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Yin: Alchemical Zither Noise from bod [包家巷]

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Yin (音, “music”) is a weekly RADII feature that looks at Chinese songs spanning hip hop to folk to modern experimental, and everything in between. Drop us a line if you have a suggestion.

One of the more interesting new(ish) artists I’ve come across this year is bod [包家巷], the music-making alias of LA/Berlin-based artist Nicholas Zhu. While Nick’s background seems to be more oriented toward visual art and design, bod [包家巷]’s Soundcloud shows an intermittent stream of activity spanning the last three years.

As far as I can tell their first proper release was Advent of the Silicon Rain, a ~30-minute collage released in May by UK label Quantum Natives that wouldn’t sound out of place alongside Arca’s &&&&& and is recommended listening right before bed if you’re trying to snap outside your normal astral plane.

bod [包家巷]’s latest, Limpid Fear [清澈恐惧]was released earlier this month by Planet Mu sub-label Knives, and continues down the same dark vein, mixing sounds from the artist’s Chinese heritage (listen for a guzheng to coagulate amidst the digital muck around the 9:20 mark on Side A, for example) with an impressively broad palette of stomach-turning sound textures that come from no clearly defined tradition:

 

Though bod [包家巷] is not from China, they’ve plugged into a network of like-minded and sonically affiliated artists charting new paths through the diaspora, clocking a collaboration with pan-Asian label Eternal Dragonz last June and garnering a comparison to London artist Organ Tapes in a recent review of Limpid Fear:

The Los Angeles/Berlin-based Zhu belongs to a circle of artists that includes Organ Tapes and malibu, who approach the club from a far more intimate perspective than many electronic musicians, wrapping their lo-fidelity laptop samples in wilting melodies and smearing it all with soft-focus production. Zhu’s music feels like it’s built from the most basic of tools, all distorted presets and lightly plucked digital keys, but the world they build is immersive.

On Limpid Fear [清澈恐惧], bod presents two side-long tracks that crest between canyons of zig-zagging artificial noise, dipping into ear-splitting tones only to come out with stripped-down neo-futurist ballads, their voice coated in Auto-Tune. Zhu finds a special balance by contrasting disorienting sound effects and calming, traditional guzheng and sanxian strings, creating music that explores their Chinese heritage through a personal, modern lens.

Knives, which released Limpid Fear on a limited-edition cassette, expands on bod’s use of the guzheng (a member of the zither family) and other traditional Chinese instruments in the composition:

Presented as multiple arrangements forming a continuous ‘mixtape’ of sorts, ‘Limpid Fear [清澈恐惧]’ is a limited edition cassette which highlights Zhu’s contemporary songwriting, drawing heavily from the instrumentation of their Chinese heritage, as well as classical chorus and composition. The pieces meander between sentimental ambient pop, traditional string ragas, harsh noise and digital textures.

Other artists operating in a similar zone have trotted out the zither to various effects in recent years — Fatima Al Qadiri’s 2016 album AsiatischeTaipei/Shanghai-based producer Tzusing’s breakout 2017 L.I.E.S. LP 東方不敗, and much of the Do Hits catalog come to mind — but bod’s incorporation of traditional Chinese sounds feels at once more natural and more alienating, “weirder” in the Mark Fisher sense of the word, a misfit organic element around which the lurching, otherwise unrelentingly amorphous composition coheres.

If that piques your interest, pick up Limpid Fear [清澈恐惧] as data or cassette tape here.

Cover image: @baojiaxiang

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Josh Feola
Josh Feola is a Shanghai-based writer and musician, and RADII's Culture Editor. His coverage of Chinese music and art has appeared in The Wire, Dazed, Artsy, LEAP, Tiny Mix Tapes, and more. He's been active in China's underground music scene since 2010 via his booking platform pangbianr.com, and is a former member of Beijing bands Chui Wan, SUBS, and Vagus Nerve.

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