Recap: Performance at The Shelter in Shanghai

A brief review in photos of my performance last Friday at The Shelter.

The Shelter is actually in a converted bomb shelter, and to get there one descends a long narrow staircase and enters this cave-like hallway:

Inside the main club space, it is mostly dark, save for a few small lights and these video screens broadcasting live from the DJ booth:

The above photo shows my setup via the video camera. We can take a closer look at on the DJ platform itself.

As described in the previous post, I combined traditional Chinese musical instruments with electronics, blending old and new. In the above image you can see (left to right) a prayer bowl, a small bell, a gong, and temple blocks (to the right of the laptop). Some of my Chinese friends and colleagues were blown away by the idea that one can combine the different elements to make a single type of music.

The performance itself went quite well, and just about everything worked as planned. If there was one thing that was unfortunate, it was that 10:30 is quite “early” in terms of Shanghai nightlife, so there were not that many people in attendance yet. But you always play for the people who are there, and it was a new experience for all of us.

The club did fill up later on during the DJ sets that followed, and I stuck around to hear most of them – it seems this is one of the main places in the city to hear more underground or unusual music, be it live electronics or DJs. That was an adventure in and of itself, but a story for another time.

I did also make an audio recording and a video of the performance, which I have not had a chance to review yet. Look for at least short excerpts of both in the future.

Blog about dinner

We begin the recap of my extended weekend in Shanghai with another “Blog about dinner.”

It seems the custom with most Chinese meals at restaurants here is to order ridiculous amounts of food. This is what almost all of my Chinese friends here do when we go out to eat. Below is just a sampling of dishes from last Friday’s dinner.

As discussed during the first trip, Shanghai, and the entire Yangtze River delta region are known for seafood. The fish is very fresh and flavorful, but you have to accept that there are going to be lots of bones. Variants of fish cooked in wine sauce, as pictured below, are a common item on local menus.

Non-fish seafood is also plentiful. This squid was presented to look a bit like a fish.

The sauce in this dish was of course rather flavorful and complex, as are most of the sauces I have had in China. The range of sauces, spices and flavors is much richer than one experiences in Chinese food in the U.S.

Even something that seems prosaic like tofu in chili sauce becomes a unique experience. This one was served hot, both in terms of temperature and spice:

Indeed, the goal was to try and eat it before it stopped sizzling, as it is considered to lose much of it’s flavor as it cools.

Finally, something a little different: Crab meat in shells, again with a very unique but more subtle sauce:

Friday Night Performance at The Shelter in Shanghai

Here are the details on the show I’m playing in Shanghai in Friday night:

PAUSE ::: PLAY

@ The Shelter
5 Yongfu Lu, near Fuxing Xi Lu, Shanghai

Friday, March 6, 2009

Line-up:
Amar Chaudhary, Uprooted Sunshine, V-nutz, Tootekool, Ben Huang, Michael Cai, Ozone…

* Celebrating the release of the Pause:Music Mix CD#2, the Uprooted Sunshine crew bring you a mad mash of the Jamaican sounds of reggae and dance-hall with new original vocals by ChaCha and MC Didje, put together by prime selecta Blaise Deville. There’s a limited number of free CDs, so come early to get yours!

* The man who rocked you on the first Pause:Music Mix CD, Ben Huang, returns after a long stay in Beijing, to bring you his latest eclectic and cutting-edge techno mix.

* Special guest Amar Chaudhary, from San Francisco, on his first performance ever in China. Amar Chaudhary is a veteran sound artist who makes his own instruments and plays a live set that’ll crack your head open. (Starts at 10:30pm sharp!!)
http://www.myspace.com/amarchaudhary

* We’ll also have Tootekool, Ozone, Michael Cai, V-Nutz bringing you everything from rock to alternative hip hop, to breakcore and drum-n-bass. Look out!

* It’s only 30 RMB at the door and the funds go to supporting and developing the local music scene through a variety of projects.

More info can be found here, or at facebook for those so inclined.

So…now I actually have to finish putting together a show. I have managed to put together a modest setup based on gear I brought with me, a few replacements (thanks Behringer for not making your mixer power supplies 220V compatibile), and several Chinese percussion instruments I have acquired during this trip:

The large bowl is very resonant and will be used to introduce the set. The interplay of the various bells and gongs with bell-like sounds on the Evolver will be the main elements, interrupted by more standard electronic sounds from the Evolver and the Kaos pad, as well some down-tempo beat-based sections.

It has been a bit of a challenge to find time to think creatively, while contending with work and some of the lingering effects of the time difference. I went back to the first day in Shanghai and it’s big city energy for inspiration, and some of the photos that I took, even if the music itself doesn’t seem to reflect that sonically.

Suzhou Canal

This a view looking down on of the many canals that crisscross Suzhou, China. On the previous trip, I primarily explored the canals at night. During the day, one can see how the older buildings line up against the edges. Some are elevated, while others have platforms that descend to the water level.

CatSynth in China II

Well, for the second time in only two months, I will be visiting China. More opportunities to explore and hopefully build on the experience of the previous trip.

And this time, I will be performing a show in Shanghai at an electronic music event. Stay tuned for more details.

