Forrest Fang is a Bay Area multi-instrumentalist and composer whose recordings have been released on the Projekt, Cuneiform and Ominous Thud labels. His roots are in the eclectic progressive music scene of the 70s and the DIY cassette culture scene of the 1980s. In addition to studying electronic music and composition with Tom Hamilton and Roland Jordan at Washington University in St. Louis, Fang has studied Chinese classical music with zheng (Chinese zither) player Zhang Yan from mainland China, gagaku (ancient Japanese court music) with former Imperial Court musician Suenobu Togi and gamelan with Balinese composer I Wayan Sujana. He has composed stage scores for multi-media theater group George Coates Performance Works and for contemporary shadow theater. Mr. Fang also recorded a synthesizer-based album with guitarist/dobroist Carl Weingarten and has been a recurring guest musician on recordings by ambient composer Robert Rich.
I started making music as a teenager for fun, experimenting with tape loops on my parents' open reel tape recorder and creating odd sounds from feedback generated from incorrectly configured audio equipment. My parents were probably grateful that that phase didn't last too long. In college, I was deeply influenced by the eclectic progressive music scene of the 70s, by Brian Eno's studio-based experimental works, such as Discreet Music and Music For Airports, and by the minimalist compositions of composers Steve Reich. Philip Glass and Terry Riley. After studying electronic music with Tom Hamilton in college, I began recording with a basic 4-track setup in the early 80s, at a time when DIY musicians were starting to untether themselves from formal recording studios and increasingly record at home. I was particularly taken by a 1981 release by progressive rock guitarist and keyboardist Bill Nelson ("Sounding The Ritual Echo") that was recorded at home on "broken or faulty tape machines."
By the mid-1980s, I had developed a minimalist style that was rooted in improvisation but still informed by my prior formal study of composition. Through a bit of serendipity, I discovered an obscure music shop in San Francisco's Chinatown and was fascinated with a traditional Chinese zither called the gu-zheng. I studied the gu-zheng for several years with Zhang Yan, a master musician from China, who opened me up to the unique vocabulary and tradition of Chinese classical and folk music. Around that time, I also learned to play the hichiriki in a gagaku (ancient Japanese court music) ensemble that was led by a former member of the Japanese Imperial Court, Suenobu Togi. I also studied Balinese gamelan with I Wayan Sujana, who was then in residence with a local Bay Area gamelan ensemble, Gamelan Sekar Jaya. I also learned about Tibetan folk music from my friends Tashi Dhondup and Tsering Wangmo, who founded the Tibetan music and dance group Chaksam-Pa. I am extremely grateful for the friendship and help of these talented and humble musicians.
In the late 90s, I became interested in fractals and in the use of algorithms derived from fractals to generate fractal music. I found it fascinating that such music had both elements of self-similarlity and randomness. All of these influences continue to trickle down to me today.
With Zhang Yan and Lui Qi-Chao (1991) (Photo by Michael Conen)
Zhang Yan (1991) (Photo by Michael Conen)