就轉往舊金山,到舊金山就像是一塊大海綿,看了很多實驗音樂的表演和實驗影像,也接觸一些次文化。同時編輯最後一本中英對照的Noise雜誌,內容主要是訪問舊金山灣區的實驗噪音/音樂創作者,在這時期遇到一些好朋友如:Scott Arford和Randy Yao等,Joe Colley也移居到舊金山。我早期的聲音作品就收錄在Randy Yao廠牌Auscultare Research於1998年出版的”Soundtracks for Bride of Sevenless”CD合集。舊金山對我最大受用,就是以開放的態度接受新的事物。


A: In terms of people, teachers, ideas or experiences, what would you say are the most important influences on your work?

F: I think the most important influence on my work comes from living. Although music, books and films can possibly provide some inspiration and thoughts, it is the real contact with people, events, places and things that make one fathom and comprehend, which leads me into different stages of art creation as time goes by. In 2012 Ron and Mark Hanson invited me to tour in New Zealand. I performed five sessions in four cities. It was my first time performing so intensively abroad, in different places, a different atmosphere and with a different audience. It let all the accompanying performers [in that NZ tour] appreciate each others’ work, and it was also quite touching. I felt deeply each time I saw Samin Son performing, the solo dance of Zahra Killeen-Chance and noise art performance of Campbell Kneale. The work of my assistant LU Yi, has also broadened the scope of my performances internationally.

F:我想影響我創作最深的,應該是來自生活,或許從音樂、電影和書本可以提供一些靈感和想法,但是與人、事、地、物的實際接觸經驗,才是令人發省和領悟,隨著時間演進也讓我進入不同的創作階段。2012年白木耳雜誌Ron Hanson和Mark Hanson邀請我到紐西蘭巡迴演出,一共4個城市5場表演,這是我在國外第一次如此密集演出,在不同場地、不同氛圍和不同觀眾,讓同時同行表演者的投入也讓人很深的感染,Samin Son每次表演在軍中壓抑著擦洗塗滿牙膏的玻璃、Zahra Killeen-Chance的獨舞和Campbell Kneale噪音表演的投入讓我感受很深,助理盧藝辛勞的協助展演,也讓我更加開拓國際的展演。

A: I’ve been thinking about the design and style of your Noise-label releases in the 90s, and comparing to your recent performances and installations. Do you think that there is an overall aesthetic in terms of design, art, sound, and technology in your work?

F: In the early period, most cassettes issued by the Noise-label were individually recorded by hand and the covers were printed individually then assembled together, a bit like the family factories of the 1970s in Taiwan. We once exchanged cassettes with Aube (Akifumi Nakajima) in Japan, and he once mentioned in a letter that the cover design of the Noise-label looked a bit his style. At that time I liked the cassettes issued by G.R.O.S.S., a label owned by Aube, so maybe I was influenced. At present when I work for my sound art installations, I actually try to remove excessive visual elements, so it is a bit minimalist. I hope people can concentrate on listening to the sound part without being obfuscated by too much visual information or excessive decorations.

F:早期Noise廠牌大部分發行的卡帶,都是手工一捲一捲錄製,包裝一張一張列印,再設計包裝組合起來,有點像是家庭手工加工廠。曾經和日本Aube(中嶋昭文Akifumi Nakajim)交換各自發行的卡帶,中嶋曾在信中提到Noise的封面設計有點像他的風格,當時我很喜歡Aube的廠牌G.R.O.S.S.發行的卡帶作品,所以應該有受其影響。目前的聲音裝置創作,其實我試著去掉多餘的視覺元素,所以有點極簡的風格,希望視覺上不要傳達太多資訊或多餘的裝飾,而能專心在聆聽聲音的部分。

A: Many people in the noise/sound field in Taiwan mention you as an important influence, even when the work they do is very different to yours. Thinking about the people who have been influenced by your work or been your students, what do you think is the most important idea or inspiration that you have been able to give them?

