About this Recording
76037-2 - CHINA - Man Wu: From a Distance - Pipa Music

Throughout my career I have always loved a challenge and always believed that the pipa, in

Throughout my career I have always loved a challenge and always believed that the pipa, in principle, is no different than any other musical instrument in terms of its musical expression. The pipa belongs not only to the Chinese classical repertoire, but also to the rest of the world.

Since I moved to the West, I have collaborated with many wonderful musicians and composers. With them, I have taken the pipa in many different directions. These collaborations have given me a tremendous musical experience. In this improvisational album, I wanted to see how far the pipa could go, and how diverse my musical style could be. That is why I made this album.

Though I enjoy playing both traditional pieces and contemporary works, my most intense curiosity is with improvisation. It gives me so much freedom to express myself in so many ways. I would like to introduce all Naxos World listeners to my version of the new pipa music.

Thanks go to all the following people:

My husband Peng and my lovely son Vincent for their inspiration and support. Dolores Canavan and her predecessor, Andrew Sun, at Naxos World. Special thanks to Abel Domingues, Stuart Dempster, DJ Tamara, David Kumin, Stewart Lerman, John Schaefer, Alan Thwaits, David Harrington and my manager Colette Domingues, who have given so much to this project. Finally, to my father, Wu Guo Ting, for allowing me to use his beautiful painting for the CD cover.


Wu Man is an internationally renowned pipa virtuoso, cited by the Los Angeles Times as ‘the artist most responsible for bringing the pipa to the Western World.’ She is an inheritress of the Pudong School of pipa playing, one of the most prestigious classical styles of Imperial China and is a graduate of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. Wu Man is the first recipient of a master’s degree in pipa and is not only an outstanding exponent of the traditional repertoire, but is also recognized as a leading interpreter of contemporary pipa music.

Born in Hangzhou, China, Wu Man studied with Lin Shicheng, Kuang Yuzhong, Chen Zemin, and Liu Dehai at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. She currently lives in Boston where she was selected as a Bunting Fellow at Radcliffe Institute of Harvard University. Wu Man was selected by Yo-Yo Ma as the winner of the City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protegé Prize in music and communication. Wu Man is also the first artist from China to have performed at the White House with the noted cellist with whom she now performs in the Silk Road Project.

When in China, Wu Man received many awards, including the first prize in the 1st National Music Performance Competition. She also participated in many groundbreaking premieres of exciting works by a new generation of Chinese composers. Since moving to the USA, she has continued to champion new works and has inspired new pipa literature from composers Terry Riley, Philip Glass, Lou Harrison, Tan Dun, Bright Sheng, Chen Yi and Zhou Long.

Recently, scientists have begun to revise their view of evolution. Evidence now suggests that evolution is not a slow, gradual process; it actually occurs in relatively quick bursts of energy — nothing much happens for a time, then a change of environment suddenly prompts a surge of activity. That certainly seems to be the case with the pipa. This collection of works by Wu Man captures the ancient Chinese lute at a time when it is being utterly transformed.

The pipa has had a long and notable history. (One of the more notable features of that history is that unlike so many of the world’s music traditions, which were restricted to men, Chinese instruments like the pipa have been played by women for more than a thousand years. In that particular aspect of evolution, the pipa was far ahead of, for example, the guitar.) But the world changed dramatically in the 20th century, with its new transportation and media technology, and in the hands of Wu Man, the pipa has exploded beyond its traditional boundaries.

That doesn’t mean that Wu Man is dragging the instrument, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. The pipa is made for this sort of thing: it sports an enormous repertoire of strumming, plucking, and smacking techniques, so that in many traditional works the pipa seems almost percussive in some spots, almost orchestral in others. Its scalloped neck means the player can create all sorts of microtonal effects. In short, it is full of possibilities, just waiting for the right hands to coax them out of the instrument.