The unfortunate part is of course leaving Luna behind. This time, we’re past the construction, so things should be more peaceful for her, albeit a bit lonely.

Fun with Highways: Chinese Edition

Well, it has been a while since I have done a “fun with highways” post here at CatSynth, so why not visit some of the highways I traveled while in China?

Shanghai has a series of highways, most of which are designated with the letter “A” followed by a number:

A20, (12) A2 to Donghai Bridge Exit 2km and A1-Pudong Airport overhead signage
[photo by ramonyu]

During my trip, I became quite acquainted with the A11 (Huning Expressway) that connects Shanghai to Suzhou and beyond. However, one cannot really view either city from the A11. Nor can one really see the details of the delta region. It’s just a big highway traversing sprawling suburban development like one can see in many parts of the U.S.

By contrast, the A9 extends into the center of Shanghai as the Yan’an Elevated Road. Shanghai makes a distinction between “expressways” and “elevated roads”, though I don’t really see much difference.

The elevated roads are multi-lane freeways, and the Yan’an cuts right through the downtown of the city, closely paralleling the pedestrian thoroughfare Nanjing Road and People’s Square, before ending at The Bund along the river.

Yan'an Elevated Road Next Exit The Bund 1.5 km and Tunnel overhead signage in Shanghai, China
[photo by ramonyu]

Essentially, it parallels a major part of my walking tour only a few blocks away.

Photographer Liao Yusheng has a fantastic series of architectural and landscape photos along the Yun’an Elevated Road, along with this description:

Yan’an is part of a sprawling elevated highway system in the heart of Shanghai that epitomizes the gung-ho mega public-works projects that are going on all over China at the moment. This is a six-lane highway that is literally jammed into the middle of a densely packed modern city. Hundreds of thousands of families were displaced and hundreds of millions of dollars were spent to make this happen. In forcing this monstrosity onto an already fully-developed (yet still evolving) megalopolis, Shanghai has created a conduit with which to examine the multilayered texture that makes up this city.

I only discovered his work in preparing this article, but it was a great find and reminds me of my own urban and architectural photography. I encourage readers to check it out!

The story does remind me of the highway development in New York City in the 1950s and 1960s, where entire neighborhoods were demolished to build, among others, the Cross Bronx and Bruckner Expressways. Somehow, we often end up back there.

I did also find that China has it’s own highway enthusiasts, including the blogger Wang Jian Shuo.

Weekend Cat Blogging: Cats of China

This weekend, we visit the cats of my recently concluded trip to China.

Suzhou is renowned for its silk. The climate is particularly suited to silkworm cultivation (though one would not think so given the freezing temperatures during this trip), and the city has long been a center for both production and craft. Cats are a common motif on the “two-sided” embroidered silk paintings of Suzhou:

Outside the Suzhou Number One Silk Factory, I encountered this stray cat running through the parking lot.

Cat in Suzhou, near the Number One Silk Factory

In Shanghai, I saw this cat in a clothing shop on Dingxi Road:

Dingxi Road is a commercial street in an outer neighborhood, not far from Zhongshan Park and completely devoid of foreigners. The shops that line the street cater to local residents, and the clothing shop where I encountered the cat was no exception. I think the shop’s owner was surprised and delighted to encounter a foreigner – and more surprisingly, a scruffy “white guy” – who was interested in cats. On the other hand, I think the cat was a bit annoyed by the attention and would prefer to sleep:

Some things are the same everywhere.


We are spanning continents, as Weekend Cat Blogging #190 hosted by Kashim at Paulchens FoodBlog in Vienna.

In the far away state of Florida, Pet and the Bengal Brats host the Bad Kitty Cats Festival of Chaos.

The Carnival of the Cats will be hosted this weekend by the House Panthers (of which Luna is a member).

And of course the Friday Ark is at the modulator.

Suzhou Humble Adminstrator’s Garden and Tiger Hill

In addition to its many canals, Suzhou is famous as one of the major centers of classical Chinese gardens. Perhaps the largest and best known is the Humble Administrator’s Garden.

The garden is about 13 acres and about 500 years old (at least one site suggests it is exactly 500 years old, having been built in 1509). The “humble administrator” was a government official Wang Xianchen, who clearly could not have been that humble with a spread like this. It is interesting to note that gardens such as these were almost always private, and the idea of maintaining them is relatively recent.

The elements of the garden include the plants, water, architecture (much of it the more minimalist and geometric Ming Dynasty style) and rocks, such as the lakebed rocks in the photo above. The natural and geometric elements fuse in a way that seems very fresh and modern, and one can see where many twentieth century artists, architects and designers may have gotten their inspiration.

This is the sort of place where I could easily get lost in the visual elements for a long time.

But of course we had to move on. We next visited one of Suzhou’s other well-known landmarks, Tiger Hill. The highest point in the city, Tiger Hill was originally the site of a king’s tomb, and later a Buddhist monastery and temple.

