Interest in world cultures seems to be at a peak right now. The invention of the internet has made it possible to find out about music, customs, films and festivals from all over the world.
For example, Nouveau Records has recently released a series of albums titled the International Music Series. Volume six in the series is Music of China. The artists who perform the pieces are the Guo Brothers. Before I heard this CD, I had never heard of the group.
With the Internet, all I had to do was type in Guo Brothers on a web browser and I could instantly know all I wanted about the duo.
The Guo Brothers are actual brothers. They grew up in poverty in Peking, China. They began playing instruments at an early age and sometimes had to pay for lessons with cooking oil. The two brothers’ names are Yue and Yi, and they each have a remarkable list of accomplishments. Yue is the Chinese flute player of the family. He has played with the Army Orchestra of the Peoples Republic of China and studied at the London Guildhall School of Music. He has also recorded with musicians such as Peter Gabriel, Sinead O’Connor and the Chieftains. Yi is known for his sheng playing. A sheng is a hand-held, mouth blown organ. He also played in the Peking Film Orchestra. The brothers were raised by a musician. Their father was a singer and erhu (Chinese violin) player. They became better known throughout the world when they played music for the soundtrack for The Lost Emperor.
Today they have helped to create both traditional and modern Chinese sounds. The music on Music of China is traditional. The tracks have titles such as “Meeting of Peasants” and “Lake and the Moon.”
The instrumentation includes sheng, Chinese flutes, Chinese dulcimer and percussion to create a startlingly full sound. At places the music is minimal, with only a lyrical flute line to carry the song. In other moments the percussion creates a sound of texture. The music is for the most part tranquil. That is not to say it’s boring. Just as in visual art, sometimes seeming simplicity is quite complex. There are not many instruments in the arrangements, yet the music stays interesting to the last note.
Music of China is a great collection for someone just starting a world music collection. It is also a great addition to anyone who already has a full collection of Chinese music. So, practice the freedom to discover culture from all over the world in your own home. Just think, 20 years ago it wouldn’t have been this easy.
// Notes from the Road
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