Wu Man has already played everything from the Elizabethan Englishman John Dowland to Terry Riley’s In C, and has commissioned and premiered new works for the pipa. Now, on Pipa: From A Distance, she offers a tantalizing glimpse into the world of contemporary pipa music. Wondering what the pipa would sound like if it were combined, say, with an Australian didgeridoo? Or played with John Cage-style "preparations" on the strings? Or bowed like a cello instead of plucked? You can stop wondering and start listening: Wu Man’s already done it.

— John Schaefer


Based on a love song I heard when I was a child.

©2003 Wu Man (ASCAP) & Abel Domingues (ASCAP)

Wu Man: pipa / Stewart Dempster: bells / Abel Domingues: e-bow guitar, samples, audio manipulations


The melody used here is a popular street-dance tune from

the Northern part of China.

©2003 Wu Man (ASCAP), Stuart Dempster (ASCAP),

Abel Domingues (ASCAP) & Tamara Weikel (ASCAP)

Wu Man: pipa / Abel Domingues: plectrum banjo, samples/beats / Stewart Dempster: didgeridoo / DJ Tamara: turntables, additional samples

Ancient Shadows

I have always wondered how the pipa would sound if I played it with a bow. The technique is rather difficult — the pipa has a flat bridge, not an arched one like a cello or violin — but I feel the sound is very soulful. During the session I imagined I was laying down on a green grassland under the blue sky. I closed my eyes and the music took me back, far away...

©2003 Wu Man (ASCAP) & Stuart Dempster (ASCAP)

Wu Man: bowed pipa / Stewart Dempster: rainstick, bird calls


I like to think of the pipa as a teller of stories. Here, she is telling

the story of my long journey from China to the West.

©2003 Wu Man (ASCAP), Stuart Dempster (ASCAP)

& Abel Domingues (ASCAP)

Wu Man: pipa / Stewart Dempster: didgeridoo, shaker /

Abel Domingues: samples/beats

Hangzhou Blues

I have waited a long time for an opportunity to experiment with electrifying the pipa. On this track, inspired by Jimi Hendrix, I played the pipa through a wah wah pedal which Abel showed me how to use. HangZhou is my hometown. I dream about it all the time.

©2003 Wu Man (ASCAP) & Abel Domingues (ASCAP)

Wu Man: electric pipa / Stewart Dempster: ocarina /

Abel Domingues: samples/beats

Vincent’s Tune

Based on a little song my son Vincent sings often at home.

When I asked him where he heard the tune, he said "I don't know,

I made it up, really, Mommy".

©2003 Wu Man (ASCAP)

Wu Man: pipas / Vincent Wang: toy piano, singing / Stewart Dempster: didgeridoo, bicycle horn / Abel Domingues: samples/beats

Crescent Moon Over the Mountain

The title comes from a Tang Dynasty poem. I chose it because

I often think of the moon over the mountains of my hometown.

©2003 Wu Man (ASCAP), Stuart Dempster (ASCAP)

& Abel Domingues (ASCAP)

Wu Man: pipa / Stewart Dempster: trombone, didgeridoo /

Abel Domingues: e-bow guitar, samples

Ambushed Again

This was inspired by the military style of 'Ambush From All Sides',

the well-known classical pipa composition. Here, it almost sounds

like a rock guitar piece.

©2003 Wu Man (ASCAP)

Wu Man: pipa solo

Full Circle

During the session, Stuart, Abel, Tamara and I enjoyed falling

into spontaneous jam sessions. This one was great fun, especially

when we got to play the toys!

©2003 Wu Man (ASCAP), Stuart Dempster (ASCAP),

Abel Domingues (ASCAP) & Tamara Weikel (ASCAP)

Wu Man: pipa, toys / Stewart Dempster: chanting, bicycle horn, garden

hose, toys / Abel Domingues: wah-wah and slide guitars, samples, toys /

DJ Tamara: turntables, piano guts, toys

From A Distance

A solo piece recorded at home, late at night. The sound is very simple,

and far away…as if we are hearing it from a distance…

©2003 Wu Man (ASCAP)

Wu Man: pipa solo

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