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Gao Ping: The Four Not-Alik...Embedded video
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"The Four Not-Alike" (Si Bu Xiang in Chinese) is the vernacular name for Elaphurus Davidianus, a Chinese animal called Mi Lu, also known as David's Deer. Si Bu Xiang (meaning literally "The Four Not-Alike") refers to the fact that David's Deer looks, in part, like four other animals - deer, cow, horse, and camel - yet cannot be comfortably categorised with any one of these species. As an expression, "Si Bu Xiang" has a connotation of impurity, or hybridism, a derogatory term now widely used independent of its original reference to the animal.
I was ignorant of the origin of Si Bu Xiang when I chose the title of this piece. However, I feel that it describes the composition very well, whose character is truly "The Four Not-Alike", being neither European/Western nor Chinese/Asian, neither wholly 'art music' nor 'folkloric.' Indeed, the combination of piano and Chinese instruments produces a hybrid, a sort of bastard creation. Furthermore, the soloist plays the piano quite unlike a conventional pianist, as well as vocalising along the way; he reaches into the instrument touching this and hitting that, accompanying himself with shouts and whistling. It all seems rather inappropriate, impure! Si Bu Xiang feels like a fitting title.
My reaches into the origin of Si Bu Xiang revealed that David's Deer is an extremely rare animal. Facing near extinction, it now receives far more attention than any of the four animals it resembles, thus rescuing its reputation from its former unjustly despised status. As an old Chinese saying has it, "Value is measured by rarity". So, my self-deprecating title suddenly takes on an unintended, almost opposite meaning. Isn't this self-boasting even more inappropriate!
Notes by Gao Ping.
09 Mar 2014: Performed by the Forbidden City Chamber Orchestra, conductor Liu Shun with Gao Ping, piano. Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington.