Name: Shao Yanpeng aka SHAO
Occupation: Producer, sound designer
Current Release: Shao's Midnight Mountain is out now on Modern Sky.
Recommendation: I recommend James Turrell, Anish Kapoor’s works, and Olafur Eliasson. There are actually so many great artist, but with these famous three, I feel the positive and pure spirit very easily.
If you enjoyed this interview with SHAO and would like to find out more about hiswork, visit his website. Or head over to his Facebook profile and Soundcloud account for current updates and music.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
My music background is alternative rock from 90’s, like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, Blur, and a lot of other more underground bands from the 90’s, when I was in high school and college. I still love this kind of music now.
I had a band in my college. But around 2002 when we graduated, we broke up. I wanted to continue making music, so I bought some gear like a Roland sampler, synth, soundcard and so on, and got some inspiration from German underground electronics, digital hardcore or Breakcore. It’s music that’s not especially easy to listen to, but I like it as it has that Punk spirit.
After that, I discovered a German label called Mille Plateaux, which has a very clean, very minimalism, very futurist sound. Yeah, these were my early influences.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Yes, I had a long relationship with a Chinese director in my early career, his name is Meng Jinghui, perhaps the most influential theatre director in China. I made the soundtrack and sound design for most of his plays. I think I learned a lot from this, for example how to control and balance the atmosphere in the show. I composed the soundtrack and played many many time for live music. The drama audience is different from music fans, I did a lot of experimental sound in their “mainstream” shows, but in a way that was accessible to them.
It also had a positive influence when I was back in my own personal creative space in some ways like the light, the stage art, the relationship between the actor and the audience. I learned a lot from my daily practice, which fed into my personal live and DJ sets. For me, practice is the sole criterion for testing truth.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Honestly, it’s not something I’ve ever really thought about. Let’s come back to that one in a few months when I’ve had time to consider (laughs).
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I think a big turning point was signing with Tresor. I was not very into dance music or the club culture before that, actually. Then when the first EP came out, some Western DJs played it in their sets, notably Lucy who played my track “Sensi” in Berghain. I actually never play that track in my DJ sets myself as I thought it’s too difficult to play! But he played it very fluently, and the music he played in that long set was all great, it was really to my taste.
From then on, I was more and more into that taste of techno music, like a tunnel. This music is with a high spirit and always seems to have a good connection with the audience.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Technology seems to change every time I check, it’s so fast. I don’t follow or chase it, maybe because I’m not a technology fan. I buy something when I feel I need something or try something.
But I don’t feel I’m lacking any new technology at the moment in order to express myself fully with my music, so it’s not something I try and concern myself with too much.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I would say not especially, although when I got my analog console that definitely opened some doors and make me think about things in a different way.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I think ideas are the most important thing when it comes to creating – just talking to people, even if you’re not talking specifically about music, can generate sparks which go onto make the most interesting parts.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I like to drink (in a healthy way). I like to make simple cocktails, with normal rum, fresh green lemon, tea or pure water. That keeps me in a positive state. And I do a lot of walking around my area, to think about something or just to relax. Then if I feel I want to go with music, I head back to the studio to try something. I eat very simple food, mostly made by myself.
My timetable is very different than that of others. I often sleep in the morning after seeing the sun rise, and get up sometime after noon. I have a rooftop besides my studio from which I can see nature, which I enjoy so much.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
One period I will never forget was in 2014 before the first EP on Tresor Records, one track called “Sensi” which I mentioned before. The track had a very unique feeling, but I just couldn't finish it. There were a lot of reasons, but it took what felt like forever to get it to a stage that I felt comfortable to release it.
Now I can finish music quite quickly, but I feel like I had to go through that “pain’ period to get to this stage.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
All I can say about that is that I just feel the sun and the moon very deeply. These are the things I focus on.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Why listen to the music that hurts you? Please don’t. Not ever.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I love and respect cultures from many different regions, and I believe there is a spiritual connection between cultures from all parts of the world. As everything is connected, I think that as long as it is done with respect, I think it is okay to take inspiration from anywhere. Sometime of course this is done on a surface level without a real appreciation of the culture, which is no good. But we shouldn’t limit ourselves when exploring inspiration for art.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I simply see art as a feeling, whether it’s a painting, an installation or a piece of music. When creating any of these things I try to be instinctual, without thinking too much.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I believe art is truth, and is the way to bring you to a higher state of understanding.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
With my music I’m always trying to explore the vitality of life.
If music can be easily broken down into words, it’s not doing it’s job. And I try and avoid death in my music, that’s not what it is concerned with.