Edition of 50.* Hugjiltu plays the guitar with five strings. Not used to the standard chord-forms of Western guitar, he invented his own system of tuning, combining the three-string Mongolian lute and the two-string horsehead fiddle, both of which he started playing as a child. These five strings epitomise his relationship with the music from within the Mongolian ethnic tradition and with the music beyond, a state of artistic composure few in his generation have achieved.
Hailing from a musical family in Jarud Banner, Inner Mongolia, Hugjiltu came to be known as one of China’s most prolific world music veterans in the first fifteen years of his career. He toured extensively around the globe, first as a member of Hanggai and then as a leader of his own group, Ajinai. This success came with a growing bitterness towards the specific type of “Mongolian sound” his bands are habituated to playing, a sound constrained by the imagination of otherness from within the centre. Tired of performing an idealised, distant “world”, Hugjiltu opted to use his musical mother-tone to speak to the real world he lives in. After Ajinai disbanded, he shifted to a predominantly solo improvisational approach, questioning what it means to be of Mongolian descendant here and now.
Cycle was recorded in early 2020, all tracks are fully improvised except for “Reservoir”, which is based on a traditional Kazakh melody. Besides his specially tuned guitars, Hugjiltu employs a selection of traditional instruments: the Tsuur (Mongolian end-blown flute), the Morin Khuur (horsehead fiddle), and Khoomei (throat singing), backgrounding them with airy synth effects and spontaneous field recordings. The album’s scene is set in a day in life, navigating through a series of urban and suburban spaces, which also guide the listener along Hugjiltu’s regular commute. The journey starts from Mount Elephant, a name playfully given by inhabitants of the “painters village” in the suburb of north Beiing, where Hugjiltu also lives, and heads towards the heart of the city, crossing the Deshengmen tower gate on the vibrant 2nd Ring Road; and yet the album does not give only a one-way ticket. The two sides of the tape are designed to play recurrently as the traveller shifts between the metropolis and the mountainside, and between a meditative subject who gazes internally and an unreserved spirit who reaches out to the wide social world.
This is the everyday story of an expatriate and wanderer, but also a person who finds peace in the rotating cycle that is life. For but one moment in time, the old tradition lays its burden down and breathes calmly. Listen.