F: I wrote an article in 1993’s Noise magazine introducing the cassettes issued by the Zero and Sound Liberation Organization (Z.S.L.O), then we met at the Tianmimi Cafe owned by Wu Zhongwei [located in Gongguan in the 1990s, closed now]. Z.S.L.O had wild performances there, and I also played noise music of Merzbow, The Gerogerigegege etc. there. We later became very good friends and often discussed our thoughts towards sounds together. Once I chatted with Lin Chi-wei (a member of Z.S.L.O ) on the phone overnight until dawn. Most of the foreign artists who participated in the Broken Life Festival (1994) and Post-industrial Arts Festival (1995) were either previously introduced in the Noise magazines or had their works issued by the Noise-label.
After I returned to Taiwan in 1997, there was a time when Z.S.L.O., Dino and I were like a group, organizing activities and performing together. When we were at Etat, we held the first sound art exhibition ‘Bias’. It was the first exhibition calling for works in sound art, and provided opportunities of further development for more young artists. I then started teaching at TNUA (Taipei National University of Arts), became the director of Laboratory of Computer Music at the Centre for Art and Technology (now the Trans-Sonic Lab), and collaborated with IO Lab which was formed by grad students Yao Chung-han, Wang Chung-kun, Yeh Ting-hao and Chang Yung-ta working on sound-related arts. I started to organize TranSonic activities in 2008, experimenting with performances that transcended sound-art and combined with different media. I don’t assign direction for my students, so rather than bringing inspiration to my students or friends, we encourage and grow with each other.

F:1993年我在Noise雜誌介紹零與聲自主發行的卡帶,之後我們在吳中煒經營的「甜蜜蜜」咖啡館認識,零與聲在「甜蜜蜜」狂野的表演,我也在「甜蜜蜜」播放Merzbow、The Gerogerigegege之類的噪音音樂,之後我們就成為很好的朋友,常會一起討論對聲音的想法,我與林其蔚曾在電話從晚聊天到天亮。1994年「破爛生活節」(Broken Life Festival)和1995年「後工業藝術祭」(Post-industrial Arts Festival)參與的國外藝術家,大多是Noise雜誌介紹過或在Noise廠牌發行過作品。1997年回國後,有一段時間零與聲、Dino和我就像是一個團體,一起辦活動,一起表演。在在地實驗期間,我們辦了第一個聲音藝術展「異響Bias」,這是第一次聲音徵件的展,也讓更多年輕的藝術家有更多發展的機會。之後我到台北藝術大學任教,同時擔任藝術與科技中心電腦音樂實驗室(現為未來聲響實驗室Trans-Sonic Lab)的主持人,與聲音創作相關的研究生姚仲涵、王仲堃、葉廷皓與張永達等所組成團體IO Lab合作,2008年開始舉辦超響(TranSonic)的活動,嘗試超越聲響的創作並與不同媒體相結合的展演。我不特定指導學生發展的方向,所以與其說我帶給學生或朋友在創作上的啟發,到不如說是彼此相互的激勵與成長。

A: In the 21st century, I feel that the definitions of noise, sound-art and music are not very clear. Sometimes I think maybe there are no boundaries at all. I wonder what you think about this in relation to your work?

F: For people engaged in artistic creativity, noise, sound-art and music are just labels, in order to let ordinary people easily recognize. Critics emphasized defining the differences between these different labels. With art works frequently using different materials or crossing different disciplines, it’s very difficult to ascribe oneself to such a simple way of expression.


