[NetBehaviour] Woven Qin

Alan Sondheim sondheim at gmail.com
Sun Apr 11 02:15:55 CEST 2021

Hi Johannes,

I love erhu; I have one which I've used with our group, as well as a
Cambodian tro, which is similar (and rare, thanks to Pol Pot's destruction
of instruments).
The qin is amazing; wooden ones have been found buried in the Marquis of
Yi's tomb - that are 2400 years old. When I was at Brown, I heard a concert
given on a Tang dynasty one, around a thousand years old. Mine has been
dated from the Qing dynasty, 1636-1912, most likely 200-400 years old.
Stephen Dydo, a qin player who on occasion plays with me on a variety of
instruments, brought it back to life. It's a wonderful meditative
instrument; you can get modern ones from Eason Music in the U.S.
https://www.easonmusicstore.com/collections/all-things-guqin - there must
be similar stores in Europe. Of course there is a Facebook page devoted to
the qin.
I was at a loss for playing, literally, until the Net brought a variety of
sites to light. I also knew Frederic Liebermann whose 1983 A Chinese Zither
Tutor, a translation, introduced the music and technique to the West; he
also warned me away from the instrument, saying I'd never be able to play
it (no training). Earlier, Van Gulik wrote The Lore of the Chinese Lute,
which gives enormous religious and cultural background about the
I couldn't string or tune it; now, I can't string it properly myself, but I
can keep it in tune (you have to pull the strings tight by hand without
gearing). When I started playing with Stephen, he helped greatly and
continues to help me. We've played concerts together and recorded together
for ESP a cd, Dragon and Phoenix, in which we play a variety of
instruments, but the focus is on the qin itself. He has amazing and
expensive qin (also called guqin, ancient qin), and I can give a general
warning (the same for shakuhachi), beware of inexpensive ones or ones made
to look "antique" - they're out there. I was really lucky here as well - I
found my qin at a antique shop somewhere in New England decades ago for
$18; when I paid for it, the clerk asked what I wanted "the board" for.
You can find amazing qin music online; it's often played very slowly and
meditatively; it's tuned pentatonically, and harmonics are used a lot.
There are no frets; the body of the instrument is also a fretless
fingerboard for the strings.
The proper positions on the strings - even with position markers, it is so
easy to play horribly out of tune. A lot of glissando and harmonics are
used. The board is like an ocean. The wood is very very old; Van Gulik
describes the type used. The instrument figures in a lot of Chinese and
even some Japanese painting (it's no longer played in Japan). The lacquer
use is hand-made with a very complex process and composition to create a
playing surface. And it's very very quiet.
I look for people who know instruments well, and do research on them as
well. Most of mine are old and I feel - I know this might sound absurd -
but I have to honor their age and provenance. I pass them on as well; we
gave a few to the National Music Museum several years ago for example.
All of this goes into my thinking about music in relation to the body, to
internalization and tacit knowledge, to the limits of hearing and
finger/hand movement, and so forth. It's very non-technological (in the
contemporary sense); it has to do with the history of the body as well as
ideas of care and deep ecology. It's never just a situation of "playing"
for me. I'm also concerned with the sound in the world - not how to change
that, but how the sound interacts with the world, even whether or not there
are any listeners, and so forth. So it's the opposite of my technological
art (virtual worlds, codework, and so forth), but also informs that.
Under Mao, something like 300 ancient qin were destroyed during the
Cultural Revolution. It has a resurgence with new qin that use metal
strings at higher tension etc. (I use metal strings - silk break too easily
and are too expensive, but I keep the metal strings at low tension).
Sometimes the soul of the music seems to have been lost with an emphasis on
technique, group playing, snappy tunes and so forth. But the qin can be
used for any number of things, by anyone!

Sorry to go on at length here and thanks for the opportunity.

