Pan Daijing’s studio discography leans towards the dark, post-industrial vibe, whether it’s 2017’s mechanical misanthropy Lack 惊蛰 or the organic spread of 2021 Jade 玉观音– but the underlying skeleton of the Berlin-based musician’s work is deeply lyrical. An hour-long excerpt from an experimental play originally performed at Tate Modern in 2019, Fabrics is the fulfillment of this trend. Although the recording derives from a performance based on the opera, it sounds no different from Pan’s electronic work; its traditional choral arrangements are haunting and cryptic, and its vast expanse is familiar in its bustle. Pan’s music often used sound as a means of investigating the collision of the biotic and the synthetic, and Fabrics, she turns to the human voice to explore the multiple meanings of the title, both paper and flesh.
Opening with an uneasy cascade of electronic tones, the opera quickly fades into a ritualistic soprano, its dialogue intentionally untranslatable. Fabrics is divided into four sections bounded by shifts in movement and dread, tracing a journey from ‘A Raving Still’ to ‘A Deafening Hum’. In addition to the double meaning of “cloths”, Pan pursues the idea of duality more generally in the libretto’s mix of Old and New Chinese, establishing an unsettling tension between the two forms that reflects the piece’s contrasting vocal styles. . The body of the story itself is ouroboric, the libretto loosely inspired by Murong Yan, a wuxia character whose male and female aspects are desperately trying to kill each other.
The interplay of warring voices informs the thesis of Pan’s project. The abstract structure, at least compared to a traditional opera, strongly underlines the beauty of its arrangements. Throughout the seamless duration of “A Found Lament” and “A Tender Accent,” fainting sighs and orotunda mezzo-soprano are backed by an almost melodic buzz, and high-pitched vocals shout “害怕! (Fear!)” , in protest against the minatory wall of mechanical sound that invades them. On “A Raving Still”, a strangled robotic voice commands: “Wake me up after, wake me up after,” before the song is pierced by an inhuman scream reminiscent of a falcon’s solitary journey through a canyon. A delicate battle is being played out between Pan’s electronics and the voices that color it. Her own voice, rich and euphonious, adds to the thrill of these tracks, scoring a stark contrast to the bite of synth punk in her screams on Amnesia Scanner’s “AS Chaos,” or her lyrics uttered throughout 2017. A satin view.
Despite his fascination with opera, Pan has no formal musical training. “I never studied a single day of music and now I want to write an opera,” she told an interviewer in 2019. “Where did that come from?” But when played at Tate Modern, draped in the brutalist backdrop of Tanks, Fabrics comes across as a lively and full-bodied narrative. A large ensemble of dancers and opera singers are drenched in shadows of black and red; they contort and interpret the incessant conflict of the room against the inorganic architecture of the museum. Even removed from the live performance context, Fabrics remains charged with resonant beauty and keen-eyed focus, despite the pervasive air of worry. His duality never seeks to separate.
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