An Ode to Isolation on Celer’s “Xièxie”

“Xièxie” marks the 100th release by Tokyo-based, American-born musician, writer, and photographer William Long under the name Celer. Between Celer and his three other projects, Long has released over 200 albums.

Celer – Xièxie
(via Two Acorns)

This album exists as an expressionist take on Long’s 2017 trip to China. As he describes in a post on his website, he bought a dictionary and phrasebook. Time moved so quickly around him that by the end of his trip, “xièxie” was the only word he got to use.


Like much of Long’s extensive discography, this particular release falls somewhere within the world of ambient. Ambient is not a genre of Asian origin, but this record is totally dependent upon the cityscapes of Shanghai and Hangzhou. The influences of China are not the music itself, but what’s not music in the music.

Little pieces of the cities are sewn throughout this record with the inclusion of field records. They serve not only as creative ways to break up the double-LP up into four sections, but to introduce what’s to come sonically.

The record opens with the aptly titled “(06.23.17) From the doorway of the beef noodle shop, shoes on the street in the rain, outside the karate school”. We can hear the shuffling of feet, the squelching of car breaks, horns, bells, whistles, and conversations in every direction.

As unfamiliar as it may be, the city is still moving all around unpityingly.

A low, synth drone kicks in and through the second track it eventually overtakes the noises of the city street. They fade away, just as the memories of neon lights on rainy nights tend to eventually leave the mind.

By the start of the third track, a new drone has started. This one is warmer.

Panned hard to the right is another example of what sets this record apart from other similar releases. To the side of the slowly undulating synths, technological whirring is looped. It’s moving at a much faster pace than the droning background, but the way the two overlap and wash over one another is intoxicating.

The next track snaps right back into the real world with the rustling of people on a train before an acceleration. The maglev Long was traveling on might have exceeded 188 mph, but the record continues processing taking it in with all the time it needs.

Maglev train at Longyang Road Station – Shanghai, China
(via Creative Commons)

The droning synths that whoosh atop the following song, “Text me when you wake up”, feel like a continuation of the maglev accelerating.

Succeeding is the longest track on the album, the aptly-titled “For the eternity”. It’s the nosiest song on the record, almost getting into that blown-out ambient style artists like Tim Hecker are known for. In the noise hide beautiful melodies, quiet and delicate enough to be missed upon first listen.

Once again, the record comes back to the train with a Chinese voice over the intercom. It then accelerates with even greater force than before. The train rattles into the next track.

The rattling serves as a nice foil for the looped synth line below. It feels oddly triumphant for this record. Perhaps this was a moment of clarity for Long, clearing his mind on the train ride.

The second part of the track is a corruption of the first in the most gorgeous way possible. The background noises overtake the synth loop, shaking and crackling as they shift upward in dynamics.

The penultimate song is one final dip into reality. Passersby chatter as they wait for the maglev in Hangzhou. The final few moments reintroduces the last synth loop of the record. Even on the relatively quiet train, the sense of unfamiliarity here creeps in.

On one hand, it’s an admiration of beauty in the city passing by the window at breakneck speeds. But on the other hand, it’s a time to reflect on loneliness and alienation. Just because Long is unfamiliar with his surroundings doesn’t mean the world comes to a halt.

The final track feels very welcoming and calm. The familiar buzzing returns to the right ear. The two elements bask together in an ethereal wave until finally coming to an understated end.

Through the use of both elegant ambient soundscapes and field recordings of Hangzhou and Shanghai, William Long emotes how his face-paced trip through the China allowed him to reflect on feeling alone and overwhelmed amidst the beauty of the unknown.

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