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Issue 200

Colin Siyuan Chinnery on Peter Cusack

‘Over the radio, he asked listeners a simple question: what is your favourite sound of Beijing?’

BY Colin Siyuan Chinnery in Fan Letter , Music | 25 JAN 19

Bibi Heybat oilfield, Azerbaijan, 2004, photograph taken by Peter Cusack whilst recording the album Sounds from Dangerous Places, 2012. Courtesy: Peter Cusack

In 2004, I invited Peter Cusack to make a work for ‘Sound and the City’, an experimental music/sound art project for the British Council in Beijing. This was my first real curatorial project and a rebellion against the ‘output’-driven programmes beloved of British Council management at the time. I decided to attempt a non-glamorous, out-there project that mainstream media would run a mile from. Artists and musicians would love it, I thought. Instead, the exact opposite came true. Artists thought it was music and musicians thought it was art. Both largely ignored it. The mainstream media, however, went nuts. They loved it. Mostly, it turned out, because of Peter Cusack. Over Beijing radio, he asked listeners a simple question: what is your favourite sound of Beijing? The answers people gave opened onto all kinds of issues, from the mundane beauty of everyday life to remembered histories and shared experience. Many years later, I started a long-term project, Sound Museum, making a history of Beijing using only sound. The project started almost by accident but grew in direct response to the amount of public interest it attracted. In a way, Sound Museum is simply continuing a conversation Cusack started 15 years ago.

Colin Siyuan Chinnery is an artist and curator based in Beijing, China, and a contributing editor of frieze. In November 2018, his work Hawkers Refrain was unveiled as the first permanent public sound installation in China.