Written by Professor Wang Jing from the College of Media and International Culture (CMIC) at Zhejiang University, the monograph ‘Half Sound, Half Philosophy: Aesthetics, Politics, and History of China's Sound Art’ is published by Bloomsbury Academic Press recently.
From the late 1990s until today, China's sound practice has been developing in an increasingly globalized socio-political-aesthetic milieu, receiving attentions and investments from the art world, music industry and cultural institutes, with nevertheless, its unique acoustic philosophy remaining silent. This book traces the history of sound practice from contemporary Chinese visual art back in the 1980s, to electronic music, which was introduced as a target of critique in the 1950s, to electronic instrument building fever in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and to the origins of both academic and nonacademic electronic and experimental music activities.
This expansive tracing of sound in the arts resonates with another goal of this book, to understand sound and its artistic practice through notions informed by Chinese qi-cosmology and qi-philosophy, including Chinese traditional notions of resonance, shanshui, huanghu, and distributed monumentality and anti-monumentality. By turning back to deep history to learn about the meaning and function of sound and listening in ancient China, the book offers a refreshing understanding of the British sinologist Joseph Needham's statement that “Chinese acoustics is acoustics of qi.” and expands existing conceptualization of sound art and contemporary music at large.
Praise for the book
“In this book, Wang Jingoffers the reader the unique opportunity to investigate sonic creativity within but mainly outside of academe in China ranging from sound art to experimental and electroacoustic music to DIY culture and electronic instrument building. The historical discussion covers much ground but is not restricted to a multi-strand survey. Key to her approach is the investigation of Chinese cultural and philosophical elements that permeate this substantial body of creative work demonstrating beyond any doubt that experimentalism with sound in China is hardly a simple reflection of developments from other, mainly western countries but is instead largely deeply rooted in Chinese traditions, some ancient, related to sound, to qi and much more.” – Leigh Landy, Director, Institute for Sonic Creativity, De Montfort University, UK
“If sound is qi, resonating, Chinese sound art animated by qi lives in the resonances that arise in the mutating, overlapping atmospheres of state power plays and works of artistic resistance. In this stunning book, Jing Wang audits pieces that mobilize clock hearts, crowd shouts, cybernetic dissonance, and strategic silence to jolt us into an active attention to how violence and defiance are made and born in the ambient sounds of everyday life.” – Stefan Helmreich, Elting E. Morison Professor of Anthropology, MIT, USA
“Half Sound, Half Philosophy is the first major study of Chinese sound art and its affinity to ancient Qi-philosophy, an organic, holistic and enchanted worldview that stands in marked contrast to the commercialism and individualization of post-Mao China. Erudite and being attuned to the subtle play of resonances and the subliminal in the acoustics of Qi, Wang's book is destined to become a classic of sound art scholarship and sound studies more broadly.” – Veit Erlmann, Professor of Ethnomusicology and Anthropology, University of Texas, Austin, USA, and editor of Sound Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal