Liu Sola , composer , writer.
She was born in Beijing. In 1977, after the Cultural Revolution, Liu Sola passed the entrance examination for the Central Conservatory of Music, where she studied composition, and attained a master’s degree studying under the famous composer Professor Du Mingxin. After graduation, she taught fugue at the Central Minority Institution and also started to compose music for film soundtracks, TV, and theatre.
In the 1980’s, Liu Sola caught the attention of the Chinese cultural world with her debut novella You Have No Choice ( Ni Bie Wu Xuan Ze ). The novella deals with a group of highly gifted and individualistic music conservatory students, part of that 80‘s generation in China that produced so many brilliant writers, filmmakers, and composers. The work won the National Best Novella Award for 1985, and has remained an essential and exemplary text, the unofficial manifesto of culture in the 80’s; a text that successive generations of young Chinese readers continue to rediscover. (In 2017, Nanjing University Publisher has published her early literary work You Have no Choice in Chinese - English bilingual edition.) That same year (1985) Liu published two other novellas: Blue Sky, Green Sea, about the lives of pop/rock musicians, and the complex In Search of the King of Singers which moves between urban and rural settings and focuses on a musician obsessed with trying to understand the power of Chinese folk music. These novellas, ranging in subject matter from classical to pop to folk music, constitute Liu’s ‘music’ trilogy and established her place in the history of contemporary Chinese literature as a writer with a unique voice and sensibility.
In spite of her natural talent for writing, Liu Sola thinks of herself as first and foremost a musician. Even her literary texts are consciously structured along ‘musical’ lines. In early 1988, Liu completed China’s first rock opera with a libretto based on her novella Blue Sky, Green Sea. Soon after, at the height of her fame and success, she left China because she felt she had much more to learn.
In 1987, a year before arriving in London, Liu Sola was invited by the United States News Agency to visit the US as an international visitor. She was taken on a tour of 7 cities, but it was only when she was taken to meet Junior Wells and his musicians and heard their performance live that blues music really took hold. In 1989, one year after arriving in London, Liu went on a trip to Memphis. She spent 21 intense days in Memphis, working with and learning from local blues musicians,. …she composed and recorded the first ever blues-influenced Mainland Chinese song entitled ‘Reborn’. She wrote about her life-changing Memphis experience a few years later in her award-winning essay ‘Memphis Diary’ (1993).
Liu Sola remained in London until 1993, During that period, she had many opportunities to work with different kinds of artists in London, including British musicians like Justin Adams, John Collins, and Clive Bill, and the theatre duo Martin Coles and Martin Gent with whom she collaborated on the music drama Memories From the Middle Kingdom. This drama premiered at the ICA and toured the UK in 1990. The next year, Peter Gabriel invited her to take part in the Womad Festival, and she collaborated with artists like Pól Brennan And Mari Boine. The song she recorded for the Womad Festival was entitled ‘No Name, No Meaning’.
Though based in London, Liu never lost touch with art and music in China. In 1991, she went to Hong Kong to collaborate with director Danny Yung, who gave her a free hand to compose music for his avant-garde Zuni Theatre. Another project was the music she wrote for a modern dance drama June Snow created by choreographer Chiang Ching.
Like her work in music, the novel that Liu wrote in London Chaos and All That both acknowledges cultural diversity and provides a darkly comic critique of it. (The English version by Richard King that appeared in 1991 won the British Comparative Literature Association prize for best translation.)
In 1992, towards the end of her stay in London, Liu Sola was invited by Iowa University to join their famous Writers’ Program. She gave writing workshops in Iowa, and also lectured at other American Universities like Harvard, Cornell, Berkeley, Portland, and Minneapolis.
In 1993, Liu Sola left London for New York, a move greatly facilitated and enabled by her new manager Verna Gillis who had heard her perform in London, and she immediately arranged a series of important collaborations between Liu and some of New York’s best jazz and blues musicians. The first happy result of these collaborations was Blues in the East (Axiom Records/Polygram, 1995), her New York debut album. Bill Laswell was the producer, and twelve superb jazz and blues musicians including Henry Threadgill, James Blood Ulmer, and Umar Bin Hassan, as well as Amina Myers and Fernando Saunders, performed on the album. Shortly before the studio recordings, Liu had a work session with Ornette Coleman, and what she learnt about free jazz from the session was as decisive for her music as what she learnt from the blues.
Her next album China Collage (Avant Records, 1996) quite deliberately distanced itself from blues and free jazz, but only to demonstrate how thoroughly their influences have been absorbed. It is a work written for pipa and voice; but what appears to be a return to traditional Chinese music is in fact an uncompromisingly contemporary composition, as unfamiliar- sounding to Chinese as to Western ears. It is characterized by the singing, to a pipa accompaniment, of almost impossibly high-pitched notes and other strange sounds. In the first place, Liu is not just using her voice as an instrument; by taking singing to extremes, she is pushing the limits of voice as an instrument.
