To celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month, I’ve compiled a short list of some of my favorite AAPI artists in experimental music. Often reckoning with reductive assumptions made about them, these artists chose individuality. Their contributions to music and American cultural practice have been inspirational to me, so I wanted to pass them along to you.
Charmaine Lee’s sorcery lies in defamiliarizing perhaps the most familiar sound we know—the human voice—and fragmenting it into a sound world of broken machines without losing its organicism. Her March release KNVF is full of extremes but challenges itself to inhabit the containers of pop songs—short bursts with clear thesis statements. Her way of instrumentalizing the web of intimate and engrained associations inherent in the sound of the voice creates an utterly visceral listening experience for me, both live and in recorded form.
I know Eddy (they/them) primarily for the transformative impact they had on the Cincinnati experimental scene. A classically-trained violinist with an impulse for improvisation and a taste for bluegrass, Eddy brought together disparate musical communities in Cincinnati, uniting them not only for musical events, but for some of the most radical community educational programs I’ve witnessed. Since then, Eddy has worked with the Art Ensemble of Chicago and is now in New York preparing for a residency at Roulette this year. Their recorded archive is a few years old at this point, but you can check out their album Knife and Spoon.
Hailing from Bhutan and now living in the Appalachian mountains, Tashi Dorji transforms the guitar into a living creature with unpredictable yet somehow incredibly precise utterances. I highly recommend seeing him live at any chance you can get, but in the meantime you can dig through his prolific recorded catalog of electric and acoustic solo work and collaborations. Though he’s been focusing more on acoustic guitar lately, I’m particularly fond of his electric playing, which you can here on Both Will Escape—a collaboration with percussionist Tyler Damon.
I had the pleasure of watching composer Tonia Ko’s piece “Very Tall Very Bright,” written for the ensemble Wild Up, come together in Los Angeles in 2017. Laced with short melodic fragments and timbral associations with Cantonese opera, the overall impression is hazy, nuanced, and full of tiny, skittering sounds. One way she achieves these sounds in this and other pieces is through the artful use of bubble wrap, which also features in her captivating sculptures and installations. Now living in London, she serves on faculty at Royal Halloway, University of London.