Bin David Li was born in Fuzhou, China, and now lives and works in New York City. He is a member of Wandelweiser, who have published four of his scores. Although his first album I am also here is credited solely to Bin Li, his fellow Wandelweiser member Switzerland's Stefan Thut is a key contributor to it, the two effectively working as a duo on two versions of the title piece, one titled in English, the other Chinese. Bin Li has given several performances based on the score, including one with Thut on cello; the CD versions are quite different from any other version. According to the score, both performers need to be "present" during the performance and do not "see" each other. However, for these recordings, Thut played the piece at Gimmelwald in Switzerland and Bin Li at Manhattan, USA, a distance of about four thousand miles apart. The two versions are presented as a pair, the first, running for about fifteen-and-a half minutes, featuring viola da gamba and voices speaking in English, the second forty-two-and-a-half minute version featuring qin — a fretless Chinese board zither with seven strings — and voices speaking Chinese.
Much of the first version comprises prolonged silences, audible sounds accounting for less than half a minute of its running time. Some Wandelweiser releases include silences so listeners can hear the beginning of each note and its decay to silence. On other releases, prolonged silences are more akin to those John Cage advocated, as in his 4' 33" during which listeners were encouraged to listen to the ambient sounds of their environment. Neither of these seems particularly applicable in this case; the four words "I" "am" "also" & "here" are each spoken once, separately, over a period of about ten minutes, the silences between them serving to raise anticipation and heighten tension, a very different experience to the two cited above. For Bin Li, silence seems to be a motif running through the album; on the cover he quotes Wittgenstein's closing line of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." and a poem by the Tang dynasty Buddhist poet Wang Wei.
Although considerably longer than the first version, the second seems fuller and more inviting, most importantly because parts of it feature background field recordings of bird song and other ambient sounds, meaning that its silences feel more Cageian, not like pregnant pauses during which one is waiting for something to occur.
Rounding off the album is the twelve-minute "You"; in Chinese, the "you" sound means "also" or "again" so the track has different meanings to different listeners. As with the opening track, "You" is dominated by silence. After about five minutes, the title is pronounced once then silence resumes; right at the end of the track, the word is again whispered several times through a Japanese hichiriki flute with the reed removed, producing an eerily chilling sound which suggests Bin Li might have a promising future sound tracking horror movies.... Fascinating.
Comments and Feedback: