Journey to the West

XL Recordings

We don’t get that many Chinese opera soundtracks here at Ink 19, but when we do, it’s a special occasion. This soundtrack represents a collaboration between Chen Shi-Zheng, director of Journey to the West in London this summer, and Damon Albarn of the enigmatic virtual band, Gorillaz. I can’t comment on the opera itself, as all I have in hand is the soundtrack, but it features the traditional clang and clash of Chinese cymbals in a pentatonic scale and the incense-like waft of Western urban musical decay. The combination of East and West is dissonant at first, but eventually reveals in internal logic that means hip-hop-influenced Chinese Opera could be the next new musical mania, or might slip into the dustbin of “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

The plot behind this opera comes from a 16th century Chinese tale, “Journey to the West,” by Wu Cheng’en. In it, Monkey comes to life and becomes obsessed with immortality. In a tale dripping with Joseph Campbell symbolism, he battles monsters, explores caves, defeats princesses along with his companions Pigsy and Sandy, and makes it to India where he becomes a Buddha. I’m leaving out the details here, but it sounds like a rip-roaring adventure.

It’s hard to recommend this as casual listening, but if you like Western opera and are ready to step out into something sung in a weird voice and a foreign language, this might be a safe first step. If don’t you know Mandarin Opera, this is how it sounds when Westerners polish off the rough edges. Either way, it’s an interesting and unusual soundtrack for the 21st century.


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