The following album Haunts ( 1998) would take the next step in this line of musical thinking, towards what she calls object-music. The scores she produced for tracks in this album like ‘Daddy’s Chair’ and ‘Witch’s Beads’ are visually striking, a radical departure from standard music scores. They can stand as examples of visual art in their own right. These scores take on the shapes of ordinary objects: a chair, a string of beads. However, it is important to understand that the aim here is the exact opposite of trying to bring music closer to representational art or to make it ‘less abstract’. Notating music as ‘object’ rather than on a standard grid formed of lines and chords already defamiliarises the way we can write music or follow a score. In 2017, the Tokyo Gallery (Beijing 798) commissioned as solo exhibition of her music score designs, curated by Yang Yingsheng.
As for the literature she produced in New York, Liu Sola finished in 2000, the historical/mythological novel Little Stories of the Great Ji Family It was published in Hong Kong by Ming Bao Publishers, and it has been selected for the Twentieth Century Contemporary Chinese Literature Collection. It has been translated into Italian as La Picolla Storia Della Famiglia Ji ( Einaudi), and into French as La Grande Île des Tortues – Cochons ( Seuil).
The direction of Liu Sola’s work now took her back to China, where she wrote the opera Fantasy of the Red Queen(2006). The work was commissioned by Berlin’s House of World Cultures and the Ensemble Modern, who in collaboration with the Liu Sola and Friends Ensemble gave the premier performance. Besides being the lead singer, Liu was also the dramaturge, the librettist, and the composer.
Her next chamber opera The Afterlife of Li Jiantong (2009), is both a deeply personal work and one where she develops further her understanding of Chinese music. The opera came about because the Barbican Centre in London, the Paul Hillier Theatre of Voice, and the Copenhagen Royal Opera House jointly commissioned a piece from her.
Besides the two operas, the project most important to Liu since her return to China has been the formation of Liu Sola & Friends Ensemble. (However she has not stopped writing, and her publications during this period include a bestselling collection of essays Lipstick Talk and a sophisticated novel Lost in Fascination set in New York about social/sexual relations; she even acted in and wrote the music for Ning Ying’s film Perpetual Motion). The Ensemble is made up of some of China’s best musicians. Part of her process of thinking has been documented in a ‘photo book’ now in press called The Nomadic Life of Sounds. The book, which also includes commentary and essays, reflects on her work with Chinese musicians and on how she gradually came up with guidelines for forming the Ensemble. 2017 also marks the first of a series of annual national tours by the Ensemble sponsored by the Poly Group/Poly Theatre. China.
Liu Sola ( aka: Liu Suola) , Composer, author, vocalist, music producer.
After graduating from the Central Conservatory of Music with a degree in composition, Liu Sola won the National Best Novella Award in 1988 with her best-selling novella You Have No Choice (1985). Since then, she has worked professionally as musician and writer.
Liu Sola has composed sound tracks for many Chinese and international films and written scores for TV, theatre , and modern dance productions. Her music ranges from works for symphony orchestras, ensembles, operas, and bands, to solo instrumental and vocal pieces. Her musical styles include classical and early music, as well as jazz, rock, traditional and contemporary music.
In 1988, under the auspices of the Washington News Agency, Liu Sola went to the USA as an international visitor. On the same trip, she was invited by the mayor of Columbus to visit the city as a guest writer. She was invited to the Iowa International Writers program in 1992; a member of BMG music publishing (1991-2002); an international board member of the House of World Cultures (HKW. Germany) from 2002-2006; curator for the Chinese Cultural Festival in Germany (music session); co-curator for the University of California’s UCHRI / SECT Seminar: “Designing China” in 2009; curator for the Cross Boundary Music/Inter-Media Forum at the annual Beijing Modern Music Festival (2011-12); and a member of Edition·S music¬sound¬art (2010 -). She has also served as an Honorary Professor for the Urban Design School at the Central Academy of Art in Beijing (2015 -16), and curator for the Pompidou Center / France and Chengdu /China music festival (2018-19).
