Lu Yi - Her Double-tracked Journey of Acoustic Discovery as Arts Administrator and Artist
On the surface, arts administrator and artist play completely different roles. The former takes care of the realities to support art while the latter tries to break rules and let the imagination run wild. In Taiwan, however, there are some female art workers who try to ease the conflict between reality and imagination and achieve a double-tracked career as arts administrator and artist with a broad perspective. As a rising figure (and a rising voice, too) in Taiwan’s sound art circle, Lu Yi has the best of both worlds. Because of her duality, she has unleashed surprising possibilities. During our interview, she talked about her unusual journey of acoustic discovery.
Lu Yi performing at Digital Art Festival Taipei 2015. Photo by Sébastien Labrunie, courtesy of Soundwatch Studio.
Fly Global: You were once a “vagrant teacher”, later an arts administrator and now an independent artist. How did all these changes come about?
Lu Yi: I grew up in a very conservative family. Most of the members are either public servants or teachers. Therefore, getting a stable teaching job became my undisputed goal of life. By the time I finished college, the problem of “vagrant teacher” was most rampant in Taiwan. I worked as a short-term substitute teacher from one elementary school to another. Since I never settled down on one job, I enrolled myself in a graduate program studying applied arts. In the meantime, I worked as an assistant at the Center for Art and Technology at TNUA and took language and art courses in San Francisco, USA. These circumstances brought internal changes within me. I realized I wanted to choose an unexpected and unorthodox path of life.
As I was weighing my options, I heard sound artist Wang Fujui was looking for an administrative assistant. I thought, “This could be the stimulus I need”, so I applied for the job. It was in 2011. Since then, under the name of Soundwatch Studio, Wang and I have been promoting Taiwanese and overseas sound art projects.
My stage debut was in 2014, when I helped Wang with real-time visuals at on site 2014 at Taipei Artist Village. During the performance, I could feel the release of dopamine running through my brain. It is a kind of pleasure one can get addicted to. We went on with the same mode of collaboration in the following overseas tour. In 2015, at the exhibition Shoot the Pianist - The Noise Scene in Taipei 1990-1995, I participated in the opening performance upon the invitation of curator Yu Wei. It was my first solo sound performance.
Left/ Lu Yi’s stage debut with Wang Fujui at on site 2014, Taipei Artist Village. Photos by Vivy Hsieh, courtesy of Soundwatch Studio.
FG: Transitioning from an administrator to an artist, what adaptations did you make?
Lu: When I first stepped into the field, I had no clue what “good” means in sound performance. At first, I would see how Wang reacted by peeking at his facial expressions. I also took notice of the works which he had said he was fond of. My initial intention was to find out the preferences of my boss (Wang) to make my job easier. But over the past five years, I’ve learned a lot from him. I internalized the know-how and developed my unique understanding of sound performance. I’ve met many ambitious Taiwanese artists in related fields. As I interacted with them frequently, I felt their joy working as artists. Gradually, my passion for the arts grew.
As an artist, I was sometimes told, “you are being too bureaucratic!” Indeed, my administrative experience taught me to be meticulous about everything. Besides, I was once a part-time assistant at the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei. As my job involved event management, I learned to care about the needs of the people other than artists, for instance, the audience’s viewpoint. This could be a good trait to have. However, overthinking normally creates limits for an artist. So now when I’m creating, I often tell myself to get rid of the administrative brain and embrace more openness and freedom.
Lu Yi and Sébastien Labrunie at the Third Taipei Art District Festival_TAD After Party. Photo by Nathan Osterhaus, courtesy of Soundwatch Studio.
FG: Over the past two years, you have worked with French visual designer Sébastien Labrunie in Hypersonic and other sound performance platforms. Tell us about your artistic exploration with him.
Lu: During my early days as an artist, I met Sébastien Labrunie by chance. We felt we had a good connection and wanted to do something together. Later, Wang Fujui founded Hypersonic, which was a performance platform for new sound artists. Séb and I decided to go for it. We formed a group called Sondes, which means “electric wave receiver”.