A: In live performances, what sound materials interest you most? (e.g. field recordings, computer-generated, electrically-generated…)

F: I don’t limit myself in using any particular material in my art works. I don’t use traditional way of composition when I work with sound. I found a unique way to create my works during the process of massively transforming/tuning sounds using computers. I use noise or unusually transformed primary sound source as my original sound, then I use the convolution method of computer music. Usually this method renders sounds with various spatial feelings. My sampling of modern music, ethno-music, electronic music and ambient sounds, however, gives the noise a special musical texture (or feeling), which is like an intercourse between noise and music. The generative process requires computation and waiting, and the product is full of uncertainty, and usually it takes a tremendous amount of trial and error to get accidentally surprising sounds. I use these sound materials when I perform, and make room for improvisation.


A: I noticed that you seem to have a fairly minimal set of gear when you perform. I wonder if you can describe your favourite setup, or some of your favourite equipment?

F: I often play different types of music] and use different equipments accordingly for my live performances. I only use traditional effect units if it’s a noise performance. I bought most of the guitar-like effect units in SF in 1995, like Meat Box from Digitech, Buzz Box, Whammy and Delay/Sampler. I use a notebook computer when it’s a performance of more electronic-like music, and I use Max/Msp for improvisation. Right now, I often use audio spotlight speakers to generate multiple spatial layers, which let you feel that the sounds can fly past your ears or flow sideway around your body, giving you the sensation that sounds are constantly flowing around in the space. This is something traditional speakers can’t do. I have seen audio spotlight speakers in sound installations, but have not seen people trying it in live performances. Audio spotlight speakers are not without problems: the audio frequency is very narrow and sound volume is very small, so it’s disastrous to use them to play music in general. I simply use it for its uniqueness; it actually is not that magic in itself.

F:我的現場表演,經常表演不同類型,所使用的器材也有所不同。如果是噪音表演我只使用傳統效果器,這些吉他效果器大部分是我在95年左右在舊金山時買的,像Digitech的Meat Box, Buzz Box, Whammy和Delay/Sampler等效果器。若是比較電子音樂的表演,則使用筆記型電腦,我使用Max/Msp軟體來作表演即興的部分,另外目前表演常使用指向喇叭來營照空間的層次,這讓聲音好像可以從你耳朵切過、從你的身邊流過,讓你感覺聲音在這空間不停的流竄,這是傳統喇叭做不到,指向喇叭使用在聲音裝置我看過,但是使用在表演上我還沒看過別人使用,不過指向喇叭也不是沒有缺點,音頻非常窄而且音量很小,放一般音樂聽起來很難聽,我是使用它的特性來創作,並非它本身就那麼神奇。

A: Your performances seem to have an interesting sense of time structure. I wonder how you think of the shaping of time in a live performance? Also, I often feel a distinctive kind of rhythm-sense in your performances. I’d be interested to know your ideas on that; for example, does it relate to rock music, or something else?

F: When I perform I emphasize how I as a performer interact with the listeners via sounds. When a notebook computer gets used more and more frequently in my live performances, I found the corporeality of my performances gets thinner, and this kind of deficiency of body also loosens the connection between sound performance and the body. In other words, the performer cannot enter into the condition the sounds represent; how is it possible to communicate with the audience if the performer cannot enter into this state? This is how I feel when I perform noise concerts in recent years using guitar-like effect unit. When using it, no matter how violent or cacophonous the noise is, every turn of the knob and every press of the button creates a direct feedback. And when the mind of the performer enters the state of the sounds, the body connects to the sounds naturally. Therefore, I use the dials of a controller or a mixer even when I use a computer. As sounds come into my body, I turn these dials via rhythmic movement of my body, and through these dynamic sounds that penetrate the ears and stimulate the brain and the mind, I let the audience also melt into this state with me.


A: In Taiwan, it seems that all kinds of music and art are naturally political, or are interpreted in a political way. How do you feel about this in relation to your work?

F: For historical reasons, political activities are especially dynamic in Taiwan. And because of its importance, this brings about democratic progress. When I was an undergraduate there was a student revolt, and I also participated in a student society for social investigation, and deeply understood the complexity of politics. [But] after all, I’m not an activist, and it’s not necessary to follow the trend of fashionable thoughts when making art. I just look for a path where I can create freely, and which also makes the artistic culture of this society more diverse.