Best, Alan

On Sat, Apr 10, 2021 at 2:34 PM Johannes Birringer <
Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk> wrote:

> Alan,
> it's beautiful music, and I can sense the intensity
> (and surely one sees it in the photo).
> i wondered how you approach/ed such instruments in the first place, if
> (presumably) you taught yourself
> or started to play them kinetically, intuitively, and shifted your growing
> musical and physical knowledge across/around
> the string instruments (and keyboards) I have seen you play. You worry
> about "the proper positions of  fingers on the strings.."?
> i wonder why you indeed worried (surely not covid induced) - it interests
> really me how you hold up and sustain your tremendous continuum/commitment
> to play these difficult instruments....and get yourself into them and their
> particularities so emphatically!
> Now, it was you who inspired me to look for such Chinese instruments, I
> wanted to include one in our DAP-Lab "Mourning for a dead moon" dance,
> performed in London in late December 2019, before Covid. One of our Chinese
> dancer/performers volunteered to play the qin, and off I went looking for
> one, during a trip to Berlin in November.  I found a fabulous
> Turkish-German music instrument store in Kreuzberg, and after a few hours I
> left, feeling very excited, not really knowing what I had bought. The young
> man convinced me it was a qin, but back in London, my dancers explained I
> had bought an erhu ( 二胡; pinyin), a very elegant and beautiful instrument,
> just 2 strings.... Our dancer Helenna Ren played the erhu in two short
> scenes, we miked the instrument & processed the sound in Max/Msp in
> addition to the live playing.  That concert, with live audience, seems ages
> ago now, unbelievably.
> regards,
> Johannes Birringer
> Dap-Lab
> ________________________________________
> From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org> on
> behalf of Alan Sondheim via NetBehaviour <
> netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
> Sent: 10 April 2021 16:22
> To: NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity
> Cc: Alan Sondheim
> Subject: Re: [NetBehaviour] Woven Qin
> Thank you! That means a lot to me, the qin is always difficult for me and
> oddly you have to let go of that difficulty in order to play it -
> Best, Alan
> On Sat, Apr 10, 2021 at 10:28 AM Simon Mclennan via NetBehaviour <
> netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org<mailto:
> netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>> wrote:
> This is a nice piece of qin music. I listened in a meditative mood of
> afternoon drizzle and cold
> English weather. The mood
> Was enhanced as my feet
> Toasted under a wooden blanket and my nodding head
> Started to nod even more.
> Thanks Alan!
> S
> Sent from my spyphone
> > On 10 Apr 2021, at 00:21, Alan Sondheim <sondheim at panix.com<mailto:
> sondheim at panix.com>> wrote:
> >
> >
> >
> > Woven Qin
> >
> > http://www.alansondheim.org/woven.mp3
> > http://www.alansondheim.org/woven.jpg
> >
> > My qin has a problem on the fourth highest string which is that
> > there is a ringing sound coming from it and I think I know now
> > that the ringing sound is from a very slight band in the string
> > about 2-3 cm from where it attaches to the lower bridge . I've
> > worked to try to get this straightened out but I will live with
> > it because it is too difficult and the tension is too delicate
> > to do anything but live with it . in the mean time I'm having
> > constant difficulties trying to find the proper positions of my
> > fingers on the strings . 7 strings and any number of positions
> > which I get it to some extent by the dots that represent the
> > harmonics . but on the other hand was happening is that I'm
> > forgetting the in between positions and the relative positioning
> > of each string in relationship to the others particularly at the
> > lower end of things. I've been working and working on this and
> > wondering if something is going in my mind yet again so that the
> > positioning isn't becoming tacit knowledge but instead is
> > something I have to constantly calculate and re calculate. you
> > have no idea how depressing this can be . it means I can't play
> > naturally my hands dancing on the strings but have to think have
> > to think every so often and slow up and rework the positioning
> > of my hands to be correct . sometimes I'll draw it a complete
> > blank period . sometimes I'll draw a complete blank . I don't
> > know what that means when that happens but I think it's
> > connected with covid with the epidemic. In any case here is some
> > music that I think turned out alright. I've placed the qin on
> > some softe cloth in order to somewhat subdue the upper harmonics
> > where the problem is lying with the fourth string or the third
> > depending on which end you're counting from. Thank you and have
> > a listen, this has been a struggle.
> >
> > __
> >
> >
> > Did You Know ? Every hour grows up to be an hour and a half !!
> >
> > ___
> >
> > _______________________________________________
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