Yuan

The Guo Brothers

Released 21 May 1990

  1. Dancing And Singing In The Village
  2. Soldiers Of The Long March
  3. Step By Step
  4. Fishing By Lamplight
  5. Three Kingdoms
  6. Evening Song
  7. Training Horses On The Mongolian Grassland
  8. Springtime On Parmir Mountains
  9. My Second Life
  10. One Flower
  11. The Dream Of The Red Mansion

The Guo Brothers

Liner notes

Music has always been a vital part of the Guo Brothers’ lives.  Their father was a well-known erhu player (Chinese two-stringed violin) and a fine singer.  During the Cultural Revolution their mother was despatched to the countryside and, on their father’s death, the boys were left to grow up in the Musicians Compound.  In Peking professional working people lived together in such ‘compounds’ and so, surrounded by other musicians, Yi and Yue naturally moved towards music as a career.  Self-motivation drove them to studying.  Living in extreme poverty, they picked up tuition as they could, even paying teachers in measures of cooking-oil.

The brothers began playing various instruments and now Yue specialises in Chinese flutes while Yi plays the ancient sheng, a hand-held mouth-blown organ.

Yue’s first professional job was in the Army Orchestra of the People’s Republic of China, travelling to remote areas to entertain troops and carrying his flute across the country by train or on horseback.  Yi joined the Peking Film Orchestra at the age of fifteen and within three years had become a renowned soloist and composer, featuring on the soundtracks of over two hundred films.

The brothers came to England some years ago to further their studies, and their musical experience proved invaluable when David Byrne asked them to contribute to the soundtrack of the film The Last Emperor.

In the summer of 1989, having succeeded in the long and difficult process of obtaining passports, the members of Shung Tian arrived in England.  A week later they were watching events in Tiananmen Square from a very new perspective.  These musicians, former colleagues of Yi in the Peking film Orchestra, are almost unique in that they are one of very few groups to come from china without State support.  The group included Yue and Yi’s sister, Guo Xiaun, an accomplished opera singer.

The musicians come from a culture, which does not differentiate, between folk and classical music, and their repertoire ranges from ancient Chinese tunes to modern, popular compositions.  It is rooted, however, in daily human experience.  It captures the landscape with exquisite musical imagery.  It takes the listener on a journey from the vast plains of Mongolia to the most remote mountain villages.  It evokes intense moods of peace and solitude, of romance and sadness.

Drawing upon these rich Chinese traditions, the album also gives space and expression to fresh new arrangements and free improvisation.

Pól Brennan, Irish musician and songwriter, and former member of Clannad, first heard a tape of The Guo Brothers whilst working at Real World Studios.  The unique collaboration, which followed, expresses the close musical affinities rather that the great geographical and cultural distances between their two countries.

About the Music

1. Dancing and Singing In The Village

During the evening bonfires are lit and music is played to draw together people from remote villages for entertainment and companionship.

 

2. Soldiers Of The Long March

A song which remembers china’s Long March. As the March moved through the Republic’s southern regions, villagers greeted it with music and, gathering even greater numbers to its ranks, it moved on.

 

3. Step By Step

A very traditional folk tune encompassing the philosophy that life should be approached simply, one day at a time.

 

4. Fishing By Lamplight

An old tune from Southern China evoking a musical painting of evening peace as flickering lamps reflect upon the surface of a lake.

 

5. Three Kingdoms

Before its unity as a singe state, China was divided into three kingdoms and terrible wars were waged. The song describes the scene as calmness eventually settles over the battlefield and the death and destruction become clear.

 

6. Evening Song

Guo Yue conjures up with musical imagery a scene of peace and solitude where the evening lights of small villages glow in the stillness.

 

7. Training Horses On The Mongolian Grassland

On the wild expanse of the grasslands it is still the horse which dominates the daily life of the people.

 

8. Springtime On Parmir Mountains

The Chinese region which borders the Soviet Union is cold and mountainous. The tune expresses the people’s longing for the spring, while dancing reminds them of warmer days.

 

9. My Second Life

A modern composition inspired by one of the many stories of everyday heroism which fill Chinese newspapers. A dumb girl lives in a remote part of the country where doctors are hard to find. However, the local villagers are able to bring an acupuncturist to her and, after just one needle is applied, her voice gradually begins to return.

 

10. One Flower

An ancient tune, again creating a musical image steeped in Chinese meditative philosophy. Across the whole wilderness of an empty grassland plain only a single flower can be seen.

 

11. The Dream Of The Red Mansion

From China’s last dynasty comes an epic story of family feuds and relationships. The account of a young woman of noble blood who falls in love with a boy of a lower class is just one chapter. From the book has come a major Chinese television production, of which this was the theme music.

Reviews

  • An extremely pleasurable album The Times (UK)
  • Smashing, first-rate acoustic music, full of emotion, charm, wit, sadness, happiness, drive and atmosphere. Folk Roots (UK)

Listen

Credits

The Guo Brothers: Guo Yue Chinese bamboo flutes; Gue Yi shoeing (hand-held mouth-blown organ); Shung Tian: Wang Shun Xin Chinese oboe; Guo Xiaun vocals; Guo Liang zheng (Chinese harp); Pól Brennan keyboards and percussion (gongs, woodblock, Chinese hand cymbals, chimes).

Recorded and mixed at Real World Studios, England. Produced and mixed by Pól Brennan. Recording engineer Richard Evans. Cut at The Townhouse, London.

Design by Helen Jones @ Assorted Images. Series identity by Garry Mouat. Photography (front cover) Guo Yue and Guo Yi by Francis Drake; (Back cover) Koi Carp, Zhejiang Museum, photographed by Amanda Isaac.

Further Listening

  • Music, Food and Love

    Guo Yue

    Released 01 February 2006

    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 recent visits back to China, Music, Food and Love paints a vivid picture of a remarkable life.
  • Trísan

    Trísan

    Released 01 October 1992

    Pól Brennan (ex-Clannad), Joji Hirota and Guo Yue created Trísan – a musical meeting point of extraordinary depth and beauty – during Real World Recording Week in 1992. This Celtic-Oriental fusion conjures up magical imagery - breathless flutes, driving percussion and spacious keyboards.

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