Lane Shi Otay:onii is a Chinese born interactive multi-media performer and sound artist residing in New York and Shanghai.
After graduating Berklee College of Music in 2016 receiving “Laurie Anderson Women in Technology Award”, she was immediately honored for “Best Vocalist” Bronze Prize from Global Music Award 2017, “Best Independent Artist” from American Track Awards 2017 and “Best Sound” from Audiovisual Arts Industrial Incubator Awards. She lined up herself with 8 U.S tours being the lead vocalist and performer for Boston experimental bands Dent and Elizabeth Colour Wheel, after tours, she coalesces skills and experience with sound, voice and performing into multi-media interactive installation with a philosophical pursuit to the essence lost in historical saga while finding their juxtapositions in modernity.
Her solo multi-media exhibition Naked Winger was presented at Stovefactory Gallery, Charleston, MA; sound works for CrowdArt interactive exhibition was presented for months at 798 Art Zone in Beijing, China. In 2018 she started her solo project under the artist name Otay:onii, followed by full – length album “NAG”, single “7 Yearster”, and live studio album “Molelipop”.
Her self-direct music video “Shaoxing Nomad” was featured in numerous film festivals such as Rome Prisma Film Awards, Istanbul International Experimental Film Festivals, Independent Talent International Film Festivals and many more.
Electronic, ambient, sound collage or even noise, with a heart to be mindless on the boundaries of all, Otay:onii breaks down structures that chains her neck and feet, aiming to be free on the ride of acute instincts and establishing a bodily connection through the synchronization of the heart and mind. She believes it is through this particular synchronization that people are brought to the bed of honesty, in which a moment of history will be worth looking back and upon, and the light will slip out from this crack within any world of creation reverberating the loudest echos.
So much for otay:onii’s official biographical note. My experience with her work began shortly before her performance at Desdemona club in Gdynia. After becoming familiar with what she has been recording in the studio environment vs. what she presents in a live performance, my appetite rose to the very ceiling and the pot began to boil. The lid fell off by the time the first notes of the show resonated. The power of sound, the incredible image, and the genuineness radiating from every bite of the performance made it one of the most interesting collisions with concert reality I’ve had the pleasure of participating in. An absolute shattering, power fused with fragility and ephemerality. Otay:onii.
Artur Mieczkowski: I’m very pleased that you agreed to an interview for Anxious Mag. I am just after your yesterday’s performance at Desdemona club in Gdynia and I am enchanted by it. Such full commitment to a performance must cost you a lot of energy?
Otay:onii: Yes, the mask is suffocating too – which makes it feel like digging my own hole sometimes, but the suffocation makes sense in the way that’s an accurate simulation to many days and nights living in the US.
A.M.: Two weeks ago you played a big festival, Roadburn, a while after that you’re playing small clubs. Does the venue in which you perform matter to you? Do you adapt your performance to it?
O.O.: It doesn’t matter if the staff greeted with much respect and care about the sound and the experience like the roadburn crew did.
A.M.: During your performance, which we had the pleasure of attending, you started walking among the audience practically from the first notes. Is this a way of blurring the boundary between performer and audience? In this way, during the performance I myself felt part of it – is this your aim or one of the aims of such an approach. Maybe it has an even higher symbolic meaning or maybe it allows you to open yourself more?
O.O.: No worship in this world to any construct.
I merely wanna be part of the audience, to dance with and amongst everyone, breaking the gaze of a typical hierarchy between performers and audiences, or shall I say, any hierarchy existed. Been doing it since I started my first band Dent back in 2013.
A.M.: Are you the creator of your stage costumes? Where do you get your inspiration from? What meaning does it have for you?
O.O.: For the mask I did work with my friend experimenting with some of the materials. Her name is Rui Wang, a wonderful painter and a dear friend of mine back in Shanghai. The red cape and tights are some of my old clothes.
The mask belongs to a character named Nose Blower from a performance piece I did at Ming Contemporary Museum of Art in Shanghai 2021. If you have interest to check out the rest.
A.M.: Your concerts are different from the material you record on albums. It shows your different facets, the multidimensionality in which you seem to like to wallow so much, mixing conventions. What is your common denominator?
O.O.: What’s echoing loudest in my head, some hopefully only last for a moment, some wishfully last eternally.
A.M.: In Chinese mythology there is a character named Xíng Tiān (刑天), this character has inspired you. What does this character bring to your work?
