Review

Pi Sound 琶聲 by Chloe Yu Nong Lin

Monastral

Album

Released March 1, 2021

Electronic / Traditional / Experimental

In Lin's hands, the traditional pipa is rejuvenated with a futuristic, cyberpunk energy allowing it to withstand the tests of time

Words by:

Jex Wang

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Published on:

May 2021

I stumbled across this album during one of my Bandcamp digs as I was reading an article on “The Best Experimental Music in March”. I am familiar with the pipa, a Chinese lute as I’d seen them in Chinese TV shows and traditional music that I consumed growing up. However I wouldn’t say I’m the most well versed in the instrument but I was very curious about what the pipa would mean in the scope of “Experimental Music”.  As soon as I clicked the first track on the album “Transition”, I was lured into an immersive experience of uncertainty, suspense, oscillating between feelings of chaos and calmness. 
As you listen through this album, you can almost feel the strumming and plucks of the pipa in your spine. The way Lin uses the instrument, she is able to create suspense and anticipation as if she’s gripping onto my hand as I listen to it. Not in a way where she’s forcing me to listen, but more in a way where I don’t want to let go.
In some parts such as the track “Unacclimated”, the subtle pipa sounds kind of create a knocking sensation in your ears, reminding you that what you are listening has more depth than you immediately recognise. The way you are then able to descend into the track is reflective on how Lin can create multiple textures and spaces within her music. Sonically, her sounds are able to occupy whatever space they have and as you delve deeper into her music with each pluck of the pipa, at times you almost feel like you’re listening to her album underwater. 
Another notable track is “Still In the Ghost Mouth”. Lin creates such a tense atmosphere that I found myself changing my breathing with each strum of the pipa. Not only can you hear the different hand techniques used on the pipa but you can also feel the movements through you. 
As an electroacoustic composer who improvises with the pipa, Lin combines both elements in a way where they perfectly compliment each other. The foundations she sets with electronic effects such as reverb fits with her use of pipa perfectly. This is really heard in “Fluorescent Flow”: you can hear the electronic energy coursing through the track whilst the pipa smoothly flows over it. 
I feel like if I was a cloud, I would listen to this album as I spent my time morphing between different cloud formations whilst I rotated throughout the different layers of the Earth’s atmosphere. That is the energy Lin gives off as you listen through this album. Ending with “BRB From The Moon” , the track is as suspenseful and captivating as the beginning, completing the cycle of the shapes, movements, emotions and space she created with her sounds. 
Pipa, known as a traditional instrument that is almost 2000 years old is rejuvenated with Lin’s album “Pi Sound 琶聲”. This album has given the pipa a futuristic, almost cyberpunk element to it, and for someone who only knew of the pipa in the traditional sense, I now think this instrument could stand the test of time with the right musician. Overall, this is one of my favourite finds this year during one of my aimless wonders around the internet. 
Chloe Yu Nong Lin is from Taipei, Taiwan. This album was recorded in Chicago and released through Monastral, a creative arts label.