Li Yilei is a conceptual artist working in the mediums of sound, performance, and installation. Their boundary-noncompliant work explores sensory perception and experience through sound. Yilei’s upcoming album, ‘Secondary Self’, is out this August on LTR records, and is a triumphant challenge to any kind of straightforward description. The pieces within it are buzzing with activity and focus, with a visceral immediacy. It is all at once frenetic yet harmonious, animated yet serene.
Demented Goddess [DG]: Your new album, Secondary Self is populated with ‘found’ or field-recorded sounds. Many of us experience sensory overload in exposure to sound, but in your work these sounds find a peaceful, conversational flow with each other, and the boundaries between organic, digital, found and produced all seem to melt down. How do you cultivate your non-hierarchical appreciation of sound?
I think when we start labelling sound or our encountering with prejudice – segregating and sorting them into negative or positive traits – it makes it hard to truly listen, and therefore difficult to find harmony and unity within them.
Since I didn’t come from a traditional music background and I wasn’t classically trained as a musician, my approach to sound is more intuitive and without rules. I would say I listen to sound more inclusively. I’m referring to how a sharp noise is no different than a bird chirping, the sound of the wind can sound melodious and rhythmic. All sounds flow uniquely, and it is about finding the frequency that resonates with you and your path.
DG: Sensory processing is a significant drive in your approach to creating your work. Would you say your ability to arrange sounds in art helps you to process, or even appreciate, the “uninvited sounds” populating our world ?
Yes definitely. I used to get panic and meltdown episodes whenever I encountered sensory overload in public, so I always carry some form of recording devices; a phone, recorder, or camera. I started to document and record ‘sounds’ that trigger me. It has become a therapeutic practice and a coping mechanism. It gives me a sense of control over these uninvited sounds by organising and collecting them into my sound bank. This process shifts these sounds from an intimidating and overwhelming aspect of daily life to something that serves my creative purpose.
DG: I’m curious to know if the title “Secondary Self”, refers to a kind of secondary consciousness, or way of being? How would you describe your own concept of the Secondary Self?
It is an othered self that refers to a self that is outside of my current perception – a metaphorical indication of the mere existence of the ‘self’.
The name ‘secondary self’ comes from the track ‘secondary self ‘ which was an improvised piece that portrays a trance-like state where the sense of ‘self’ was perishing, dissolving into the union of bliss and emptiness. This track was composed many years ago. It was accidental – a mimicry of the stream of consciousness.
DG: Though the album certainly has moments which could be described as ‘dreamy’, it has a sense of being very alert, of waking up, of being ‘switched on’. Is there something in particular that you wish to awaken your listener to?
The tracks in this album were made earlier on in my career, back then I did not have much intention to serve or awaken the listener to, and was more about capturing moments as I perceived it. So, this might be born of something more self-serving and intrinsic to myself. To be honest, till now, I wouldn’t say I have anything particular that I wish to awaken my listener to, nor I have the expectation for the listeners to be evoked or affected by my music.
I see the relationship between my work and listeners as coincidental meetings that happen within the law of impermanence. Much like fleeting emotions and moments in life – each individual’s experience is very different, it is not in my intention to direct or persuade the listeners to feel certain things while listening to my music. However, moments of alert and emergencies can be heard in this album. On tracks in this album which were mostly made a few years ago – a period of time when I tended to document my emotions in the most aggressive and raw way – I guess that has been shown in this album.
DG: The design of ‘space’ in your audio work is wonderful. It has a vivid synaesthesia to it which feels experimentally cinematic at times. What does it mean to you, as an artist and activist, to be able to express with such immediacy to others?
It is a blessing for me that listeners are able to be immersed into the soundscape of the tracks and be able to interpret it in such ways that are informed by their background and interactions. For me that is the best form of communication, to put something out – a message or an image – that can then be taken away and built upon. This may even have the potential to mend gaps and disparities
DG: What are some of the gaps and disparities that you most wish to mend through your work?
The biggest disparity is my communication with those around me including my family, friends, and the wider society. This communication I am referring to can be spiritual, daily, verbal, etc. I used to describe my state as a muted state, or one of being unheard. In my daily social interactions, I find it hard to convey my thoughts in person due to my neurodivergence. Words can often be misunderstood, and meanings may be lost, and this is something that goes both ways. My creative practice is a free space where people can be invited in through non-verbal communication without consequences, and form meaningful connections, however fleeting. By communicating through my work, it is something that cannot be misinterpreted as it is very subjective and free, and audiences can take away anything they want from it.
Secondary Self is out on 26 August 2022
Li Yilei was talking to Caoimhe Lavelle
Main picture by Joan Low
Instagram: Li Yilei
Instagram: Caoimhe Lavelle