A: Do you think that there are any aspects of your current work that are particularly Taiwanese, either in terms of culture or politics? How do you feel your work translates for audiences outside of Taiwan—for example, in Germany or China?

F:I have performed in the Transmedia Art Festival in Berlin and the Tonlagen Music Festival in Dresden. The audiences there gave me positive responses, mainly regarding the intricacy and levels of elaborate sound process, and they were especially curious about the flowing, spatial feeling of the sounds I created using audio spotlight speakers. Also, it was refreshing for them because I was from Asia and they were not familiar with the development of Asian experimental music.
This year I had a tour of China and performed in Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Macau. Due to more frequent bilateral exchange between China and Taiwan, at present we are relatively familiar with each other albeit with certain cultural differences. The societies in China’s first-tier cities have changed so fast, and people seemed to be less interested in experimental music. This was what I felt when I compared to my performance in Beijing’s Mini Midi in 2008. The performance there in 2008 reminded me of the rugged waywardness and passion in the 90s in Taiwan. I also had similar thoughts when having dinner with Yan Jun from Beijing and Junky (Torturing Nurse) and Yin Yi from Shanghai this year after the performances. It’s quite admirable that they are still planning events, scheduling concerts and making arts.

F:在德國曾經在柏林的Transmedia藝術節和在Dresden的Tonlagen音樂節表演,聽眾在我的演出有不錯的正面回應,主要是在聲音處理的細緻和層次上,尤其我使用指向喇叭製造流動的聲音空間感產生好奇,另一方面由於我是來自亞洲,他們亞洲實驗音樂發展不熟悉而感到新鮮。在中國方面今年我在北京、杭州、上海、香港和澳門巡演,由於目前兩岸交流的頻繁,彼此在文化上雖有差異但相的熟悉,中國一線城市社會變動太快,人們實驗音樂興趣似乎是降低,這是和我2008在北京Mini Midi表演時的感受,2008年那場活動讓我回想到台灣90年代時期的粗狂與熱情,今年我與北京的顏峻、上海的Junky(Torture Nurse)和殷漪在演出後一起吃飯聊天也有相類似的感想,不過難得是他們依然持續在策劃活動、表演和創作。

A: Given that the noise scene began as something that seemed very radical in the 1990s, I’m interested in your thoughts on the process of noise becoming more ‘establishment’ now that people in this field teach in universities, do research, and have work collected by museums? Does this change the way you work, the way you think about the sound/noise field?

F: In the 90s we started from knowing nothing and studied everything on our own. It all relied on intuition and instincts similar to hammering in the stone age. As we accumulated more knowledge and techniques, we were then able to realize our ideas into art works. For me it was a progress; tiny bits of learning, action, and accumulation. And when we felt everything was in vain, through perseverance I feel that we achieved some results. Because of these tiny bits of results, it was possible to be hired to teach in a school or noticed by an art gallery or a museum. In terms of art-making, noise to me is not just a genre of music. Rather, it allows me to attempt the possibility of various sounds courageously. In the mean time, since I am an artist crossing the analogue and digital generations, I hope I can use the almost-forgotten sound-related knowledge and technology I learned in the early days in my art works to connect in a developmental context and to collaborate with other artists.


Wang Fujui and the Fascination of Mysterious Sounds

Fujui Wang is one of the pioneers of Taiwanese noise music and sound art. Wang emerged in the 1990s during the explosion of Taiwanese experimental music following the lifting of martial law. In 1993, he founded NOISE, Taiwan’s first zine and record label dedicated to experimental music. Wang’s own work ranges from ecstatic extreme noise to sublime sound and light installations. Alistair Noble wrote about Wang’s unique body of work for White Fungus #14.

Written by Alistair Noble
Chinese text prepared by Yi Lu
English translation by Cheng-Wen Su
@White Fungus 14th