New Disquietude podcast episode: music by Lesley Flanigan, Dave Seidel, KMRU, Celia Hollander, and John Hooper; interview with Flanigan; commentary; short essay on reading waveforms. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #field-recording, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Neon Night in Shanghai, with Qin Accompaniment

From state-sponsored propaganda posters featuring broad-shouldered exemplars of the People to mid-century paintings that dare to embrace European techniques, from ceiling-high scrolls that hide human details in the plain sight of nature worship to contemporary films that comment on the realities of life in a rapidly metastasizing empire, the Shanghai exhibit currently occupying the main floor of the San Francisco Asian Art Museum displays a wildly broad array of Chinese art.

This includes a floor-spanning installation as well as restored footage of early cinema. There are images of life in the streets and harbors of the exhibit’s namesake city going back at least a century and a half, and brand new (well, dated 2009) pop art that mashes up such distinctly Western figures as cigarette mascot Joe Camel and film legend Marlene Dietrich.

And then in one dark corner, there is “Landscape — Commemorating Huang Binhong — Scroll“ (2007) by Shen Fan (ç”凡). The choice of location isn’t neglectfully dark, but purposefully so, thus letting the piece’s light maximize its impact. The work (pictured up top) is a massive, free-standing wall of neon, comprised of small pieces, each one a little curlicue, all of them fitting together in a manner that suggests brushstrokes, jigsaw-puzzle pieces, and loose foliage. The illumination is enhanced by a reflective backing material, which gives each piece of neon the effect that it is hanging in air. The complexity of the overall pattern masks the electrical infrastructure. Unless you really focus on a specific spot in the work, you don’t see the un-illuminated wiring and tubing that makes it all possible. Here’s a detail from the above photo:

The artist has reportedly said that the choice to employ neon was inspired by the geographic setting for the piece’s debut — it was featured at the 2006 Shanghai Biennial, which took place in a neighborhood famed for its neon. It’s unlikely, though, that the blinking lights of that urban territory were as sonorous as Shen Fan’s “Scroll.”For each time one of those little snippets of neon flicker on or off, a single note of a qin, or zither, resounds. According to the wall text at the Asian Art Museum exhibit, “The length, shape, angle, and location of the neon tubes decide the length and tone of the musical notes.”

That correlation isn’t so causal that the piece in any way seems predictable. It’s more playful than anything, as every 30 seconds or so a new piece of neon turns on, and another qin note is played. The pacing has a considered sensibility, like a ritual, a playful ritual. Shen Fan’s “Scroll”is a self-contained spectacle that makes you loiter and pay attention, waiting expectantly for the next tone to sound, for the next neon tube to flicker into view.

The piece appears in what a gallery map lists as the tail end of the “Revolution” section of the exhibit — you can hear the qin through partial walls while you look at darkly humorous political cartoons and a portrait of Chairman Mao that makes him resemble a Chinese version of Mister Rodgers. But by materials, artistic tradition, and chronology, it really helps constitute the “Today” section of Shanghai, the section that focuses on emerging art.

Here’s another image of the piece, from the selected items highlighted in the museum website’s online tour of the show:

More on the Shanghai exhibit, which runs through September 5 in San Francisco, at

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tag: / Leave a comment ]

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


Subscribe without commenting

  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

  • Field Notes

    News, essays, surveillance

  • Interviews

    Conversations with musicians/artists/coders

  • Studio Journal

    Video, audio, patch notes

  • Projects

    Select collaborations and commissions

  • Subscribe

  • Current Activities

  • Upcoming
    • December 13, 2022: This day marks the 26th anniversary of the founding of
    • January 6, 2023: This day marked the 11th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.

  • Recent
    • April 16, 2022: I participated in an online "talk show" by The Big Conversation Space (Niki Korth and Clémence de Montgolfier).
    • March 11, 2022: I hosted a panel discussion between Mark Fell, Rian Treanor and James Bradbury in San Francisco as part of the Algorithmic Art Assembly ( at Gray Area (
    • December 28, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the Instagr/am/bient compilation.
    • January 6, 2021: This day marked the 10th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
    • December 13, 2021: This day marked the 25th (!) anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
    • There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too.
    • A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen. (Details at

  • My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).

  • disquiet junto

  • Background
    Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.

    Recent Projects

  • 0544 / Feedback Loop / The Assignment: Share music-in-progress for input from others.
    0543 / Technique Check / The Assignment: Share a tip from your method toolbox.
    0542 / 2600 Club / The Assignment: Make some phreaking music.
    0541 / 10BPM Techno / The Assignment: Make some snail-paced beats.
    0540 / 5ive 4our / The Assignment: Take back 5/4 for Jedi time masters Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond.

  • Full Index
    And there is a complete list of past projects, 544 consecutive weeks to date.

  • Archives

    By month and by topic

  • [email protected]

    [email protected]

  • Downstream

    Recommended listening each weekday

  • Recent Posts