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Jing-Adel Wang: Shanshui Thought, Life Nourishment, and China’s Experimental Music

Sunday, August 20th -- 6 am Pacific Time (9 pm Beijing Time)

Shanshui Thought, Life Nourishment, and China’s Experimental Music

Jing-Adel Wang:

This talk is based on the chapter “Shanshui-thought in Experimental Music Practices” in my book Half Sound, Half Philosophy (Bloomsbury 2021) and my article “Electroacoustic Improvisation and life nourishment” (Organised Sound 27(3), 2022). The talk focuses on the question of how the experimental and improvising music of Chinese musicians embodies a particular mode of thinking rooted in qi-philosophy known as shanshui-thought, which conceives nature and the environment as secret and nurturing. Shanshui-thought cultivates an existential gesture of following rather than obeying or conquering; it requires tacit resonance rather than objective knowing. Shanshui-thought enables us to recognize the cosmic, aesthetic, and moral values of music qualities of dan (淡)(quiet and bland) and you (幽)(inward expandedness), once described as “poverty” and “darkness” by the composer Christian Wolff of what he calls ascetic minimalism. The talk will further discuss the philosophical and aesthetic principles that connect electroacoustic improvisation to life nourishment (养生, literally translated as life feeding life) as found in the Daoist classics The Zhuangzi.

Suggested readings:

Chuang Tzu, The Complete Works of Chiang Tzu. Trans. By Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1968.

Erlmann, Veit. 2010. Reason and Resonance: A History of Modern Aurality. New York and Cambridge, MA: Zone Books and Distributed by MIT Press.

Jullien, François. 2004. In Praise of Blandness: Proceeding from Chinese Thought and Aesthetics. New York: Zone Books.

Jullien, François. 2018a. Living off Landscape: Or, the Unthought-of in Reason. Global Aesthetic Research. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield International.

Wang, Jing. 2021. Half Sound, Half Philosophy: Aesthetics, Politics, and History of China’s Sound Art. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Wang, Jing. 2022. “Electroacoustic Improvisation and Life Nourishment” in Organised Sound 27(3).


Based in Hangzhou, China, Jing-Adel Wang is a sound studies scholar, art anthropologist, curator, and practitioner in sound art. She is currently an Associate Professor of sound studies at Zhejiang University, China. She was a Visiting Professor at MIT Anthropology, USA, (2019-2020) and a visiting scholar at the School of Creative Media at City University of Hong Kong (2017.2). She is also the founder of the Sound Lab at College and Media and International Culture at Zhejiang University (2015-present). Academically, she is the author of the book Half Sound, Half Philosophy: Aesthetics, Politics, and History of China‘s Sound Art (Bloomsbury, 2021) (in English) and Sound and Affect: An Anthropology of China’s sound practice (2017) (in Chinese). Artistically, she works with field recordings, voice, and installation-based performance. She considers research and art practice not as separate but as in reciprocal relation in producing concepts for thought and affects for co-presence.

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