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Technology gives traditional music a new twist

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2019-06-22 08:50

Composer Li Xiaobing in his Beijing studio. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The first thing you notice after stepping into Li Xiaobing's studio located in downtown Beijing is a dozen sound boxes of various sizes hanging on the walls.

In the middle of the room, the composer sits in front of a computer with two screens while playing his keyboard. And electric wires are scattered around the tables and computer, which makes his studio look like a lab.

"When music meets technology, great things could happen. For example, the music you are enjoying right now is like a 3D movie with vivid images conjured in your head and sounds surrounding you," says Li, who plays his composition Uproar in Heaven.

The piece of music, which combines traditional Chinese folk singing, Peking Opera and a symphony orchestra, portrays the image of the Monkey King, the protagonist of the Chinese classic, Journey to the West.

It is one of the 12 songs, which Li composed based on the 12 Chinese zodiac animals.

Veteran Chinese lyricist Chen Xiaoqi has written 10 of the 12 songs. Each song portrays one animal and combines traditional Chinese operas, such as Huaguxi Opera (flower-drum opera), an opera from Hunan province and Qinqiang Opera, a typical folk opera from Shaanxi province.

The 12 songs will be staged in a concert at the Opera House of the Central Conservatory of Music on June 23 with the theme "music from the future", which aims to showcase Li's decade-long experiment with composing music using advanced technology.

Chinese folk singer Chen Lili will perform at the concert.

Speaking about the show, Li, who has been teaching at the Central Conservatory of Music as a professor of composition department since 2007, says: "In my songs, all the sounds you can hear in everyday life are used as musical notes.

"We collect different sounds and program them using computer software. The result is versatile and full of surprises."

For example, in one of his works, Rooster, Li used the sound of table tennis balls as atmospheric music while combining it with Pingju Opera, a popular type of Chinese opera in Northeast China.

"Whether it's creating a whole new form of music or developing a new way to make music, we embrace new technologies as a way to keep moving our traditional Chinese music into the future," says Li.

He adds that the idea of composing music based on the 12 Chinese zodiac animals and combining his music with 3D technology started over a decade ago.

It was about three years ago that Yu Feng, the president of the Central Conservatory of Music, listened to Li's songs and encouraged him to hold a concert, which showcases the latest technology merging with music.

Besides visual aids, about 14 sound boxes of various sizes will be used during the concert.

Li, who was born and raised in Nanchang, Jiangxi province, studied piano and flute as a child. Then, when he was a teenager, he developed interest in electronic music, such as sequencing, synthesis, and sampling.

Later, with the rapid development of computer technology having its effect in music, Li, who studied with famous Chinese composer Wu Zuqiang and obtained a PhD in composition from the Central Conservatory of Music in 2011, went to Guangzhou to study the latest technology while teaching at Xinghai Conservatory of Music in the early 2000s.

As for the future, Li says that he's seeing great attention paid to combining visual and interactive installation art with music and 3D technology, which creates an immersive experience for audiences.

"Like the cinemas screening 3D movies, we will soon have concert halls with high technology creating new trends in music innovation," he says.

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