The electronic artist Li Yilei releases their debut album, ‘Unabled Form’ on LTR records on 28th February. Physical and urban life saturate consciousness in compositions that blend field recordings with eerie, urgent, spiralling rhythms.
Li Yilei grew up with undiagnosed autism and sensory disorders. Yilei now grounds themselve, in moments of anxiety, by counting the tempo and structures of inflamed sounds. In Yilei’s music, this gives rise to an demanding and visceral enquiry of being. We discussed Yilei’s experience of creating living and open-ended order from disorder and how dreams and reality can be the same.
The Demented Goddess (DG): ‘A Field of Social Tension’ might be described as psychedelic techno at its most abstract, minimal and haunting. Do you use music to transform your experience, or to get closer to it
While I was making this album, I wanted to hear how my sound would be described and categorised. I do not see myself as a musician but more of someone who maps, collages, tell stories and makes poetry out of sound. ‘A Field of Social Tension’ was my favourite track because I did this track on a sampler in one go. It was a moment that I was trying to capture at that time, and almost like a trip. I have played this song several times during gigs, and on the contrary to the rest of my tracks, I’ve had to just hit play because I wanted to show to the audience how raw that moment was. It is almost like telling the same story to different people each time.
Where does form begin and end, for you?
Form begins with an end.
‘Where do they come from when they arises?
Where do they go when they perish”
– this was the title of one of my sculpture installations from a few years back, and that kind of shows my interpretation of form.
Is it true your mother was a Buddhist nun? How has that influenced how you responded to the world?
Yes my mother was ordained as a Buddhist nun slightly over a decade ago. She was an artist herself. Later, she extended her pursuit in spiritual enlightenment and became a nun.
It influenced me a lot. I grew up with Buddhist philosophies such as impermanence, emptiness, and the understanding of oneself. I grew up as a very indifferent child in terms of ideology and values. To others, they might see a lot of Buddhist imprints on me and the way I think, but to me, it’s just what I grew up with, it’s my norm.
Growing up on the autism spectrum and undiagnosed till adulthood, I have been suffering from severe sensory processing disorders, executive dysfunction, social problems and anxiety attacks. With the practice of Buddhism and meditation, it helped me surpass a lot of these difficulties. It influenced the way I contemplate the world too.
In ‘Flow Scale’ we hear city sounds from, as it were, life at different levels: road traffic, quietly resonating synth keyboard chords and what might be a squeaking gate or playground swing. What everyday sounds tend to attract you the most?
As I mentioned above, my sensory processing disorders are a blessing in disguise, in this case. Everything in life is heightened, amplified. Sometimes in public, when I get too overwhelmed by my surroundings, I can hear the traffic lights, car horns, people laughing, multiple conversations, flickering lights etc. all at the same time and am unable to block things out. I tend to calm myself down by listening to them as music. When I’m in a place with loud music, I focus on counting the bars, tempo etc. and deconstruct the sounds, to calm myself down.
After while I started to record them, as a form of documentation and taking control. These fragments of sounds then become materials for me to use in my sound bank.
What is more important to you, dreams or reality?
Dreams and reality are the same. They’re only different depending where you place yourself. I try to stay in the middle.
‘A Star Without Guidance’ is a sci-fi flit that makes the alien seem both known and unknowable. A piercing, piping call and pattering heartbeat suggest a being that is trying to communicate but whose beauty will survive whether or not we can understand it. How important is it to you to be understood?
My words, my presentation of self, my social interactions, always fail in real life. Verbal or social communication to me is very difficult, and I have come to accept that I communicate better through formless matter. Music /sound mapping has been a way for me to reach out and form a bond with the outside world.
There’s a lot of repetition in ‘A Star Without Guidance’ as well as my other tracks. I am very attracted to repetition. I often have one word, one sentence, one scene, one image etc. repeating in my head.
As a kid I used to recite a lot of mantras. I have found myself learning and growing through repetition. Repetition thrives on a sense of clarity through simplicity, and simplicity often reveals deeper means.
Li Yilei performs on Friday 20 March at Iklektic, London SE1 7LG. Unabled Form is out 28 February.