Xiao He/小河 is one of China’s true musical luminaries. A key musician at River, the legendary Beijing folk music bar, he then went on to be a singer and guitarist for the Dadaesque performance group Glamorous Pharmacy. Xiao He now mainly plays improvised solo shows that need to be seen to be believed. Using his guitar and a MIDI controller, Xiao He is able to recreate sounds from a wide variety of instruments both traditional and contemporary. He then loops them together along with his own chanting, throat singing and Peking opera voices to create an unbelievable musical soundscape. The following video recording was made at the opening of the Ephemeral Festival earlier this month. It is really a tour de force of some of his newer material including his voice-controlled flute instrumentation. Really crazy stuff. Also, the photo above was taken in Philadelphia in 2009 during the first Maybe Mars tour of the United States which coincided with my launch of Sound Kapital. I got to travel with Xiao He along with P.K. 14 and Carsick Cars up and down the east coast for two weeks and share beds with him in crappy interstate motels. For the record, Xiao He does not snore or kick. From his Maybe Mars artist profile:

“Xiao He first attracted serious attention in the late 90s with his experimental band, Glamorous Pharmacy, a fluid ensemble that mixed folk, jazz, experimentation, improvised performances and action art to create a strangely surreal sound that never seemed to settle anywhere before turning around and heading of in a different direction. At the time China’s musical underground was small and fairly homogenous, but the playful and anarchic spirit of the members of Glamorous Pharmacy suggested several new doors into various styles that were eagerly opened and pursued by other musicians. Glorious Pharmacy glorified in the creation of new ‘branches’ of Chinese underground music, variously called among other things ‘introverted’, ‘weird’, and ‘malicious’ music. Except for a very few special performances with Glorious Pharmacy, today Xiao He only plays solo performances. Calling these multi-faceted improvised performances ‘Free Folk’, as much to express his anarchic playfulness as to suggest the total freedom which he approaches musical instrumentation, vocal performances and stylistic experimentation, he has become the inventor of a deeply weird and immensely moving style of music, mystical and surreal, which abruptly veers from the plaintive cries of Mongolian or Western Chinese music to the barbed and sometimes childlike humor of the avant garde. Complementing his stylistic creativity is a unique way of playing acoustic guitar, loops, synthesizers and any other instrument that catches his fancy.”

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