Renmin Park, volume 1 – A Walk In The Park
A Walk In The Park is probably one of the songs on Renmin Park that make most people reach for the skip button. But it’s a very important song for the album, probably its most ambitious and, from a producer’s point of view, it’s one of my proudest achievements.
The singer and the lyricist of the song is Zuoxiao Zuzhou (ZXZZ), an extremely respected artist and a cultural jewel of the Chinese underground art scene. You won’t hear his music playing at the roller rink, but it’s bound to be in the collection of any self respecting Mandarin hipster. I was introduced to his music by my friend Eric Chen and I was blown away by the breadth of his recorded work and most specifically the intensity of his voice. In his work I hear strong influences of Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Sonic Youth, Einstürzende Neubauten and other artists who like to occasionally push boundaries. He is also a very political voice in a scene where being political actually has meaning. When Joby and Al presented me with the first musical draft of A Walk In The Park I knew that the ideal person to add to it was Zuoxiao Zuzhou. But it was quite a journey getting to that point.
The starting point for the track was me and my Zoom recorder in China. There are about a half-dozen field recordings incorporated in to this song including: a Peking Opera recital in Renmin Park; a class of my wife’s students singing the Chinese National Anthem; a bell tolling from the Bell Tower in Xian; a PA blaring morning excercise exhortations in the school yard where we lived; the song of the propane seller; and the din of human activity blended with the chirping of cicadas in Renmin Park. When I returned to Toronto I then sent these recordings to our friend Joby Baker in Victoria who assembled them in to a structure over which a musical template could be created. Alan then laid down his best Jah Wobble dub bass line that defined the overall feel of the song and Joby layered that with keyboards to suggest the harmonic direction. This was then sent back to me in Toronto where Pete laid down a drum part and I added the frenetic guitar outro. I then emailed that to my friend Eric Chen in Jingjiang who had tracked down Zuoxiao Zuzhou and had interested him in the project. Eric sent the track to Zuzhou who then wrote lyrics for the track and laid down his vocal. That track was then emailed back to me in Toronto where a few minor touches were made and then it was forwarded back to Joby who added a few more field recordings and finally mixed the song. Chalk one up for globalization.
Eric translated the song for me but, as I have said, there is always something lost in the translation. Zuoxiao Zuzhou told Eric to tell me that the lyric is a metaphor comparing a leisurely walk in the park with the cultural “walk” that is needed to successfully and honestly express oneself in Modern China.
Here is Eric’s translation of Zuoxiao Zuzhou’s lyrics as well as a couple of ZXZZ related videos. The first is of a live performance by ZXZZ (not for the unadventurous) and the second is a beautifully animated short, set to an amazing live recording by ZXZZ of his interpretation of the traditional Mongolian folk song Ulan Bator Nights.