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Mouth music: Wang Li at TED2013

Photos: James Duncan Davidson

Photos: James Duncan Davidson

It sounds like music that could be pumping from the sound system of a packed nightclub. But these electronic-tinged sounds actually come from the mouth of one man, Wang Li, a master mouth harp musician, as he plays the kouxiang.

In session 7 of TED2013, Li gives the audience a taste of his sonic stylings. Raised in Northeastern China, Wang Li played the electric bass before heading to a French monastery after college. There, in the solitude of the monastery, he mastered these unusual instruments and the breath control required to play them. And took away a mystical mindset as well …

“Sometimes I feel I have already died,” says Li on the TED stage, “so I would like to know if you are my illusion or if I am your illusion.”

TED2013_0052285_D41_9663He picks up the calabash flute, a haunting instrument that seems to tap into another plane. He creates a mesmerizing songscape with a hint of sadness, yes — but also filled with hope.