Interview: Chiyou Ding

The ATTN preview of Taiwanese Experimental Music continues. On 4th November at Café Oto, Happened will play host to four Taiwanese artists that bring an exploratory energy to their interaction with sound, technology and performance. I’ve already had two wonderful conversations with event organiser Lucia H Chung and media artist Yen-Tzu Chang, so be sure to check those out if you haven’t already.

Today it’s the turn of “sound hobbyist” Chiyou Ding, who is currently completing his Master’s degree in Sonic Arts at Goldsmiths in London. What I love about his work is the repurposing of electronic dance music as a compositional adhesive; where dance primarily draws together human beings into interaction and shared experience, Chiyou Ding transposes this idea onto musical structure, using fragmented beats to congregate disparate sonic textures (field recordings, electronics). Below, we discuss the allure of dance music, his favourite sound-centric places and organisations in Taiwan, and his plans for the show at Café Oto.

What does your live setup look like at the moment? Do you have any thoughts on how you might approach your performance at Café Oto?

My current setup is a laptop plus a MIDI controller. For the show at Café Oto, I am simply sampling some CDs from Goldsmiths Library, then manipulating and looping them through my laptop as my piece.

Could you tell me about your experiences as a musician in Taiwan? Were there any venues, record stores or organisations that were particularly important to you as places to engage with experimental music and the community around it?

Personally I would not describe myself as a musician or a sound artist. I think I more like a sound hobbyist, even though I’m doing a music degree. I say that because I do not publish or perform aggressively like other musicians do. However, I do take much time to read, listen and play with sound and music. Most of the time I am an audience member rather than a performer.

Below are four interesting places/organisations which I would like to share.

Species Records is a record shop which located in subculture area, Ximending. I used to buy some techno records there. The shop has every different genre of electronic dance music. The owner, A Tao, who is a techno DJ, is very kind in recommending Detroit Techno to me and my friends. For us, those old science and technology tunes somehow affected us with their experimental vibe.

Next is Kandala Records which is a label focused on avant-garde, improvisation, noise and experimental music. I remember the first time I heard of this label, which was when my friend told me there was an eccentric show performed by Minkoku Hyakunen. So I was happy to go to their performance. They used acoustic means to mimic several different music styles – one part of the show was using lamps to copy Ryoji Ikeda’s work. Hence, I started participating in Kandala’s gigs, listening to some minority music and made a few different friends.

Digilog is a store which sells/repairs synths and hosts many electronic music workshops. The owner, Frank, is a modular enthusiast. So if people want to know more about modular synth in Taiwan, here would be the right place to go. Another feature I like a lot is their online articles, those paper works come from different writers who have passion about sound, it is helpful to acknowledge different perspectives through these articles.

The last is Senko Issha, which is a label and a physical vinyl record shop located in Shida Night Market. I did not go to this place very often, but every time I went here, I would have a bizarre and an acquainted experience from this messy and high alcohol density place. In here you will meet people who love to share not only their aesthetic relationship to music, but also painting or other life affairs. In recent years, Senko Issha has also hosted a series of improvisation and experimental music performances in their tatami floor basement.

For how long did you live in Taiwan before coming over to the UK? What led to you moving to London?

I lived in Taiwan for 27 years before coming here. The reason for coming to London is for its diverse music scenes. Although I saw some live performances videos on Youtube, it’s still very different when participating in person.

Youre currently completing your Masters degree in Sonic Arts at Goldsmiths. How has the experience been so far?

It’s all good. I’ve enjoyed staying in our studio and library for the last two terms. It is like record digging – it takes time to finds something.

Have you noticed any changes in the way you contemplate and create music since you started your studies, or since you moved over to the UK? 

Yes, but it’s slowly changing. Most of the time I spent on learning the program, MaxMSP, rather than composition itself. However, once I learn a new technique, then I can apply it in my new track.

Your process is referred to as mixing up field recordings, musique concrete pieces and electronic dance music in live performance to portray [the] perception and interpretation of different experiences in everyday lives. Im particularly intrigued by the role of electronic dance music in this context; what significance does dance music hold to you, and what is it that interests you in using dance music as a means of consolidating everyday experiences? 

It’s a very good question! I’ve never thought about why it holds me. Just like I would order Carbonara every time when I go to an Italian restaurant although I do try other flavours, but instinctively like the flavour of the combination of bacon, cheese and egg. Some elements of dance music like fragmentary rhythm, extreme frequency and uncommon timbre give me the same engaging perception.

Field recording seems to be an important facet of your work. What is it about a particular place or sound that compels you to record it? Since moving from Taiwan to the UK, have you noticed any changes in the types of sounds you find interesting? 

Any places or sounds that can capture my attention. It is quite sudden or lucky to hear those sounds. For example, the recordings from the end of 0503 was recorded in my room while a march crossed through my neighbourhood. The sound streamed from an avenue, a tiny narrow space between buildings, my window and finally to my recorder, it became a natural audio process to shape the sound, or you can just call it a reverberation. 

The sound of a heater! Especially in the old house where I lived before, the pipes always generated a rhythm from all sides of the room. In Taiwan, we have air conditioners more than heaters, which is why I thought this sound was quite interesting.

All the pieces on your SoundCloud are simply titled as four-digit numbers. Could you tell me about what they mean? 

It all simply refers to the date I put it online or the date I made it. Although they do not have any meaning, they look like an auditory diary, which means I can easily remember what I did on that day.

What else is on the horizon for you and your music?

For me, I love traveling so I’m going to apply for some artist residencies and take the chance to visit different places. For music, I’ve no particular direction as I mentioned before that I’m more like an audience member. However, I will definitely continue to make some rhythmic music, field recording or whatever sound related stuff for my hobby.