For my song analysis, I am going to study Leehom Wang’s In the Depths of the Bamboo Forest (Straight translation from Chinese song title). Before I dive into this piece, I want to give a bit of introduction to Leehom Wang. Leehom is currently one of the most popular Chinese singer-songwriter in Asia and among Asians worldwide. Just as a complete side note, he is also one of my favourite Chinese singer out there right now. He is a Chinese-American that was born and raised in New York. Leehom has studied at the Eastman School of Music, Williams College and Berklee College of Music. He is famous for fusing traditional Chinese music like Beijing opera and traditional ethnic music with hip-hop, rap and R&B. In the Depths of the Bamboo Forest is an example of Leehom’s Chinese-Western fusion music.
The album which In the Depths of the Bamboo Forest was in is called Shangri-La, or in Chinese 心中的日月. Shangri-La was the beginning of a new chapter for Leehom because this album is the first album where he started his Chinese-Western fusion music, which he later name this style “Chinked-Out”. For the production of this album, Leehom and his brother, Leekai, traveled everywhere in China to collect ethnic minority music. In the Depths of the Bamboo Forest was the result of his travels around China.
In the Depths of the Bamboo Forest is not in any way Leehom’s biggest hit, but this piece shows the style “Chinked-Out” the most. It features traditional Chinese instruments like koudi (Chinese bamboo flute) and Tuhu (A Chinese bowed stringed instrument). Leehom incorporates these traditional instruments into Western music styles, which in this piece is mainly a mixture of Chinese pop, hip-hop and rap. In addition to the instrumentation features, Leehom also includes samples of Tibetan Opera. What I like the most about In the Depths of the Bamboo Forest is how Leehom incorporates all these traditional/aboriginal instruments and music into modern music, especially genres like hip-hop and rap. It is truly extraordinary to hear how Leehom fuse such different musical elements into a modern piece of music where even the youths will enjoy.
I’ll be honest, I dozed off for a bit during the middle of the presentation. However, it wasn’t because I find his presentation dull or anything. In fact, I loved hearing and learning what kind of music was played back in the days. I especially love the recording from China. Before his presentation, I believed that music recordings was done only in Europe and America back in those days. It never really occur to me that there was also Asian music recorded too. That was an eye-opening (ear-opening?) experience for me. The Chinese recording was from the 1910’s and unfortunately I have not a clue who recorded it. As one would probably expect from a 1910 recording, there was a high noise floor and thus noise can be heard throughout the recording. Although that made some elements of the music harder to hear, it was still a beautifully done recording for something done in the 1910’s and in China. When Rob started playing the recording, it immediately reminded me of the music the Chinese would use for their puppet show (also known as 布袋戲 [Bu4Dai4Xi4]).
The video above is an example of Chinese Puppet Show. It is not the recording that was played by Rob Millis.
The recording played by Rob have fewer instruments and it have a vocal element to it. However, this is the feel that I got when I listened to that recording. After listening to that recording, it makes me wonder what other Chinese recordings from the 1900’s are out there and how it evolved throughout the century. According to Wikipedia, Chinese started incorporating Western classical and jazz elements into their traditional music as early as 1912. It’s too bad that music recordings didn’t exist before the 1900’s, I would love to hear what true historical Chinese music is like.
The first ever audio recording device, the Phonautograph (shown above), was created back in 1857 by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville. However, the Phonautograph was made to purely record sound vibrations onto ink and paper and was unable to reproduce sounds.
The Phonograph (Left) was then created based on the design of the Phonautograph. Made by Thomas Edison, the way the Phonograph works is that a stylus would etch grooves on to a cylinder covered with impressionable material, such as tin foil, wax or lead. The down side to this mechanism is that these cylinders are hard to mass produce, which then leads to the creation of the Gramophone (Right). Patented by Emile Berliner in 1887, the gramophone records onto a flat disc rather than a cylinder. The flat discs eliminates the problem of mass production the cylinders have and it is cheap to produce.
Magnetic recording and magnetic tape is what came after the gramophone. Magnetic recording was seen back in 1898, but the first magnetic tape recorder wasn’t seen until 1935. Created by engineers at AEG, the first practical tape recorder was called the “K1”. Stereo tape recorder came soon after in 1943.
The next big development in audio recording is the invention on multitrack recording. As mentioned before, stereo tape recorder was seen back in 1943. However, one of the biggest milestone in audio recording history is probably the 4-track recorder. Most commonly used in the 1960s, the 4-track recorder was used to record many famous recordings by The Beatles and The Rolling Stone.
Digital recording is the next most popular recording technique used in history. The digital audio tape (DAT) was first seen in the 1970s. The DAT records at either 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz sample rate and 16 dB bit depth. However, the DAT was a failure in consumer audio because it was too expensive and too finicky.
Compact disc (CD) is probably the most popular in the field of consumer audio after the invention of magnetic tape. First seen around the 1980s, the CD is fully digital and allows user to store many recordings inside it. With the invention of MP3 in the late 1990s, most music is distributed in MP3 file format and CDs even up till today.