We had the good fortune of connecting with Anqi Liu and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Anqi, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I have a relatively tough childhood which fostered a strong and independent personality in me. It is the artistic career to make music with people that bring a gentle light beam to me. I firstly struggled and ended up going the law school for a degree. I still tried to make music and tried to have my music alive in the almost impossible circumstance even though I was in a complete vacuum. It is one time in your life; you are absolutely certain of who you are. Those challenges and my passion for making music enable me to clearly see that I can only be a composer rather than anything else. I don’t feel I have an alternative.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am a composer, but my approach to composition is to avoid composing. This means I don’t set up the conventional hierarchical relationship between the composer and the performer. Although, my score is notated in a meticulous format with plenty of details apart myself from indeterminacy and chance. People sometimes ask me, if the composition and this unbalanced weight between the composer and the performer are fundamentally bothering, why do I keep using a conventional way of notation. This is because I consider the score as a language to communicate with musicians. Even though a conventionally notated score might set limits for my original intuition unpacking, it’s even more significant to communicate efficiently with musicians who bring those intuitions alive. My score is not conventional in the way that it functions as a heuristic. It is, therefore, not to present what the music should be like, nor what the music the composer wants to be like, but rather, through the heuristic, the final process is through the performer’s perspective. It is, therefore, the performer’s view, while practicing in their space with the score, distilling the core of how this music should be like; it’s a co-decision and collaboration without a corporeal, physical media, transcending temporality and space. This approach is closely tied to my early background as a composer, including the rather challenging experience of being a creative composer in my home country’s university system. This conditions me always to seek out original approaches that operate somewhat inside the boundaries of the musical mainstream. In China, musical resources are only available in a limited number of conservatories. As an undergraduate student at a Chinese university, it was almost impossible to navigate a relationship with performers if someone like me wanted to compose music entirely apart from the convention. But, at the time, my aspiration to be a creative composer was so strong that I couldn’t give up on the only one chance to hear my music become alive. I started talking to performers individually, not as the relationship of the performer- composer but more like an intimate conversation between two humans. I started acknowledging their challenges in all aspects of life and became really close and even personal friends. From there, I began to guide them into my sonic imagination and take the experimental journey together. I appreciate these almost impossible challenges in my life. Because they enable me to realize how much I want to be an artist to create music. They also taught me to collaborate and communicate with people who live in a completely different world and realize how particular and diverse each individual is. These unique experiences, as I mentioned, further guide me to find my voice when composing.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I like to see ship lights at the port near the South Embarcadero Park at midnight. Lake Cuyamaca has the most poetic milky way I have ever seen in my life. Sometimes, in the daytime, clouds and mist that move above the lake and the surrounding mountain are about artworks. Seashores at Del Mar has the mellow moonset. Anza-Borrego Desert area is spectacularly desolated that inspires deeply.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I want to thank my first music teacher Mr. Horchin-huu, a Mongolian musicologist who taught me to play the piano and sing as well as appreciate indigenous Mongolian songs since 4. I want to thank my mentors and friends at the UC San Diego music department. Within the five years of my Ph.D. journey, they generously support me and inspire me greatly. I want to thank my parents. They themselves are models to show me to love, to contribute, and always to take responsibility. I also want to thank many teachers and friends who support me through the journey of making arts– such a unique and, mostly, challenging career. Without them, I cannot survive.