MARCH 5 1997
by Mark Swed, Times Music Critic

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