Music, Food and Love

Guo Yue, 2006

The hauntingly aching music on this CD charts an evocative journey through the life of the musician, composer and cook Guo Yue. From his early years in The Hutongs of North-East Beijing, through the Cultural Revolution that exploded in 1966 when he was just eight years old, to his departure for London in 1982 and his vivid, bitter-sweet memories of his recent visits back to China, 'Music, Food and Love' paints a vivid picture of a remarkable life.

Conjuring up sounds and images of a childhood in China, Guo Yue's words (in the sleevenotes to this CD) capture much about his gentle, open but determined personality: 'When I was little, I loved to catch dragonflies beside the river with my best friend Xiao Xiao (Little Little), using a long bamboo stick with a little ball on the end, made from a melted rubber band which could stick onto the dragonfly's body - never its wings. The best time to catch a dragonfly was at sunset when the red sky was reflected in the river. The colour seemed to distract them. I used to take maybe three or four home with me, their wings folded and their heads as clear as crystal between my fingers. But, after trying to train my dragonflies inside my home, I would always release them, outside in the courtyard, aiming their wings in the direction of the river. I like to think of a dragonfly as a tiny image of freedom...'

The sounds of dizi (bamboo flute), yang qin (Chinese dulcimer), sheng and erhu are showcased in either stark simplicity or set against the subtle arrangements of the strings of the Secret Sound Orchestra of Budapest. Guo Yue and his second sister Guo Xuan (who still resides in China) provide the beautiful voices

The album was recorded in Beijing, Bath and Budapest by Richard Evans, who is the producer/collaborative musical partner of Peter Gabriel. Richard played the mandolin on 'White Swans' and worked with Yue on the orchestral arrangements.

Alongside Guo's flute there is also the erhu, a traditional two-stringed violin whose bow is woven permanently between the two strings. The erhu has a haunting, almost pleading voice which is intensely moving. This was the instrument Yue's father played; he was a professional musician and died when Yue was five years old.

Intermingled with the various Chinese instruments are an accordion, a mandolin, a string orchestra, a double bass, percussion, a piano and a silver flute - all of which compliment each other. Each instrument is like a character in a play, the erhu representing Yue's father, the suona being three courtyard musicians, the flutes are Yue as a child, the drum in track 9 'Su Lin' is his mother's heartbeat and the zheng (harp) is the river where he liked to play.

Guo has said that returning to Beijing (to record this album) was a rather overwhelming experience: "I felt disorientated in this modern city, where I no longer seem to belong. Only my alleys, the Hutongs `(of track 1), remain relatively unchanged, and the vegetable markets. It was overwhelming, yes, but exciting too. China was so poor in my childhood. Now it is changing so fast. How far will this go, I wonder?"

Reviews

  • Ideal music to create Zen Backed up by the Chinese dulcimer and the beautiful strings of Budapest's Secret Sound Orchestra, this is the ideal music to create Zen-like calm wherever you are. Kent Voice (UK)
  • Accessible & Mellifluous This sprinkling of familiar seasoning will serve to make a very exotic musical tradition accessible and mellifluous. www.bbc.co.uk
  • Bittersweet & Impressionistic Recorded in Beijing and Bath, his debut evokes the sound and images of his childhood through a series of bittersweet, mainly instrumental compositions with impressionistic titles. The simplicity of authentic Chinese flutes, harps and dulcimers is augmented by some subtle string arrangements that enhance the accessibilty to Western ears. Nigel Williamson The Times (UK)
  • Hauntingly Beautiful The album 'Music, Food and Love' evokes key moments from the book in hauntingly beautiful sound pictures. "Chinese music and Chinese food are closely connected," says Guo... They're about bringing tones and flavours into balance and harmony. It goes back to Buddhism and Taoism. Mark Hudson The Telegraph (UK)