Liu Sola was the librettist and composer of the first Chinese rock opera Blue Sky Green Seas in 1988, a work based on her award wining novella of the same name. In 1989, she collaborated with Memphis-based blues musicians to record what is perhaps the first-ever mainland Chinese Blues song "Reborn". Her first US album Blues In The East (1994. produced by Bill Laswell) was in the "Spotlight" position on Billboard, and it remained for many weeks in the top 10 of the New World Music chart (USA & UK). In her following album China Collage ( 1996, produced by Bill Laswell), she established a new music style by giving highly contemporary interpretations to the sound of ancient Chinese traditional music. Her early albums also include Haunts, June Snow, Sola&Friend, and Apparitions. She co-produced a best selling album BGM16 for MUJI/Japan, which included her composition Da Hu Jia (2011), a suite for piano. Darkness & Light, a Liu Sola & Friends ensemble live outdoor concert recording, was released in 2013. Tiger and Rabbit Dance, another live concert recording, was released in 2017.
Between 1988 to 2003, she collaborated with many legendary musicians in UK and New York, such as the Durutti Column, Jastin Adams, Paul Brennon, Bill Laswell, Amina C. Myers, Fernando Saunders, and Phooroan aKlaff. In 2003, with support from HKW Germany, she founded the Liu Sola & Friends Chinese Ensemble, made up mainly of top Chinese instrumental soloists. Over the past years, the Liu Sola & Friends Ensemble has become a highlight group for many major festivals around the world. The Ensemble has performed Liu Sola's compositions for the award winning modern dance and music drama Jue - Awaken, choreographed by Jinzi & Luo Lili; and the soundtracks for the award winning film Thirteen Princes Trees directed by Lv Yue. Over the last 10 years, Liu Sola taught her classically trained ensemble musicians to do improvisation. The ensemble has not only played with the top traditional Chinese instrumentalists , but also with innovative Chinese rock and contemporary musicians. The virtuoso performances of this ensemble and their unique music style has been attracting more and more young Chinese people. The live performance video of the ensemble’s 2015 new year concert appeared in Liu Sola’s interview with CNTV English News ICON program in the spring of 2015. In 2017, the ensemble started a national tour, and in 2018-19, the ensemble performed the opening and closing performances at the Pompidou (France) & Chengdu (China) Music Festival in China.
Besides her compositions for concerts, her most important music works include operas such as the chamber opera Fantasy of the Red Queen (2006), performed by the Ensemble Modern/Germany and the Liu Sola & Friends ensemble. Liu Sola is the librettist and music composer, as well as the artistic director, costume designer and leading vocalist. Another chamber opera The Afterlife of Li Jiantong (2009) written in baroque and ancient Chinese music style, is a work dedicated to her mother, a Chinese political-historical writer. Liu Sola is the librettist and the music composer. This piece was commissioned by the Barbican Centre London, the Danish Royal Opera and the Paul Hillier/Theatre of Voices, and performed by the Theatre of Voices. More recently, inspired by Chinese traditional rhythms, she has composed a drum & percussions suite China Beat , for a Chinese drum group. These new compositions were performed by her ensemble at the Beijing International Music Festival 2015.
As an award-winning writer, Liu Sola's fictions have been translated into many different languages. Blue Sky Green Sea was published by Renditions in Hong Kong in 1993 and Chaos and All That was published by Hawaii University Press in 1994. This work was written in 1989 when she was living in London. The English translation, by Richard King, was awarded First Prize for translation by the British Comparative Literature Association. A collection of her stories was translated into Japanese and published by Xin Chao Publishers in Japan in 1997. Her most important political/ mythological novel Da Ji Jia de Xiao Gu was published by Hong Kong Mingbao publisher in 2000 , then published in China in 2003 under the name Nv Zhen Tang. It has been translated into Italian as La Piccola Storia Della Grande Famiglia Ji, published by Einaudi Publishers in Italy in 2009. This novel has also been translated into French as La Grande Ile Des Tortues-cochons published by Seuil in Paris in 2006. Her other writings include best-selling essay collections such as Liu Sola on the Move ( which was on Asia Weekly’s top charts), Lipstick Talk and so on. The Chinese Writers’ Publishers published her novel Lost in Fascination in 2011.
FILM AND DESIGN
Liu Sola has also been involved in film and design. She acted in and co-wrote Ning Ying's film Wu Qiong Dong (Perpetual Motion), as well as composed the music sound track. She was invited to join Japan's Muji shopping bag design series (along with artists such as Ai Weiwei and Zhang Yonghe). Her music scores have been exhibited in China and Germany as graphic art, and a solo exhibition of her scores was presented at the Tokyo Gallery in Beijing in 2017. Her experimental vocal art won the Yuandian Award (2021) of the Yuandian Art Museum.
From 2019 to 2022, Liu Sola has been quite seriously ill. During her recovery in 2022, she accepted an invitation from the Beijing International Music Festival and the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra to compose a symphonic piece The Legend of Monkey King. She regards this creative process as a celebration of life.