The current situation of Art Music in China

Singing is popular throughout China. Meeting in a Karaoke-Bar is common today even for businessmen. But only imagining a rotten place with squeaking speakers and singers out of tune is far from reality. You can find Karaoke-Bars on highest level, including computerized audio and video equipment, international menu and perfect service. Chinese also love to sing at home: every home-hifi-system includes at least two microphone-inputs for karaoke. And songs of popular films and soap operas are sung by a few million Chinese.

Singing divided in China in three sections traditionally, popular and "west classically". This organization originates from the 1980th as the Chinese television began to align large singing competitions. The sense of this organization is to be doubted. If music is not clearly assigned to one of the sections, then it hardly finds a place in television programs (the basis for popularity in China). Today one can study traditional Chinese instruments and singing in China at many music conservatories. For "traditional singing" and "western-classical singing" there are separate classes. The sound ideal differs clearly. Western-classical singing is studied at most, since a high education prestige is connected with it. However in the musical life in China it plays only a minor role. Since the places in choirs are limited the graduates of this technique mostly change profession or work as teachers. The "traditional singing" again experienced a strong “academisation” at the music conservatories and has only little in common with the numerous singing techniques of the different Chinese regions and cultures. In Chinese culture, education is connected with high prestige. As a result this “academisation” radiates into the actually alive regions of folk music. A non-trained singing voice in academic circles is called "large white". Outstanding "folk singers" suffer from lack of self-confidence as they have no professional training. So they begin to copy the academic style. Only few singers succeed in connecting professional singing training and the natural sound of traditional Chinese singing techniques.

The technical level of instrumentalists and singers at China’s music conservatories is outstanding and not to compare with the situation 20 years ago. Since Chinese traditional music historically was not very complex and technically fastidious, today exists a disproportion, which settles in a strange "over interpretation" of Chinese traditional music. Simple tunes and folk songs are overloaded with ornaments and affects and turn to kitsch. Copying the European Symphony orchestra, large orchestras with traditional instruments were created in China. The bass function, formerly not known in Chinese music, is taken over by the European bass or new creations following Chinese instruments. China’s view into the west is coined by deeply rooted complexes and lacking self-confidence (developed in the last centuries), and the disorientation in the time after the culture revolution (a massacre not only at millions humans, predominantly intellectual ones and artists, but at the Chinese culture completely generally). Today in China everything has to be big, the orchestras have to be as large as possible, the sound as fat as it can. However since there was no such orchestra tradition in China, no genuine literature for the large orchestras is present. The arrangements of traditional tunes usually make it very clear that Chinese classical and folk music is not conceived for such ensemble and very rarely these arrangements work out. New compositions develop, but usually in European composition style. An own Chinese language for these orchestras is still missing. Nevertheless in China’s politico-cultural circles one is convinced of the fact that China can internationally be represented by such “pseudo orchestras”. The population joins the view, because Chinese television reports regularly of the “great success” of Chinese orchestras being on concert tours abroad. That it is only about a few presentations annually and that the European audience hardly takes notice of these presentations is conscious to the few.

China is a paradise of the most varied music styles. But if it concerns exchange between different traditions and cultures, and integration of new elements into the own traditions, then China is still a "world-musical desert". There are hardly concerts with music of other cultures and attempts for the renewal and opening of the own music are rare. In China was no concert tradition, comparable with Europe. Following the European concept first concerts for orchestras were aligned. In China it is still very difficult for small ensembles to give concerts, since an appropriate framework does not exist yet. In the last years the number of small ensembles working with traditional music is growing. The reasons for that may be found in the increasing prosperity combined with a slowly restructuring cultural identity. The changes can also be seen in architecture, fine arts and even furniture. More and more young musicians try to tie to their traditional roots and to play a new music. It is remarkable, how hard it seems to be for musicians and composers in China despite to open the own traditional music and to generate a new style from it. But viewing Chinese history makes it clear: for many centuries the Chinese music training was aligned to repetition and cultivation of the tradition, not at all to innovation. Today most ensembles are content with more or less successful arrangements of traditional songs, stuffed with electrical sounds and Grooves. A really new music language and a consciousness for live music making rarely develop. And the working circumstances in China do not promote it: in November 2003 during a noted television broadcast about the music scene in China and their newer represents, all ensembles played playback (not only the singers, but all instruments!).

Europeans miss the context to understand Chinese music presented in Europe. Usually they do not realize that it concerns centuries of repetition and cultivation of an old tradition; similarly as in European classical music. KUKU MUSIC wants to break through the repetition. After an intensive study of Chinese music traditions at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music and musical field research in Mongolia and Tibet, Robert Zollitsch’s desire on experiments and a new handling of tradition began to grow. And with him some outstanding musicians of the recent generation of China decided – although they could have made career in the existing scene – for the more cumbersome however more exciting way of the innovation. KUKU MUSIC thereby stands for a general opening of China, which became already more clearly visible within many other ranges. In painting and literature a pronounced and independent Chinese mode of expression already exists. In the art of music new ground must be walked on not only in music, but also carried out pioneer work in the kind, how such new music can be presented to a Chinese public. Appropriate structures do not exist yet and so each step is an experiment. For example stage technology is present, but it is missing at know-how to mix a good sound. Similar applies to logistics, concert program organization and PR work. KUKU MUSIC has been founded to work in this field, creating an artistic environment for musicians to work on creative new projects.

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