Welsh folk artist The Gentle Good, aka Gareth Bonello, is currently on a very interesting residency in Chengdu, Sichuan province.
He was selected from hundreds of nominated artists for the scheme organized by the PRS for Music Foundation and British Council to record an album with musicians from the region, experimenting with traditional Chinese instruments and attempting to interweave Welsh and Chinese folk styles.
It's a highly ambitious project, and exciting too for Gareth as he gets to creatively experiment with the musical culture in the heart of China for six weeks.
I caught up with him on email, and asked if I could quote sections of his own personal blog of his adventure for this article. It sound like he's embracing every aspect of live from strange foods to the hustle and chaotic bustle of the Chinese streets. I can't wait to hear the final product, an album of collaboration, but also what a life changing experience for one musician. Pob lwc Gareth with the project!
It is a beautiful autumn day today in Chengdu. The weather has been colder and wetter this week, but today the sun is out and although it is still quite cool the air is crisp and clear. The veil of cloud and smoke that normally blankets the city has lifted to reveal a brilliant blue sky. It puts me in mind of the warm and pleasant autumns we've had in Wales over the past couple of years.
I've been here in Chengdu for almost two weeks and I'm starting to get a feel for the place. I've been learning lot about the history, culture and tradition of the region and have met and played with some excellent musicians who are real masters of their craft.
At the moment I'm trying to familiarise myself with the sounds of the traditional Chinese instruments and the scales that predominate in the music. Although the five note scale (pentatonic or 'blues scale' as it's known in the west) is the basis of a lot of the tunes I've heard it is by no means rigidly stuck to by the musicians and part of the thrill of the music is that it deviates and expands on these notes and takes you to some pretty unexpected places. The music is also almost visual, with some techniques being employed to deliberately imitate or illustrate scenes from nature.
Sun Xian Chu playing the Hulusi
It was also a pleasure to visit Du Fu Cottage, built on the site of the former residence of Tang dynasty poet Du Fu it contains tranquil bamboo gardens and water features and reconstructions of the dwelling where he wrote over 200 poems. I had a press conference there on Monday attended by TV crews and print journalists and I performed a couple of songs - all of which was a pretty new experience for me!
Jiang Qian playing the Guzheng
I am particularly interested in Du Fu as he was a contemporary and an acquaintance of Li Bai whose life is the theme and whose poetry is the inspiration for the album I'm writing whilst I'm here.
I've written two songs so far in the old Welsh style of the 'Hen Benillion'. One is an atmospheric poem in which Li Bai hints at his Taoist world view (based on two poems 'question and answer in the mountains' and 'On visiting Taoist master in the Tai-TIen mountains and not finding him') and the other takes the form of a letter written from his lonely wife whilst her husband is away travelling (based on 'The ballad of Chang-Kan').
Since then I've jumped ahead of the narrative a bit and am writing the death scene but it all seems to be going well at the moment. I've also been recording sounds from the streets of Chengdu such as buskers, chimes from temples and traffic that I want to include on the album.
Photos are by Gareth Bonello. You see the full story with music on his blog.