Although this photo makes the pagoda at the top of the hill look perfectly straight, it is actually leaning quite strongly to one side:

Supposedly, it is the many attempts over the years to locate and excavate the tomb in the hill that has led to the weakening of the ground below the tower and its severe tilt. The entrance to the tomb was finally discovered in the 1960s in pool lower on the hillside during a sever drought. However, it has remained unexcavated, lest the tower tilt even further.

The top of the hill supposedly provides a spectacular view of Suzhou, but with the dense winter fog I was not able to see very much.

Close call

One final and rather scary note from my Weekend in Shanghai. On the way to lunch on Sunday, we passed through a large bank of food stalls, apparently part of a regular weekend event. We had just talked a girl at a stall and were leaving when all of a sudden there was a loud explosion. We turned around to see that stall had burst into flames. Even though we were already some distance away, the heat was rather intense. Along with many others, we immediately left the area for safety. I sincerely hope no one was badly hurt, though I am especially worried for the girl who was inside the stand. It also hasn’t escaped me how things would be very different right now had that explosion happened only a minute earlier…

Weekend in Shanghai (updated)

This weekend included a 30-hour but still too brief visit to Shanghai. Shanghai is of course a massive city, and an increasingly vertical one, and probably reminds me more of New York than most cities I visit.

This photo captures both the old and new of the city. In the background is the iconic Oriental Pearl Tower. In the front, we see a high-rise building on side, and one of the tenement buildings that line many streets, with five or more stories of clothes (and the occasional cooked duck) hanging to dry.

It was taken while walking east from a downtown neighborhood towards The Bund, the riverfront in an older part of the city One can look across the river and see the new Pudong district that is most visually associated with Shanghai and features it’s tallest, newest buildings.

Visibility was relatively poor on both days, and I did not cross to the other side of the river to see the view of the Bund.

Food was a major part of day (as it has been throughout my stay in China), and Saturday featured both a snack of “soup buns” at small hole-in-the-wall shop where the upper level was barely tall enough to stand in, and an extraordinary Japanese-fusion meal at which my friends and I over-indulged for a couple of hours. After that, we headed to a local jazz club called the Cotton Club (I wonder where they got that name from?), where we heard what I would describe as a “typical jazz-club combo” that wouldn’t be very memorable except of course that it was at a jazz club in China.

The night concluded with brief stops at a few of the dance clubs. One featured two sections, an upstairs with a mixed-crowd of foreigners and locals, and a downstairs that was almost exclusively local. The latter definitely had better music (deep synth trance and beats). Of course, one of the main attractions of the nightlife (which continues well beyond the hour when almost every city in the U.S. closes down) is the people watching. Without dwelling upon it too much in this article, Shanghai did afford great opportunities for people watching, starting with our walk along the extremely crowded Nanjing Road and concluding as we departed the last club well into the morning.

I did have an opportunity to explore more on my own Sunday. I began in some of the quieter neighborhoods near where I was staying, and experienced a more local view of the city.
A walk through Zhongshan Park was in some was a more aural experience than visual. The park was already relatively crowded, with numerous groups practicing traditional Chinese exercises, dance lessons, and band practicing for the upcoming New Years celebrations:

The “music” of the park would change every few meter, as one moved from the metallic percussion of the band to a group dancing to disco from the 1970s. A few feet later, the disco and 1950s pop is overtaken by slower more meditative traditional Chinese music that serves as the background for exercises. Finally, a small portable player of low quality provides something akin to circuit bending.

Regular readers of this site know that I am fond of urban side streets and alleys, so I spent a few minutes in the narrower side streets of the neigbhorhood:

This alley reminded me of a photo I took not far from home in San Francisco last summer.

Along Ding Xi Road, I met the proprietor of a small boutique clothing store and her cat. Look for them to be featured in the next “Weekend Cat Blogging.”

After lunch together with friends again (one really cannot dine alone here), I headed back downtown via the Metro. I pride myself on being able to get around a city when I have a good subway system, a map and a general sense of direction. I was able make my way back to the Bund and Nanjing Road to see them during the daytime. I think the one word description of this area would be “crowded.” And I mean crowded on a level one rarely would see even in New York, and with far more dangerous street crossings. Plus, unlike my earlier walks, people expect foreigners in this district and are constantly on the look for sales opportunities. It is relatively easy to simply ignore them, but the crowds and constant interaction did become a little draining at times. It’s something to consider, I am a “city person” and I don’t mind crowds, but I do need breaks.

At Peoples Square, I did brave one last round of crowds to arrive at the Shanghai Art Museum. Even though it was only a block from one of the busiest open spaces and transit hubs in the city, the courtyard was a remarkable oasis of calm. After taking a moment to relax, I went inside to see the current exhibition, a retrospective of Wu Guanzhong. His work, which includes both oil painting and ink painting, and often focuses on Chinese scenes and themes. Many of paintings are of clearly of landscapes, animals and architecture of China, with an impressionist quality but also more minimal. However, many of later works were more abstract, although with Chinese themes. This was especially true of his ink paintings, some of which were quite large in size and reminded me of the “Autumn Rhythm” series of Jackson Pollock. One of the abstract in paintings called Entanglement relates back to the Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou, which I had the opportunity to visit before heading into Shanghai and will be the subject of the next article…