Wednesday 19 September 2018

The British Council has joined forces with British radio DJ and music producer Nick Luscombe to launch ‘Musicity’, a program of interactive multimedia music programme that will be coming soon to three Chinese cities. On 22 September, the first leg of the tour will be launched in Beijing; following that, on 27 October and 25 November Shanghai and Shenzhen will then host the second and third legs. The event is open to everyone to take part in free of charge and continues until the end of this year.

‘Musicity is an interactive multimedia music project established by Nick Luscombe in London in 2010. The Musicity project invites musicians from across the world to compose original pieces in response to the location and characteristics of certain buildings in a major city. Through online interaction across different countries (overseas through the Musicity website and through WeChat in China) these musicians create a unique experience at the site by utilising music to connect space and sound. With the current trend of online streaming, Musicity aims to make use of the medium of music to allow listeners to rediscover the fun of offline musical exploration, encourage and support innovative music, inspire audiences to discover a new relationship between architectural space and the urban environment and promote cultural exchanges.

Musicity in China: how to get involved

This year, with the support of the British Council, the Musicity project will be in China for the first time, coming to Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. The project theme is ‘Urban Regeneration’. From June to August this year, 21 ‘regenerated’ buildings (seven in each city) were visited by four British musicians (including Nick Luscombe) and ten Chinese musicians. Inspired by these buildings and their locations, a piece of music has been created for each one. These 21 new compositions can be found at Musicity WeChat mini programme that’s bound with the British Council’s official WeChat account, ‘UK_NOW’. WeChat users should go to the buildings in person, open the ‘UK_NOW’ Musicity WeChat mini programme and unlock for themselves the unique combination of architecture, inspirational music and urban dynamism.

The Musicity WeChat mini programme will launch on 22 September when the Beijing leg of the tour begins. To encourage users to experience and rediscover their city from fresh angles, the app will enable GPS positioning until 31 December. Users will only be able to unlock the new compositions when they go near the buildings. The goal is to enable users to experience the fusion of architecture and music and to gain enjoyment and insights from the interaction. After 31 December, the app will turn off the GPS function, allowing online users to listen to the music in the app wherever they are.

In addition, the Musicity China project will hold regular concerts, lectures, sharing sessions, exhibitions and other activities to support the project. These fun events will highlight the city's style, the sources of musical inspiration and the spirit of creativity, collaboration and cultural exchange between the Chinese and British musicians. Furthermore, the project hopes to use music to create a documentary record of the city. While urban residents are enjoying the music, they will also be paying attention to architectural space, deepening their understanding the development and changes of Chinese cities, exploring urban dynamism and finding strength through regeneration. In this way, citizens will gain a renewed appreciation of the city they live in.

Project origins

The German writer Goethe once described architecture as a solidified music. Although the two are independent art forms, they can be connected together in one’s subconscious mind. Since the invention of the walkman, people can walk around the city streets with music playing at any time, and composers have begun to integrate urban elements into their works, creating an organic combination of architecture and music.

Based on this concept, British DJ and BBC broadcaster Nick Luscombe founded Musicity in 2010. In the past eight years, Musicity has taken its programme of events to Tokyo, Singapore, Oslo, Tallinn and Seoul as well as a relaunch in London in autumn 2017, having created more than 50 soundtracks, from musicians like Ghostpoet, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Hannah Peel, Gabriel Prokofiev, Throwing Shade, Moses Boyd, Stick in the Wheel, etc. It has also gained support from many British cultural institutions, companies and musicians.

China's rapid urbanization process has caused the appearance of cities to change on a daily basis. As an important element in determining the cityscape, changes in architecture and environment serve as a record of urban change. By composing music for city spaces and thus preserving the memories of a city through music, a contribution can be made to documenting a city's unique qualities; the compositions thus reflect the specific sound signature of each city. The arrival of the Musicity project in China not only bears witness to the development of urbanization in China, but is also an innovative record of Chinese cities. Additionally, the project creates an opportunity for communication and collaboration between Chinese and British artists, promotes cultural exchanges between the two peoples, and, on a basis of friendship, displays the unique charm of Chinese cities on a global stage.

Musicity map of China: Urban Regeneration

As the theme of the Musicity China project is ‘Urban Regeneration’, the three selected cities and 21 buildings all possess significant characteristics related to this. Using this theme as a starting point, the music focuses on the spatial organization and functional planning of those buildings. A range of different expressive styles, such as varied sounds, musical instruments, recording methods and production techniques are used, giving full play to the relationship between space and sound. The hard-to-visualize tactile and spatial feelings evoked by architecture are expressed in music to capture the innovation and imagination of the city and its history.

Beijing Leg: A New Role for Historical and Cultural Buildings

In the process of urban development in Beijing, the old city’s regeneration has always been an important issue. Filled as it is with alleys, courtyards and historical buildings, many architects and designers have deliberated over how the old city of Beijing can meet the needs of modern life. Based on this, the ‘Baitasi Remade’ project, which made use of a micro-circulation and organic renewal model to become a shining beacon for the regeneration of the old city, has been made the area of focus for this event. Another two of the buildings selected are also in this area, namely the Fusuijing ‘Socialist’ building and the Baitasi Hutong Gallery. In addition, Zhihua Temple and the Serpentine Pavilion Beijing have also been chosen. The former has discarded its religious functions, leaving behind Ming Dynasty temple architecture deep in the ‘hutongs’ (alleys), and it is also home to the Beijing Cultural Exchange Museum. The Soho shopping district lies opposite, thus creating a strong contrast between old and new Beijing. The latter is a joint project of the Serpentine Galleries and WF CENTRAL. The Serpentine Pavilion Beijing was unveiled in May and will continue until October. Other places selected are Beijing Fun, which is famous as a centre for the development of Chinese dramatic art forms (including Beijing opera), and Da Mo Chang, a historic craftsmen’s courtyard which is well-known as a design space. The Beijing leg will collaborate with the 2018 Beijing International Design Week to launch and participate in a range of activities throughout Beijing during the Design Week.