O.O.: The perseverance of “standing up”. In the mythology, this deity beheaded during a battle, and he rises up again, turning his nipple to eyes.
This transformation inspired me deeply, walked me through hard times when it seems no matter how hard I try, I will fail as I’m not born in a way favorable for this world. I admire the agility of adaptation for changes that happen in life or to our bodies.
Then I did a noise generator: a spiky nipple as the spokesperson and the “reflective eye” in performances, in an attempt to convey feelings that are hard to express in words.
Through distortion and transformation of the audio files, I wish to de-couple the memory strongly embedded within my dirt years of these irreversible damage of living trauma, finding solaces thru noises loud and incomprehensible, as we might not have the chance to change the experience seen as content, but perhaps could expand our body and brain seen as container to alternate the placement of the content, therefore moving forward with larger space in our capabilities to embrace new experiences.
A.M.: You had a lot of problems when it came to living in the US, related to the green card, then in relation to COVID, when there was a bad atmosphere towards Chinese citizens, as if they were to blame for this epidemic. What is it like at the moment? Where do you live? I know you were fascinated by Berlin.
O.O.: I still live in NY, but will be moving out in August 2023, and have scheduled endless tours in the US, China and Australia( maybe) for 2023 and hopefully pack 2024 with more EU plans.
All that you mentioned was true to my living experience in the US, and if I have to choose a world to live in, I prefer somewhere with more kindness and acceptance to culture in a way that it comes with more support and thirst to know what it really is and could bring to the community, rather than a constant intent to neglect or monetize.
A.M.: You perform as the vocalist for the band Elizabeth Colour Wheel, how does working with the band differ from working solo as Otay:Onii?
O.O.: Elizabeth Colour Wheel offers me a different point of view when it comes to creativity and interests in life, and I appreciate that enormously.
It is also a challenge for us who all are from different backgrounds and roots to have come together to create and support each other. In a sense the greatness of seeing the spirit in humans working together is bigger than the creation we did, even though the creation itself reflects that as well.
And of course, otay:onii gives me the chance to be very critical of my own work and bring multidisciplinary practice into the picture which is as much of a passion as music. It keeps me sane to dig into my own adventures with the instincts and perseverance I grew up with and explore the world in my own way, making choices without compromises that would otherwise be much difficult to dabble in a group setting, this alternatively benefits the group creation too, because the more diversities in perspectives there are the more non-homogeneous sparks we could marinate.
A.M.: The original name of the project was Mother Of Fuck I Love, later changed to otay:onii. Why? Were there any compelling reasons that limited this original idea?
O.O.: I love the first name:).
The reason to change might have to do with one experience I had with the person who named me “otay:onii”. I did believe the real spelling of it is “otha:yõnih”, which means wolf in the language of the Native Americans living in the Seneca area NY.
That was a special moment, because I digged into the history of Native Americans and found out some of them shared similar mythologies as the Chinese. It comforts me I a very particular time (7 years) living in the US so I changed that to keep me company.
A.M.: On the musical side, you basically don’t limit yourself, you seem to draw from all possible genres creating a powerful mix of electronic, ambient, sound collage, noise, glitch and many more. What inspires you, what do you actually draw ideas from to create such amazing things?
O.O.: Chinese mythologies, all films and life experiences. Sometimes not the most joyful thing, but they create the world that heals me within a world that burns.
A.M.: Do you think there is still something new to be done in music, something that will break down more walls and limitations?
O.O.: For that to happen I think one must break down walls and limitations of oneself. The rest will follow. Is there anything one individual can break down as a human for themselves? I definitely believe so.
A.M.: You believe that through synchronicity people will be able to reach the ‘bed of honesty’. Can you elaborate on this intriguing thought? What is this ‘bed of honesty’?
O.O.: “Bed of honesty” – bed is for resting, relaxing. When someone could be relaxed when telling something honest.
In China we say when two people are synchronized – “同一频率”， which mean two are synced with each other’s mind wavelength. And that requires a lot of willingness to try, one can’t try if one is not honest, so it creates this nice cycle of interaction that is inspiring.
A.M.: The amazing video for the song Un deciphered looks like a major undertaking. Many people got involved in the production completely non-profit, as volunteers. How do you recall working on this little film masterpiece?
