Exposé Online banner

Gunda Gottschalk / Xu Fengxia — Youlan
(Victo 117, 2009, CD)

by Jon Davis, Published 2011-06-01

Youlan Cover art

Here we have a set of live improvisations with Gunda Gottschalk, a German violinist, and Xu Fengxia, a Chinese guzheng player; both of them also provide vocal sounds. The guzheng is an ancient Chinese zither-type instrument, the precursor to the Japanese koto, which has 21 strings tuned to a pentatonic scale. Both players experiment freely with different non-standard ways of producing sounds from their instruments, though they are also skilled at the traditional modes of play. The two have been working together for a long time, previously as members of the late Peter Kowald’s 365 Days and Global Village ensembles, and continuing in other collaborations with Barre Philips, Baby Sommer, Le Quan Ninh, and others. While it’s certainly true that improvised music featuring these two instruments (plus “extended” vocal techniques) could be difficult going, I find the music pleasantly listenable, even though it’s clearly not catchy or conventional in any way. Perhaps it’s because the guzheng is an inherently tonal instrument – you’d have to mess with the strings quite a bit to be truly atonal – or maybe it’s just that the players’ intentions run in other directions, but there’s not a lot of jarring dissonance. The vocal elements are occasionally strange, involving growls, yowls, and ranting, including some Chinese from Xu that I could almost make out (something about “can’t go home,” I think), but never annoying, at least to my ears. Neither woman uses any electronic manipulation of the signals, so there’s an organic quality to the sound.


Filed under: New releases, Issue 39, 2009 releases

Related artist(s): Xu Fengxia, Gunda Gottschalk

Latest news

2017-11-16
Celebrate 10 Years of Fruits de Mer – As a special celebration for a decade of cool vinyl releases, our friends at Fruits de Mer records have prepared a limited edition reissue of an album by the first band ever to appear on the label: Schizo Fun Addict. The band is known for unusual release strag » Read more

2017-11-02
Mega Dodo Presents New Charity Album – Our friends at Mega Dodo have put together a lovely compilation of their artists performing new arrangements of nursery rhymes, and all the profits from sales of the album will benefit Save the Children. It features a number of artists we've covered. » Read more

2017-10-18
Phil Miller RIP – Sad word reaches us today of the passing of another of the great musicians of the Canterbury Scene — guitarist Phil Miller. His distinctive sound added greatly to Matching Mole, Hatfield and the North, and National Health, and he also contributed to albums by Caravan, Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin, and many others. He was 68. » Read more

2017-10-13
Moonjune to Distribute Tony Levin's Back Catalog – It has been announced that Moonjune will now handle distribution for Tony Levin's catalog of releases. These great albums will now be a bit easier to get hold of, so check out the site and see what you're missing. The veteran of King Crimson and Stick Men worked with a host of great players on these albums, and we've reviewed most of them over the course of the years. » Read more

2017-09-26
Bandcamp Shines Light on Niches We Like – Bandcamp has developed into one of the best places to discover new music, and even a lot of old music is showing up there. In addition, their staff has been producing periodic articles spotlighting some interesting stylistic areas. On 20 September, they published one called "The New Face of Prog Rock" which bears checking out. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

The Viola Crayola - Music: Breathing of Statues – OK, so Music: Breathing of Statues is an artsy, pretentious title, and more than a little odd. One of the odd things about it is that the music on the album is not really pretentious at all,...  (2007) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues