At Home with Li Daiguo

Meet Li Daiguo, the skilled improvisational artist and dynamic live performer who is held in high esteem for his eclectic collaborations with a rich roster of characters and ensembles, including Japanese butoh dancers, fellow all-star experimental artists and other fringe characters.

Ahead of the two Beijing release parties for this debut seven-inch Music for Advertisements—we’re hosting an event on Fri, Apr 26 at Temple and capital city creative hub pangbianr is holding another on Sat, Apr 27 at Zajia Lab—we’d like to introduce you to Daiguo’s arsenal of traditional Chinese instruments: there are seven of them, one for each song—one for each inch.

We joined him at his home in tranquil Dali, Yunnan Province to learn more.

muyu (木魚)

Check out this little wooden fish with a small mallet stuck through it.

“This is a Buddhist ritual percussive instrument used in chanting sutras and other ceremonies,” explained Li. “A really good muyu is like a supernatural hypnotic woodblock that can put you in all sorts of zones all by itself if you give it enough time.”

Get hypnotic with Li on “Chengdu Aesthetic and Plastic Hospital”, the opening track from Music for Advertisements.

suona (唢呐)

Much like the oboe, this flute with dueling reeds is used for weddings, funerals and other occasions that require blaring melodies that have the ability to soar across villages.

“Some people think it’s annoying because it’s so loud,” Li told us, “but I know that it’s beautiful.”

“When I’m staying at a hotel nearby a military camp and the slogan-shouting gets to be overbearing,” Li told us in a conspiratorial tone, “I just open my window and blast the suona.”

Give yourself a military-style wake-up call with Li’s “The Rickshaws at New South Gate Bus Station.”

erxian (二弦)

Related to the better-known erhu, the erxian, which is made from bamboo, is a regional instrument belonging to coastal Fujian Province and is used in a style of classical music known as nanyin in the West.

“Being vegetarian or trying to be vegan as a musician can be a challenge,” Li said. “I was never quite comfortable with the erhu and its snakeskin. And although cellos and violins are also made up of rabbit parts—not to mention the horsehair bows—I was pleased to be introduced to the world of erhu-family instruments that are bamboo and other types of wood because the sound is also much warmer.”

The erxian is featured prominently on “The ‘Beautiful Thai Girls’ Under the Old South Gate Bridge.”

xiao (箫)

This long bamboo flute is an instrument that is essential for many Daoist and Buddhist monks and lovers of traditional Chinese philosophy and spiritual practice and is widely played outside of the realm of entertainment.

“Coming off of a bad trip—or even a good one—can be made much chiller if someone nearby you is wielding a xiao,” sagely advised Li.

Chill out with Li and his xiao on “Chengdu Plant and Bird Market.” Psychedelics optional.

kou di (口笛)

This tiny two-inch flute has anywhere between three to five holes but can be used to play lightning-quick virtuosic melodies.

“Since it is blown in the middle, the two openings at the side are the most important since they are bigger holes and can be used to do massive note-bending, giving it a very distinct sound from other flutes,” said Li. “It is also super-piercing—I’ve discovered that not everyone likes to hear it right up to their ears when they are asleep!”

This distinctive flute can be heard on “Green Ram Daoist Temple.”

pipa (琵琶)

A fretted plucked lute with four strings, among its various musical roles in society—including being one of the main Chinese instruments played with dazzling virtuosity with a wide variety of sounds—the pipa has also historically been a weapon of courtesans.

“Despite the massive classical and modern repertoire for pipa,” Li said, “I still feel there is still so much to be explored on this instrument.”

Listen to Li explore with the pipa on “The Stolen / Secondhand Bicycle Market at 9 Eye Bridge.”

guzheng (古箏)

This 20-string monster is a descendant of an earlier Chinese harp called the se (瑟) and is now widely used among Western musicians across a variety of genres.

“If I was an itinerant poet—a modern-day bard,” Li told us, “this is definitely the instrument that I would have with me.”

You can hear Li wail on the guzheng in “The Chengdu Tuberculosis Hospital,” the jaunty closer from Music for Advertisements.

Join Li Daiguo and his seven instruments on Fri, Apr 26 at Temple with the Dyne and on Sat, Apr 27 at Zajia Lab with a colorful supporting cast. Both shows start at 9pm and both are free.