Photo: SG (Zaliva-D)
Zaliva-D have been occupying a strange place in electronic music, a sort of artistic and aesthetic interzone. For roughly two decades now, musician Li Chao and visual artist Aisin-Gioro Yuanjin have not only been working across those different media, but have also been highly adaptable. Having debuted on China’s leading metal label, the duo has also put out releases through Knekelhuis and Shanghai’s SVBKVLT or appearing on releases put out by esoterically-minded imprints like the excellent WV Sorcerer Productions label. Their sound feels at once ancient but contemporary, urban and somewhat mystical, industrial and psychedelic. Recorded by Li, their contribution to our Groove podcast is an improvised live set drawing heavily on those contrasts and a whole lot of eerie vocal samples.
The two of you have been working together under the name Zaliva-D for almost 20 years now. Your respective roles are strictly defined, with Chao taking care of the musical side and Yuanjin providing visuals. How do the music and visuals relate to one another?
We sync the music from our live set with the visuals. Each track has a fixed visual clip collocation. Because my music keeps updating, many visuals might only appear one time or are never be used again. That’s also why we don’t do any complicated programming or 3D animation. We don’t have the time to do such complicated technical work on videos because we are very busy with our daily jobs.
Your work as a duo is based on live performances. For obvious reasons, you had very few opportunities to play shows in the past three years. How has this affected you creatively?
I actually prefer making music at home. I enjoy the feeling of continually and constantly making music. I enjoy playing gigs, but I don’t rely on them. I even see playing gigs as a way of giving something back to the people who like my music rather than something that satisfies my own personal needs. We’ve hardly played any gigs in the last three years, but I’ve produced more music than ever before.
Your latest album, released last year on SVBKVLT, is called 孽儿谣 Misbegotten Ballads. What does that title mean? Were there specific topics that informed the record?
Ballads are generally stories that have been passed down over generations for children. I like mysterious, taboo, and uncomfortable stories. I don’t want to reveal the specifics of the music though, as each person will have their own interpretations.
It’s your second album for the label. What’s your relationship with this label like, would you say that you are part of the community of artists on its roster?
I’ve been friends with SVBKVLT for decades; we grew up together. We have had many pleasant collaborations and working experiences together over the years. I think most of the best electronic music producers in China have worked or released their music with SVBKVLT more or less. Our relationship is very solid, and I think this label will get better and better in the future.
On the production side, 孽儿谣 Misbegotten Ballads is a mostly hardware-based album. Aside from Chao’s voice, it was primarily made with a Roland ROM module, a Yamaha FM module, and an E-mu sampler. Why did you put such a heavy emphasis on gear?
I am not emphasising using these devices; I just happened to use them when I was making this album. However, I do like to delve deeper into vintage digital synths and then use them in a way that no one else did in the era in which those synths were made. I also use many new modern synths in my sound design work, but they are too flashy, too bright, and sound too clinical and do not really match my work. These days, I like old, warm, and solid sounds, just like the Yamaha TX81Z, its quality of sound can always catch me in a second and touch me deeply.
Besides putting out original material, you recently have created a slew of remixes for artists as diverse as Senyawa, 工工工 (Gong Gong Gong), SKD, and Tzusing. How would you characterise your approach to remixing, what’s important to you when working with other artists’ material?
I enjoy remixing my friends’ songs, if time allows. To me, remixing is like giving a high five, or paying tribute to my friends. I use about 60% of their own sound, slicing and repitching them, and then I add some of my own appropriate sounds. But I realised most of the remixes I did sound similar. (laughs)
What was the idea behind your mix for our Groove podcast?
To be honest I don’t have any preset ideas before making music. I’ll try to use my favourite synths and drum machines to make some sounds which I cannot predict. And then I let thouse sounds guide me to explore and develop some other foreseeable yet unforeseeable sounds. And then finally, I will use an Octatrack to perform and record those sounds.
Last but not least: what are your plans for the future?
In 2019, I had so many future plans for my music. However, after the past three years of unspeakable, ridiculous, and depressing torture, I no longer have any certain plans for the future. If I have the time besides my busy daily job I stay at home and make more music, which is probably the most comfortable situation and the greatest enjoyment for me at the moment. I’m no longer active at gigs or on tours. Maybe my thoughts will change after one or two years, but for now, I can’t be sure.
Stream: Zaliva-D – Groove Podcast 371