China (PRC), Music, 2016


In an interview in 2007, investigating a connection between the growing Chinese experimental music scene and political and economical development in China, Yan Jun answered: ”Experimentalism is an important character for the Chinese society and people. People experiment with everything in the last 30 years. In that respect nearly everything here is so avant-garde!” (World New Music Magazine/ISCM, 2007)

This is an apt description of a society as well as a music scene which have undergone such remarkable changes in such a short time, that it is almost as if time has been somehow accelerated. On the music and art scenes, several new and varied influences merged to form a vibrant experimental scene, which soon blurred the lines of the established musical styles and genres. Instead of speaking of the traditional Western forms of ‘high’ and popular art, in China, as in many countries in East Asia, it might be more relevant to speak in general terms of mainstream versus alternative culture.

In China, alternative music literally exploded in the 90s, with a mix of influences from European and American experimental music, rock, punk rock, film music, video games, jazz and improvisation. The market was flooded with music cassettes, CDs and VHS, and with the internet revolution, the opportunity to listen to internet radio and download mp3s caused several musical worlds to merge. Experimental musicians came to play in China and the personal tastes of Chinese musicians who came to work in the field exercised a strong influence on this demand for new cultural influences.

Yan Jun has no classical music training. Instead, he has been educated and shaped by thriving rock and general ‘art and culture’ scenes, and has played his own vital part in them, both as a musician and artist and as curator and organizer. Yan Jun was born in 1973 and he grew up in Lanzhou in the province Gansu, where during his teenage years he started writing poetry. He has lived in Beijing since 1999 where he has worked as a music critic, focusing mainly on Chinese underground rock. He founded the record label Sub Jam in 2000, which has since produced a lot of alternative Chinese music. He started making his own music in 2004. Whilst this may be seen as relatively late, his music making can be considered just one of several strings to Yan Jun’s bow, along with performance, poetry, writing and curating.

Yan Jun’s aesthetic is like a reflection of this borderless, non-hierarchical musical melting pot where everything seems possible. His main sounding materials are field recordings and noise. Esthetically he is interested in sound characteristics such as high frequencies, noise and silence. He plays live, as a soloist or with other musicians and uses lo-tech apparatus, often in improvisation and thus plays a part in the international ‘improv’ scene. As a composer and musician, he also explores the sonic consequences of body movements, works with video, makes sound installations and writes his own texts for his media works. It comes as no surprise that he has been presented to the Shanghai Biennale, has received a honorarium mention at Prix Ars Electronica and has been invited to the Berlin and Rotterdam international poetry festivals.

With and through different media, Yan Jun is exploring the poetic side of the everyday and of basic materials, exemplified in a few of his works from the last years. Recently, for “Living Room Tour,” in Beijing 2014, he visited several private living rooms and from this made a collage of audio and video recordings. The live work “Gestures (Two)” depicts a scene which revolves around a slowly moving and silent figure who is captured in his movements by swarming photographers. In this rather still and quiet performance, the sound of the camera shutters and the flashes give a minimalist commentary on the implication of performing, listening and documentation.

In “Let’s act”, which was conducted in 2014 in Rotterdam, Yan Jun elegantly links the various cultural activities his oeuvre presents. A text written by Yan Jun about noise and the instrumentalization of noise is juxtaposed with field-recordings and video shots from everyday life. Here noise, rather than being composed, is drawn from a variety of essential parts of life such as communication and social gathering. The work thus artistically displays some of the main features of Yan Jun’s music and art. Although he uses a broad range of techniques, he maintains a strong focus and concentration on the everyday and on the importance of the visual as well as an auditive reality.

Text: Andreas Engström

  • Yan Jun: Berlin Reflections
    Yan Jun

    2022, Book

    Yan Jun was invited to Berlin as a DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program fellow in 2016. During his year-long stay in the city, he wrote down on his mobile phone his thoughts on sound and listening, the Berlin music scenes, language, philosophy, and everyday observations. The results are compiled in this book.
    The texts are published in Chinese and English, in a translation by Matt Turner & Haiying Weng.

    Published by: DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program

    Graphic design: Studio Grau

    The publication was funded by Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft e.V.


to top