As a capital of culture, the music scene in Beijing is flourishing. Three local musicians have been invited to participate, namely rock legend Zhou Fengling, electronic band AI+, and new electronic star Fishdoll. In addition to Nick Luscombe, British musicians include cutting-edge musician Ash Koosha and cellist Abi Wade. Ash and AI+ are also producing a joint composition for one of the venues.

Shanghai Leg: Old Factories Converted to Cultural Spaces

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, Shanghai rapidly developed into the largest industrial centre in China. However, over the next century the structure of the economy changed, creating the problem of how to make best use of the city’s industrial heritage. Shanghai not only retains a large part of the imprint of its industrial development, but also provides a unique urban landscape and network of cultural spaces. The seven sites selected represent the historical development of Shanghai, including the 1933 Shanghai, 1862 Theatre, the West Bund Art Centre and the Power Station of Art. These four regenerated cultural sites were used for industry (used variously as a slaughterhouse, a shipyard, an aircraft manufacturing plant and a power station) during the 20th century. In addition there are three buildings with a longstanding cultural presence, namely the Shanghai Concert Hall, Sinan Books, Sinan Mansions and the newly-renovated Great Theatre of China. The head of the band Duck Fight Goose Han Han, cutting-edge musician 33EMYBW, folk instrument performer Zhang Meng, Kazakh folk artist Anuar Kaldekhan, as well as British musicians Simon James, Abi Wade and Nick Luscombe, are all involved in the Shanghai leg, creating music for the above-mentioned buildings. Activities for the Shanghai leg will be launched both online and offline during the Shanghai Biennale.

Shenzhen Leg: From Fishing Village to Metropolis

The architectural choices for the Shenzhen leg reflect the unique history of the city. 2018 is the 40th anniversary of the ‘Reform and Opening’ policy, and in these 40 years Shenzhen has developed from a small fishing village into a booming megacity. The recently unveiled Shekou Fishing Harbour, a century-old fishing port; Baishizhou, a microcosm of an immigrant city; the revitalization of old buildings to become the OCT-LOFT; the OCT Art and Design Gallery; the iFactory; the new technological landmark Tencent Seafront Towers; and Design Society, a new model of international artistic collaboration; these architectural milestones all bear witness to the development of the city from a small fishing village into an international metropolis. They epitomize Shenzhen's 40-year development and are representative of the rapid rise of Shenzhen, reflecting the continuous growth and regeneration of the region. Three Shenzhen-based musicians, sound artist Zen Lu, experimental musician Shen Piji and singer Gao Ying, along with three British musicians Simon James, Ash Koosha and Nick Luscombe, are to create architectural compositions, one of which will be composed jointly by Simon James and Zen Lu. The Shenzhen leg is to collaborate with the Shenzhen Fringe Art Center to launch a series of online and offline activities during the Shenzhen Fringe Festival.

Musicity China Tour Musicians: Diverse Collaborations

From whichever angle, it is clear that this project displays an abundance of diversity. The participating musicians come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and numerous musical styles are covered: from classic rock through electronic music, to world music, traditional folk instruments and so on. In each city, a spirit of collaboration and creative harmony will be evident in the compositions produced for each of the buildings. This will not only reflect the different musical characteristics of China and Britain, but will also bring to the audience a collision of Chinese and British musical styles.

Notes to Editor

Special thanks to the below partner organisations:

  • Supporting organisations (in no particular order): Beijing International Design Week, Baitasi Remade, Zhihua Temple (Beijing Cultural Exchange Museum), WF CENTRAL, Beijing Fun, Damochang, Flâneur, Shanghai Concert Hall, Power Station of Art, 1933 Shanghai, Sinan Books, Sinan Mansions, West Bund Art Centre, 1862 Theatre, Great Theatre of China, Shenzhen Fringe Arts Center, OCT-LOFT, OCT Art & Design Gallery, iFactory, Design Society, Tencent Seafront Towers
  • Local producers: Ni Bing, Wang Tian, Dickson Dee
  • Launch audio supporters: Funktion-One, Phoenix Audio
  • Musicity Mini Programme (available since 22 September 2018)

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We create friendly knowledge and understanding between the people of the UK and other countries. We do this by making a positive contribution to the UK and the countries we work with – changing lives by creating opportunities, building connections and engendering trust.

We work with over 100 countries across the world in the fields of arts and culture, English language, education and civil society. Each year we reach over 20 million people face-to-face and more than 500 million people online, via broadcasts and publications. Founded in 1934, we are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter and a UK public body.

We operate as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy in Beijing and Cultural and Education Section of the British Consulate-General in Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Chongqing. Our Exams work and English Centres across China operate as Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprises.