Loreli had lots of help on this piece from:
Angela Li 李梦格 studied in the U.S. before returning to her native Beijing in the summer of 2014. In March 2016 Angela became the official translator for Loreli China. Enjoy her work.
Michael Cupoli is an electronic musician and audio mastering genius. You can see him perform as Noise Arcade or with his band Comp Collider.
Meng Qi invites Loreli over for a chat, some delicious hotpot, and a tour of the ultimate electronic musician's laboratory of cables, patch bays, soldering irons and cats! If you wanna catch this guy in action, using his own self-made synths and other equipment, make sure you get a front row place at Old What? Bar this Saturday for a collaborative showcase put on by Live Beijing Music and Seippelabel. Mastering for the music on this piece was done by Michael Cupoli. Check out Meng Qi's music and self-designed synths at mengqimusic.com.
Posted May 19, 2016
About Meng Qi 孟奇 (from mengqimusic.com):
Meng Qi is a musician with multiple identities. He’s not only a electronic music artist, but also a synth designer, a programmer and a teacher. Meng Qi had various music works released including “landscape in love” / “landscape on live” and more, and has published a series of modular synthesis tutorials on midifan mag and ZiHua.
He also had given instrument building workshops and lectures in de Cidade de Macau, Beijing Maker Space, Shanghai XinCheJian, Maker Carnivals, Shanghai Conservatory of Music, Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts, Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing Contemporary Music Institute, Beijing Zajia lab and so on.
Meng Qi is a pioneer of Chinese contemporary digital art, and is fame for his music and distinctive devices and instruments, which have been using by electronic music artists all over the world.
Transcript translation: Brad M. Seippel, Live interpreting: Angela Li 李梦格
Loreli: Please introduce yourself.
Meng Qi: Hello everyone my name is Mengqi. I’m a synth designer, teacher and musician.
L: How did you get into making these synths?
M: I started making synths in 2007. I wasn’t that satisfied with the products on the market at the time and wanted to make instruments that could express what I had in mind.
L: How did you start making them?
M: At first I would follow other people’s circuit diagrams. A lot of people doing DIY electronics share information online and I started working on simple schematics that way.
After that I began increase my knowledge of digital and analogue synthesis. This included basic analogue circuitry and digital design. Later I slowly developed the ideas that I had in my mind.
L: Are your current models all your designs or do you still use other people’s diagrams?
M: I use all my own designs now.
L: They are really cool. They look like toys.
M: They are toys.
L: Would you describe your music as “Toy Music”?
M: Yeah, sure. You could put it that way.
L: Since you’re also a teacher, what’s the basic principle of a synth?
M: Well, basically it’s a human thing to create a sound or oscillation and control it. From there we need to control the pitch and timbre in order to play melodies and make harmonies as well as adjust the volume to express the appearance of the sound. There are different means in creating a sound. In my mind there are three properties to sound and over the years there’s been a great deal of exploration in it. There are many scientific methods in creating and controling sound, for instance subtractive and additive synthesis, frequency modulation and amplitude modulation. These are many techniques typically used in the synth world. If your are interested there is a lot of information on South Synthesis online.
L: You also have lots of information online and often do workshops, right?
M: Yes, I have videos online. Actually, last year I worked on a series of tutorials with an educational company called Zihua Creative. These videos provide information on Sound Synthesis for a fee. Besides those most of my other videos are about the products that I make.
L: Do you make anything besides synths?
M: Well, I used to cook a lot more before, but not so much anymore.
L: Is there anyone famous or important people who use your synths?
M: There’s one artist who I’ve listened to since I was young that I’m quite proud to say uses my devices and that’s Trent Reznor ofNine Inch Nails.
L： Oh yeah, there’s a picture of him on your website.
M: Yeah, that’s in their studio. I made those instruments on the table.
L: Did you get to meet them?
M: No, not yet. I’d like to go to America and meet them though.
L: That’s pretty cool they’re using your stuff. How does that make you feel? Does it make you want to raise the price?
M: It makes me feel really happy. Oh, not at all.
L: Do any local musicians use your stuff?
M: There are a lot of people in China who do. I’m not sure if you would know them, but Jason Hou and Li Yan just to name a few. Not necessarily big stars, but people behind the scenes if you will. Thruoutin uses a lot of his stuff.
L: Do you use your own equipment when you perform live?
M: Yeah, I don’t use anyone else’s stuff.
L: What got you into making music?
M: I guess it all started when I was really little. I was especially interested in music from an early age. I had a sense for it and it became my hobby. It’s hard to say. Why does anyone like music? I can’t really tell you, but from the beginning until right now I have never gotten sick of it.
L: Why electronic music?
M: When you’re little you don’t always have a choice of what music you learn. I didn’t choose electronic music, electronic music chose me. It’s a very solitary process and I like to put a personal touch to my work. I’ve been in bands before and it was a great experience, but with electronic music I can put whatever i’m thinking directly into my work. There’s simply more freedom with tones and harmonies that traditional music just cannot obtain. It’s not to say that I’m super qualified or anything, it’s just a natural development. Sometimes when you are playing with an idea you’ll find a really deep beauty in it and that makes it even more interesting.
L: Do you work with other people?
M: I have a group (Liquid Palace). I collaborate with people and it’s not that I only do one or the other. It’s that the style or workflow of producing stuff on my own is more suitable in my case. There’s a lengthy working method to it, but a high level of freedom within it. If you take traditional music into consideration for example, there are more people involved and not to mention all the writing that’s involved. In more traditional collaboration it takes time to get going and execute the vision that the composer might have. I feel that the possibilities are greater and the preparation time is less. Some people might disagree, but I consider it to be a quicker, freer and more extreme way of doing things. Anyway, that’s just how I see it.
L: What’s the scene like in China?
M: It is getting better everyday.
L: Is it mostly Chinese or is there much collaboration between international and local artists?
M: There a bit of everything.
L: How would the scene here compare to other places?
M: Well, honestly I’ve only really been to Europe and it’s not that much different. You could say it’s a little more vibrant here as there are more people.
L: You have several albums up on your website which i’ve listened to. Do you have anything else coming up?
M: Aside from making these interments I want to spend more time producing my music. My plan is to invest more time using my instruments in my work.
L: When’s your next show?
M: My next show is on April 28th at fRUITYSHOP. (Meng Qi is also playing on May 21st at Old What? Bar)
L: What’s the name of your website?
L (2nd interviewer): When electronic music was in it’s earlier stages there were bands like Kraftwerk who would often encounter difficulties with their equipment when playing live. One night it would be amazing, but the other night might have a lot of problems. Have you ever experienced anything like that before?
M: When you play live it’s never going to go exactly just the way you want it. Making interments is the same way. There are two types of failures. Sometimes it’s the gear that malfunctions and others it’s when the result doesn’t match up with the initial intention of the artist. As long as it’s successful then I’m happy.
L (2nd interviewer): Many of your instruments look like hybrids of acoustic instruments and electronic ones. How do they work together?
M: That’s a good question. In fact, over the years a lot of electronic instruments have been incorporating aspects from more traditional instruments in their design. Traditional instruments are quite sensitive and electronic instruments can’t fully replicate them. Take this drum for example. If I hit it with a stick, bottle or even rub it with my hand the sound is completely different. It’s the same with a violin. You can bow it or pluck it and you’re going to produce a distinctly different sound. On the other hand with something like a keyboard you’re only going to get the intensity of the sound.
So with electronic music there are two significant ways of thinking. The first idea is how we as humans touch acoustic instruments to make sounds. For example Haken Audio’s Continuum (http://www.hakenaudio.com/Continuum/) or Madrona Labs’ Soundplane (http://madronalabs.com/soundplane). These instruments do a good job of encapsulating how people actually play.
The second type of thinking is through Audio-Engineering. An example of this might be by patching different instrument cables together in order to make new sounds, which do not exists in the natural instrument world. You’re not actual playing notes or timbers, but rather playing the connections.
I’m actually working on a new product that will utilize this. Electronic instruments revolve around these two concepts. On one of my instruments I can produce a violin sound and through analogue synthesis I can alter it’s original sound. With an organic instrument you wouldn’t be able to do this.
Physics and nature are the best sources of inspiration when I’m designing instruments.
L: What’s your next instrument?
M: It’s a synth module that in which you use your hands to make the connections. With this interface you’re actually playing and connection signals between oscillators and sending them to filters. It can control anything really… pitch, timbre or volume and you can combine them all together to achieve a complex result. You might be able to see me use it in an upcoming performance.
L: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
M: Thank you for your time.