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Shueh-li Ong: Music From Another Land

An interview with polystrumentist, singer and composer Shueh-li Ong.

“Music From Another Land” is not the typical “theremin album” you’d expect from musicians like Lydia Kavina, Pamelia Kurstin or Peter Pringle, to name a few. Although there is a good amount of well-played theremin, it just doesn’t play the leading role.

Shueh-li Ong with her synthesizers, Theremin and Guqin
Shueh-li Ong with her synthesizers, Theremin and Guqin.

In fact, the feeling I got while listening to this CD from the very first time is that there isn’t a main character because the leading role is played by the music itself as a whole, as it happens in a band whose members have strong personalities but they play very well together, producing an overall sound that pleases your ears and your soul.

Except that, in this case, we have, for the most part, a one-woman band, playing alone in the studio with electronic gear but with the live performance always in mind.

And that reflects the multi-talented and eclectic personality of Shueh-li Ong, a polystrumentist, composer, singer, programmer, arranger, and producer, at her ease both with digital synthesizers and the guqin (a traditional Chinese instrument 3000 years old); a musician able to learn to master a very difficult instrument like the theremin and to manage the technicalities of the recording studio in a creative way.

The result is a fresh and fun electronica album, with catchy tunes and very good arrangements, very good vocals, and very good theremin parts. And one thing that hit me is that this album is very well produced (it sounds good) and that is not ordinary in our small theremin world. In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear albums by thereminists that master divinely the instrument but are simply not able to produce themselves. This is not the case of Shueh-li Ong, who really “play” the studio like a musical instrument itself.

The album is comprised of ten tracks and the theremin is present in five of them. But theremin purists must beware… Shueh-li’s Moog Etherwave Pro is heavily effected so don’t expect to hear the canonical theremin sound if there is one.

The tenth track (unlisted on the packaging) is a live recording of “Recalcitrance”, from the Shueh-li’s Xenovibes album and gives an idea of the “Xenovibes the Show” approach, which do not try to reproduce what is on the CD, allowing, instead, guest musicians to bring their own musical contributions rather than playing a setlist.

Drummer John Anthony Martinez appears on all tracks but one, playing acoustic drums and Yamaha DTXPress III electronic drum adding even more vitality and energy to Shueh-li’s crackling arrangements.

To sum up, Music From Another Land is a beautiful album well worth listening to in its entirety even if Electronica is not your favorite genre, and Shueh-li Ong is an inspired artist with a solid background who has brought fresh ideas in the theremin field, so I would expect further surprises as she develops her unique artistic path.

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