The avant-garde, as a general catchall term for sound experimenters in this case, transcends national and cultural boundaries as much now as it ever did in previous decades and centuries, which is why it's no real surprise to hear the work on Chinese artist Changcun Wang's The Mountain Swallowing Sadness as something with roots ranging from Merzbow's power electronics to (texturally rather than specifically) Ligeti's innovations with string arrangements. Sub Rosa is a logical label for Wang's work to gain wider recognition from, to be sure, and this two-track effort is worth a listen for those interested in such approaches. The first and much longer of the two pieces, at nearly 40 minutes, "Grand Hotel" is described by Wang as his wanting to "erect a building in the ear," though the fact that initially the building sounds more like something Einstürzende Neubaten would be tearing down is perhaps appropriate. Still, as the wash of layers upon layers of metallic and static and feedback mutates throughout it actually does suggest a swooping structure of sorts; at its roughest sonically, it suggests Harry Bertoia's sound sculptures come to monstrous life, while many pauses and quieter moments, increasing as the track progresses, suggest distance and murkier corners of the mental edifice in question, akin to the unsettling work of Robert Hampson in Main but with less obsessive focus on rhythm. "King of Image 1995," meanwhile, is based on a tape Wang found that documented a funeral service of an unknown-to-him person. It's a fairly straightforward presentation in comparison to "Grand Hotel," with the chanting of (presumably) Buddhist nuns forming the core -- the effect is quite haunting and captivating all at once, especially when the nuns suddenly shift to a swift, staccato delivery. Had it been on a Sublime Frequencies compilation, nobody would have blinked, which makes its inclusion here all the more interesting in context.
The Mountain Swallowing Sadness Review
by Ned Raggett