Summer Lei’s Gently Eclectic Spectacle
It’s not just her music that’s eclectic, but her very inspiration. The JUE Fest’s climactic weekend features Taiwanese ‘musical poet’ Summer Lei, who blends intimate lyrics with gentle backing piano and searing violins on recorded songs like “Homeland.” Her live performances are a hodgepodge of sonnets, melancholy harmonies, and flickering slide shows. Below, Summer Lei details the value of her shows’ assorted components and her music’s mixed muses – drawing on everything from simple changes in weather to the political tensions between China and Japan, Israel and Palestine.
What is the latest thing that has inspired you to write fresh lyrics?
I recently had a dream about being back one morning at my university campus. My friends and I, we all had so many points to prove. Then rain fell gently and landed on our arms – it was very cool, a dream of clear air. There was the scent of the grassland, and our world was about to begin. This was a gentle dream, and when I woke up, some new song ideas started to emerge.
You're a musical poet. Do you see music and poetry as being two different things, or one and the same?
I feel that music and poetry are two different things, but they can often invoke each other. They can pump each other up, and in turn show the enthusiasm of the whole world.
Tell me about your collaboration with American jazz pianist Uri Caine. How is he a unique artist?
Uri is of an older generation, and he helped me in ways he may not know. Before I met him I was still stuck in this idea that my music needed precisely constructed details. But during our live and recorded performances he taught me the importance of improvisation, how it was freeing, because his career went from classical training to jazz lightness. He helped me easily cross strict boundaries.
How did you first come across Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto's work?
Sakamoto was my favorite musician in high school. I loved his work after seeing director Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence – a film that starred David Bowie. Sakamoto composed original music for the movie on a synthesizer. He had a very forward perspective.
Have China’s tensions with Japan ever hindered your absorption of Sakamoto's work? Did any of your classmates tease you for listening to a Japanese artist?
Let me put it this way – I love this book called Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society. It’s by this Israeli-born conductor named Daniel Barenboim and a Palestinian-American scholar named Edward W. Said. They write very thoroughly about the hatreds between their cultures. They also write about co-founding the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra of young musicians from both Israel and the Arab world. Barenboim said their music is "not a project for peace, it’s a fight against ignorance."
Tell me more about your own collaborations, especially the visual components of your shows.
Typically I use a projector to show friends’ drawn illustrations or videos. They are my very favorite artists, and we can work together to create a mysterious fantasy world. With their paintings and my singing, I feel very safe.