[NetBehaviour] Woven Qin, wood, atlas, wailing

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Wed Apr 14 02:04:48 CEST 2021

Hi Johannes,

I really agree with your reflections on the diversity and powerful presence of the many wonderful phenomena appearing on the list.  It's been a tremendous inspiration and resource during the past very turbulent, challenging, and eventful year.  Just to see imagination and expression taking so many spontaneous forms is inspiring in itself!  The educational value is superb as are the experiential and community currents, and bringing so many strands together in a cohesive dynamic is a testament to Furtherfield and all participants.

Looking ahead to the rest of the year (a kind of habit in the spring) I'm hoping to channel more energy into a writing project on the themes you mention.  It's gotten more far-ranging in scope than I anticipated but this offers a good opportunity to work on my research skills as well as the dilemma of how to structure something more complex than I expected.  I'll probably focus more on sending occasional updates rather than lengthy discussions for the next few months anyway, because on many key points of the work I'm often quite stumped!  🙂

Your description of the broken tree and its sound is very evocative, and much appreciated.  The environment around us can communicate in so many ways that are often uncanny if we observe and listen.

Sadly there has been yet another terrible tragedy in my state even as we try to process those of recent years.  I don't know if I'll be able to comment at all helpfully on these in the weeks ahead given the enormity of the events and the myopia of my perspective.  Certainly the weight of circumstances can be overwhelming, yet I try to believe there may also be some glimpses of hope ahead.

Of course hope cannot always be the central theme and the observance of grief is much more fitting at times.

All very best wishes and regards,


From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org> on behalf of Johannes Birringer via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Sent: Monday, April 12, 2021 3:43 PM
To: NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>; Alan Sondheim <sondheim at gmail.com>
Cc: Johannes Birringer <Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk>
Subject: Re: [NetBehaviour] Woven Qin, wood, atlas, wailing

dear Alan, Max, and all

sometimes I am left speechless and don't know how we can respond, and then I imagine -- this list is actually a place where people are free to think aloud and share their artwork, their thoughts and their research; so Alan's long response on the qin music and the instrument, or Max's pondering the method inside Warburg's Bilderatlas or how the Mnemosyne constellations (image juxtapositions, rather than 'explanations' of what/how he collected these images) could inspire his own further work, into Dante, Leonardo, Benjamin......., all this give more inspiration to reflect.
Alan, I loved your meticulous description of your learning about these instruments or finding out about age of wood, type of wood. the cultural traditions, and the physical performance challenges, the tuning, the types of strings, the use of fingers, the sensitivity towards the resonances of the sound created...... I also found it very moving (sorry for being sentimental here) when you admitted to feeling humble towards the age of your instruments ("Most of mine are old and I feel - I know this might sound absurd - but I have to honor their age and provenance") -- i love this.

Makes me want to share an impression from yesterday; i had pondered the paintings and body self-portraits of a artist I  work with, and I have to keep this private of course; but something struck me about these difficult body figurations in the paintings,  contorted, probing, reflective of the darkness and obscure-ness of flesh and emotions, vulnerable fleshness,, exposed-ness, openness, trusting, wanting, hurting, flailing. It made me think how twisted we are in our mindbodies, often aching, yearning-aching, dissolving, Baconesque. Then i suddenly realize, yesterday afternoon, i had noted a fallen tree branch, in the park where I jog, strangely/incoherently broken off its main stem, and when I tried to move it, it ached, making strange sounds, it wailed.  I was so struck by this that I later, after sun down, went back to record the sound. Not sure what to make of it,.

Johannes Birringer

From: Alan Sondheim <sondheim at gmail.com>
Sent: 11 April 2021 01:15

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 instrument.
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<mailto:Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk>> wrote:
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.

Johannes Birringer

Sent from my spyphone

> On 10 Apr 2021, at 00:21, Alan Sondheim <sondheim at panix.com<mailto:sondheim at panix.com><mailto: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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