Ferroud, Bergère Captive
A funny thing happened at Tiananmen Square. As described in the previous post and after playing in the pedestrian tunnel, we went up and lingered for a while behind police barricades that protected the locked gates of The Forbidden City.
That first night, I couldn’t really figure out what all the fuss was about, and why there were so many people crowding the sidewalk in the hot, humid air. For sure it was amazing being there – we were in such a wondrous state of shock to find ourselves finally in Beijing – and I had fun trying to figure out how many undercover cops there were, taking photos of the tourists on their i-Pads.
It was only the next day when we were trying to sort out what we might do over the next couple of days that I mentioned I really wanted to play flute in Tiananmen Square, and record a bit. It turns out that, unbeknownst to me, that’s where we actually were the night before! I got teased relentlessly over the next few days for being so clued out, which actually was pretty funny…has that kind of thing ever happened to you? Not the teasing part so much, as having been someplace amazing and not actually realized at the time?
Anyways, a few days later we did make it back to Tiananmen. It was late one morning, after the heat had kicked in and tourist groups had descended on the massive open plaza. The line-up for Mao’s Tomb was hopelessly long, so we just kind of wandered around for a while, trying not to lose each other in such a sea of humanity. It was kind of like Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition, but without the arcades and roller coasters. As pictured above, an identifying flag might have been useful!
As we were leaving, I realized that I still hadn’t played my flute, so doubled back to courageously set up and play. I wasn’t sure if it would be such a wise idea to open a case and, uh, start assembling a shiny metal object in broad daylight in Tiananmen. So, as I played, kneeling over my music in the open square, I was keeping my eye open for approaching security in case there was a problem…it wasn’t the first time that I half-expected to feel the clasp of a white-gloved hand of the law on my shoulder.
Mid-phrase I glanced up and made eye contact with a father and his young son, who had paused and stood a little ways off, listening as I played.
No security, no hassles, just a bit of appreciative applause from my attentive little audience as I dis-assembled my flute and hastily packed up my things to rejoin my patiently awaiting friends!
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Our first night in Beijing, we of course headed straight across town to check out Tian’an Men Square. Turns out the gates were locked tight, but we had a great adventure and caught a vivid glimpse of present-day China.
Just as we were nearing our destination, I spotted the entrance to this largely deserted underground passageway, and we actually ended up hanging out for quite a while, making music and meeting some young students who happened to wander through. The vibe was relaxed and informal – even some workers and the guards on night duty took a smoke break and let us do our thing, as enraptured as we were with the heavenly acoustics!
Hanging out on a bench at the far end of the tunnel, some vagrant teens were partying away happily for the duration, their voices adding an unruly backdrop to this otherwise pastoral recording of Debussy’s Syrinx.
Finally we carried on, heading back above-ground to brave the crowds streaming along the darkened streets towards Tian’an Men Square and the gates of The Forbidden City, a veritable river of humanity in the night!
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An intriguing gallery entranceway – derelict and unassuming – caught my eye as we rolled into Beijing’s famed Dashanzi Art District. Or at least I thought it was a gallery. Upon closer inspection it turns out it was somehow even better!
I’m still convinced that this was an elaborate art installation, simulating a functioning storage space, serving as a hub for the work crews shoveling sand into nearby wheelbarrows and the guys wearing hardhats who were clambering in and out of an open manhole just across the street. It even had an interactive element, which I discovered when I offered to help shovel a bit. I thought I might be pushing my luck if I joined them down in the sewers though, so I’ll just have to save urban spelunking for another time.
After recording for a little while in the ‘gallery’ pictured above, I got shooed out just as I was taking this panoramic image, which only confirms for me that this was indeed some leading-edge contemporary art installation. And hey, the acoustics weren’t so bad either!
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Improv with Ambient Sound Gallery Sounds
More evocative acoustics from a gallery space in Dashanzi 798 Art District in Beijing…
Typical of the plethora of converted munitions factories cum art exhibit spaces in the north-east part of China’s capital city, the atmosphere and acoustics here were phenomenal!
After hanging out for a while, mesmerized by a video installation in the shadows behind a side partition wall, a video depicting a classical pianist performing on-stage as endless buckets of hot, liquid wax are poured over the soundboard, hammers and felts of his grand piano – the soundtrack for which you can hear in the background here – I decided to discreetly assemble my flute in a corner of the gallery and send aloft some flute sounds…hey, what the hec?
Now, you might question my decision to go ahead and play, uninvited no less, in a public space like this, but over the years I’ve developed a bit of a sixth sense with regards to, uh, red tape, so to speak. It turns out my instincts were spot on: my stealth recording had basically gone undetected, but as I was leaving, I politely asked staff if it were cool for me to play my flute a bit in their wonderful art space, an idea which was summarily shut down.
This cool reception was definitely not typical for the warm welcome that I otherwise received while playing flute while in China – everywhere from Ming Dynasty Temples on Wudang Mountain to airport waiting areas, the reaction was consistently one of cordial, friendly curiosity.
Even in Beijing’s Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, no problem…artist-types, what can I say!
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Gariboldi, Etudes Mignonnes Opus 131
On my final day in Beijing, I had one last chance to do some amazing exploring.
After a morning of essential discount shopping, a gaggle of us crammed into a taxi and sat through heavy traffic to go check out Art District 798, on the outskirts of the sprawling city; it wasn’t until this last day that I got a new perspective on just how massive Beijing really is, and with so many possible things to do before heading back to Canada, I’m happy to report that it was worth the journey!
We had an incredible afternoon, poking around the quiet side streets and stopping in to behold one reclaimed gallery space after another. Hey, Beijing was really cool – don’t get me wrong – but finally, some honest-to-goodness, gritty culture!
Crammed into one huge labyrinthian city block that was once home to munitions factories, the low-slung deco buildings now house a bumper crop of galleries instead of guns. Video surveillance on every corner, mind you, keeping an eye on the graffiti artistes, souvenir shops, cafes and..uh, us!?
While our taxi driver hung around waiting patiently, I inadvertently found myself totally on my own, my friends having gone ahead somewhere to wander the galleries while I held back, camera in hand.
Close by, the open doors of White Space Gallery drew me in and offered a welcome refuge from the midday heat. My thanks to the gallery staff, who were so friendly and welcoming as they let me record one of my favourite pieces by Guiseppe Gariboldi. The vaulted ceiling made for some truly astonishing, memorable acoustics, as I’m sure you would agree as you listen.. remember, headphones recommended.
Yeah, I finally caught up with my friends, who had stopped in at a cafe down the street – I joined them for a beer to toast this last adventure together, at the end of what was truly an epic two week odyssey in China!
Hmm, I couldn’t find Opus 131 that this study comes from.. but here’s some equally charming etudes by the same composer: http://erato.uvt.nl/files/imglnks/usimg/1/1a/IMSLP173606-PMLP306573-Gariboldi_-_15_Etudes.pdf ..happy playing, et bon chance!
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