Interview with Wai Wan, Producer/Artist

How would you describe you and your work?
My work juxtaposes familiar sentiments in unfamiliar settings, to explore an imagined sense of nostalgia. I deploy sampling and modular synthesis approaches to create both musical and abstract forms.

How did you get into doing what you do?
As a teenager, I always played in bands and grew curious about the recording process using whatever equipment I could access - four-track recorders, cassette recorders etc. My first experience with a MIDI sequencer and sampler blew my mind - it confirmed that it was something I wanted to pursue. I studied Electrical Engineering at Leeds University and moved to Manchester after I graduated. I enrolled on a studio Production course at SSR and afterwards ended up as a resident engineer at Silk Studios in Manchester during the mid 90s working with local artists, DJs, independent and major clients.

You've mentioned to me that you're British-born Chinese with parents who are originally from Hong Kong. Have you explored your heritage through your work or practice?
As a second-generation British-born Chinese growing up in a traditional Hong Kong Hakka Chinese family in the UK, the issue of identity was often discussed. That ongoing search for identity continues in my artistic work but not necessarily in my commercial work. On my first solo album as an electronic artist 'Distraction' (1998), I recall making subtle references to my cultural identity, but actively avoided the route of exploiting it stereotypically, as it would seem too crass and obvious. Rather than spelling it out, I think it's nice to not patronise your audience and leave some things for the listener to figure out for themselves! For similar reasons, I've always admired the work of Wong Kar Wai and the way he uses mood, atmosphere, and colour to create a poetic backdrop even though the narrative is not always clearly stipulated. As a producer/remixer, I look for inspiration in unusual, rare, and forgotten music, or 'digging' for old instruments and vinyl records for sounds and ideas….. The influence of Chinese cultural heritage is not often associated with Western popular music, and this vibrant mix of cultural creativity is a line of enquiry that I continue to explore.

Does Hull and its culture have any influence on your practice or work?
I think Hull's geographical location has always been an influential factor; there is a poignancy to the fact that it's at the 'end' of the M62 corridor, and that people come to depart for the continent – it's a passing place. Its perceived isolation from the rest of the country coupled with long economic decline all naturally impact on a creative level – that sentiment is felt in some parts of my work I think. Like other cities that have fallen on economic hardship such as Detroit, it generates a unique climate for artists to create work that becomes a form of escapism and fantasy, which I don't think is a bad thing on a creative level.

Has there been interest from Hull in your heritage?
Surprisingly, Hull's Hakka Chinese community was once one of the largest ethnic minority groups in the city. There have been previous efforts from the council to organise Chinese cultural events in Hull, but these have sadly waned over the years. This perhaps fuels the myth that Chinese are often seen as an invisible community who remain silent, even in times of inequality and hardship, since anonymity provides protection.

Tell me about what you're doing for the PRS New Music Biennial?
I've collaborated with Jason Singh on a project called Ebb and Flow which explores people's memories of Hull through an immersive 3D Ambisonic sound installation. I developed a generative modular synth composition which opens the installation.

Wai Wan interviewed by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Slate Enabler, North Yorkshire & Humber, July 2017


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