LOS ANGELES TIMES
MARCH 5 1997
by Mark Swed, Times Music Critic
CARL STONE'S ACID KARAOKE PROJECT
The remarkable effect of musicians from China on American new
music seems to expand by the minute. We have, for instance, recently
been visited by the always unpredictable Tan Dun, and a recording
of his weird but wonderful "Ghost Quartet,"performed
by the Kronos Quartet and pipa player Wu Man, comes out today
on Nonesuch. The effusively romantic Bright Sheng is on his way
to town next week. And Monday night the Los Angeles Philharmonic
premiered a new work by the elegant composer Chen Yi.
But now for something altogether hipper - the collaboration between
the WestCoast sampling composer Carl Stone and vocalist and pipa
player Min Xiao-Fen. They call their act Acid Karaoke, and gave
a sampling of what they are up to on the Monday night new music
series at the Alligator in Santa Monica prior to a European tour.
What they are up to turns out to be a delightful bag of tricks.
The most obvious difference between the Stone-Min collaboration
and other Chinese new music is the element of sheer fun. Much
of the power of current Chinese emigre composition comes from
its seriousness. These are mostly musicians who suffered through
the Cultural Revolution and came to America to build a new life.
They look back at China with both nostalgia and pain.
Stone and Min have dared to turn toward China with a lighter fondness
and even humor. The Karaoke business, which is only one part of
their highly versatile act, consists of Min singing Chinese pop
songs - one she translated as "Flower", another as "Suburban
Way" - while Stone, fiddling with Apple computer and CD player,
deconstructs lounge backgrounds to give it all a slightly otherworldly
tinge. It is as if this were a performance in some Hong Kong cocktail
lounge in a future that no one can quite yet predict.
But Min has her serious side as well. She is a mesmerizing performer
on the plucked Chinese instrument, the pipa. And she makes its
traditional music (traditional but boldly amplified) sound almost
as modern as the electric guitar distortion that is the regular
diet at clubs like this. Stone also wrote a gripping pipa solo
for her that took advantage of the strong resonances of the instrument.
Stone himself is an epic artist who takes things from others and
changes them in entirely original ways. Right now he is interested
in Miles Davis and he included a set of short works in which looped
fragments from Davis recordings are layered so that the music
that once progressed in linear fashion becomes pure harmony and
coruscating texture. 'Play it, CD man!' someone from an awe-struck
and clearly delighted audience shouted.
-- Mark Swed
Los Angeles Times
March 5 1997