O.O.: Thank you! I wouldn’t say it’s a masterpiece but I appreciate the honor.
That was an insane experience for me, initially that was a commissioned project for a museum but that failed to proceed after I had already had phone calls with the director Yao Yu and costume production Rui Wang, who both are my dear friends and agree to carry on this music video/film regardlessly, I started to make plans for self budgeting, it was very difficult, and I shifted quite a large sum of my scoring payment to this project, just enough and still barely covering crop/costumes building materials, food and transportation( arrange everything by myself and couple friends lots of trails and errors), along the way I did the script for the whole video, communicating back and forth with the director and camera crew. Then launch the shootings.
The night before the shooting we had these crazy rain storms and typhoons that blocked the way from Shanghai to the countryside( scene sites). For a moment we thought everything needed to be rescheduled again, but on the day of, they lifted the gate and we were able to go there successfully. And of course, the rain storms didn’t stop during the entire shoot.
Then insane waves of mosquitos appeared after the rain stopped for a short period of time in the woods like they were hungry for years, we were covered in bites. I remembered at one point I had to cover myself with trash bags for both legs because we were running out of itch sprays.
One touching moment was that no one ( 40+ people) moved even a bit while shooting, and as soon as we finished each scene , you heard the loud and sudden “pow pow” sounds of people slapping on skins because of the mosquitos.
I couldn’t do it without everyone there helping me. Again, nothing moves me more than people trying to show their kindness.
A.M.: There is also an interesting story related to the plot, which refers to Shen Yi Jing’s book Xinan Huangjing (Classics of deities and the unusual: Southwestern savagery). Can you tell us more about it?
O.O.: Yes. There’s two main protagonists in the video, one is the last human on earth, one is a deformed beast called Éshòu(讹兽), who has humanistic facial feature and a rabbit body, it is good at telling lies and whoever eat its meat would gain the ability to lie.
In the video I did a twist of Éshòu, who tells lies because of its super capability to talk but inability to express it’s true intention. Which reflects on the storyline under the psyche of the last human, who believed that because he knew the painful secret of Éshòu in a dream, it is now coming to hunt him down, however the truth is – ending note of the video – to receive a hug long forgotten and late arrived.
A.M.: Dent is a now-defunct band in which you also participated. Can you tell us about this altogether rather brief but probably significant episode in your artistic path?
O.O.: Dent was an effort of me forming a band, but it was short lived due to reasons that were beyond my intention and control. During this time it definitely reached a very interesting pinnacle of my creation with others. RIP.
A.M.: Nothing is real, everything is possible – this thought has accompanied me for years when I meet unconventional artists who break many conventions, taboos. This is also how I feel when discovering your work, and yesterday’s concert emphatically confirmed that there is no point in pigeonholing what you do. Do you feel that your art is just that? Everything is not quite real, dreamlike, painful, metaphorical.
O.O.: I would say it was a pity you didn’t get to see the projection film I made for the performance. Because on the note of everything being not real dreamlike, it is coming from something quite real and striking from my reality.
Here I want to quote Laozi from “Daodejing”:
which translates into:
Extremes will spark the opposite
weak and low energy will start the movement
everything was born with something
something was born from nothing
A.M.: You often refer to the definition of trauma as well as schizophrenia. What significance does this have for your art? What do you want to intrigue the viewer with?
O.O.: It’s helpless enough that one could wear no masks, it’s challenging enough that one is forced to alchemy gold out of shit.
For many people, that would never be their reality, therefore my reality never will exist or run into their perspectives. I was curious to know what people think when this kind of world is presented to them.
And who’s not broken in this world? We all got our trademarks, the end being of the past carries a wish: to heal and to wrap you around with warmth, even if that means a wall of noise and nothingness.
A.M.: Can you tell us a bit about the equipment you use during performances? Does musical equipment sometimes inspire you or is it rather just a tool of expression?
O.O.: Roland Ax Edge Keytar is one of the rare instruments I find solace with – rather it’s a company, a friend.
And I built a spiky nipple eye as a noise generator
This is rather a journey for me, because the spiky eyes’ broken down the tips of them bit by bit, and I made a vow to myself that when they are totally broken, I will start a new journey of performance.
A.M.: Thank you very much for the interview and of course I will be looking out for new works by you. And I hope to see you at the next concert.
O.O.: Thank you for being there :). Looking forward to being back!