Mon, Dec 11, 2006 - Page 13 News List

A musical astronaut returns to earth

Known for her ethereal, synthetic sound, Summer Lei's new album sees the pioneering composer adopt a warmer touch



From behind a gauzy curtain in a dimly lit room at the Nanhai Gallery (南海藝廊), a soothing voice filled the air, whispering the secret language of ocean waves and ancient memories unveiled in recurring dreams. This was the new sound of the musical talent, poet and radio host Summer Lei (雷光夏).

Lei is famous for her voice, which can be heard in television and radio commercials, as well as her classical music program on the Taipei Philharmonic's radio station (台北愛樂電台). Her 1999 album gained her a reputation as being Taiwan's pioneer of "noise folk music," combining traditional-style songs with ambient-like electronic sound effects.

Though she has five albums to her name, Lei avoids the limelight. Interviewed Monday after a puppet show inspired by her new album, however, Lei was surprisingly congenial. Offstage, she seemed just like her music — sincere, sensitive and comforting.

The daughter of famed poet, writer and documentary filmmaker Lei Hsiang (雷驤), Lei was raised in an artistic family, and her love for music saw its genesis with Lei Hsiang's trick of covering up baby Lei's crying with classical music, an anecdote his daughter is fond of retelling.

Despite this background, Lei did not plan on becoming a musician. In high school she dreamed of winning a Pulitzer Prize, only to find out later that since she was not a US citizen she could not even qualify for the award. Coming of age during the social movements of the 1980s and eager to make a contribution to social justice, Lei studied journalism in college. "But I gave up this dream quickly because being a journalist means you have to keep a distance. I couldn't do it; I can't repress my feelings," Lei said.

Performance Notes:

What: Summer Lei teams up with musician friends for two concerts to promote her newly released album The Light of Darkness

When: Dec. 22 and Dec. 23 in Eslite Hall, on the 6th floor of the Eslite Flagship Bookstore in Taipei’s Xinyi District (誠品書店信義區旗艦店6樓誠品廳).

For more information, visit

Luckily for her fans, pioneering Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto inspired Lei to turn to music. She first heard Sakamoto's synth-rock music in high school and was immediately fascinated by the avant-garde sounds he created using a synthesizer.

Lei bought her first synthesizer in college. "Back then my friends would call me 'midi girl' because I played with electronic sounds while everyone else was playing guitar," she said.

Not surprisingly, her interest in electronica was complimented by a love of science fiction, in particular the Alien series of films and the X-Files television program. Now 38, Lei said she and a friend used to pretend they were X-Files agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder. "I later gave up the game simply because I didn't want to be a dork," Lei said with a hearty laugh.

But Lei's love of the imaginary and the magical have persisted and continue to influence her work. Blending the sounds of the accordion, drum, piano, cello and other string instruments with the electronic, Lei's music is often said to have a half-human, half-artificial sound.

"For me, reality is endless boredom. So I love everything that is a twisted translation of the real. In my mind, unplugged sounds are like the [planet] earth, breathing warmth and humanity; while electronic music is [like] outer space, ice-cold and representing everything bizarre that happens in the world," Lei said.

Another constant is the theme of life as a journey. Like many female artists who look inward for inspiration, Lei draws creative material from inner musings and past experiences. Less productive than the average musician — she releases a new album every three to four years — Lei works by transforming pieces of her life's journey into intimate lyrical diaries.

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