Over the past two years, Séb has been experimenting with a whole new visual technology. The technology not only makes videos look immersive, 3D and kinetic, but also enables synchronous movement between visuals and performers with the use of controllers. He applied his new discoveries to our joint performance and created some genuine audio-visual interactions. My sound arts provided Séb with concise and contrastive visuals. In the end, he chose to present his art in symmetrical black-and-white stripes to go with mine and the result was a performance with an organic feel.
Following Hypersonic, we performed at Generate the night, TAD After Party, Lacking Sound Festival: Listen and other platforms. We continue to search for new possibilities, one of which could involve the use of Lyra VR, a VR sound software application that Séb is familiar with, in the creative process. We also hope to release our own album.
Sondes is a noise-based live sound art performance featuring black-and-white moving stripes and movement controllers;
debut at Hypersonic in 2016. Photo by Cyu, courtesy of Soundwatch Studio.
FG: You have developed several sound devices and demonstrated some of the basic components at workshops. Tell us about those endeavors.
Lu: I create sound arts by using sound sampling, home-made electronic instruments, circuit bending, hardware hackers and analog errors. After spending years with Wang Fujui, I tend to follow his techniques. We also look for things that can be remodified to make sounds.
Take the sound installation Time Electric Sound State for example: The core component is an Atari Punk Console, which was named after a game console popular in the 1980s. Wang taught me about circuit welding and capacitance. I decided to modify the circuit into a clock-like object because that was how I felt about my life at that time. The sounds of the installation were both patterned and disturbingly random. The idea was mimic the “jetlagged state” that I found myself in back in those days: trying to be on schedule while being physically and mentally exhausted from work. I have the same mixed feelings about noise, which I see as a chaotic energy of error, but also a positive gateway to achieving natural equilibrium. These contradictions helped materialize the installation.
2016 Taipower-APC Workshop. Photo by Vivy Hsieh, courtesy of Soundwatch Studio.
I used the same circuit at my first workshop at the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei. I was actually a substitute for Wang. But after the workshop, I received similar invitations from the National Taiwan Science Education Center and other institutions. Over the past two years, I’ve also worked with the Shiner Education Foundation, offering sound art introductory classes at 20 elementary schools in remote areas. Workshop was the right fit for me, considering I was once a teacher. I was also able to share some of my new discoveries in sound arts. Reciprocally, a pickup I used at a workshop was later remodified by me and reused in my performances. For example, the Tesla coil I employed in Sondes could bring out amazing visual effects by the change of sounds and hand gesture.
|Left/ Record Chifeng Street Sound Collected Workshop in 2014. Photo by Wang Fujui, courtesy of Soundwatch Studio.
Right/ Time Electric Sound State, an installation mainly based on an Atari Punk Console, speaks about Lu Yi’s “jetlagged state”. Photo by Lu Yi, courtesy of Soundwatch Studio.
FG: Recently, you have been preparing for Sound_Object Exhibition. What is the event mainly about? It was advertised as “an important milestone for Soundwatch Studio”. As far as you are concerned, what makes this exhibition significant?
Lu: This will be the first joint exhibition for me and Wang Fujui under the name Soundwatch Studio. Unlike his previous events which focused on his own works, Sound Object Exhibition will showcase what Wang and I have achieved with the studio over the past five years.
The event will feature home-made electronic instruments, including Time Electric Sound State that I mentioned earlier, Wang’s self-made Theremin (world’s oldest electronic instrument) and other sound installations used in previous performances. We will also prepare a booklet chronicling the studio’s past achievements and unveiling the more diverse and broader possibilities that our collaboration may bring in the future.
► About Artist
Lu Yi is a member and sound artist of Soundwatch Studio. Since 2011, under the name of the studio, Lu Yi and Wang Fujui have been performing with experimental sounds and engaged in related projects, continuously seeking new acoustic possibilities. A joint exhibition celebrating the studio’s fifth anniversary has been scheduled for 2017 and will be held at DigiLog. Apart from running the studio with Wang, Lu has created Sondes with French visual designer Sébastien Labrunie. Their works showcase a fine mix of cultural sophistications performed with home-made electronic instruments and real-time interactive visuals to explore a broad repertoire of sound arts.