In 2007, Blur/Gorillaz mastermind Damon Albarn took on the ambitious task of writing the music for an operatic adaptation of JOURNEY TO THE WEST, a Chinese novel from the 16th century, combining Chinese motifs with electronica and rock flavoring. This soundtrack to the stage piece is not actually a verbatim recording of the show’s music, but rather a reinterpretation based on the original. It’s a wild ride, as Chinese choral voices and traditional-sounding melodies share space with floating ambient textures, freaky electro-acoustic dischord, syncopated electronic beats, and contemplative settings that could almost be labeled New Age if not for the overwhelmingly unconventional context into which they’ve been placed. Trace elements of Gorillaz can be heard here, but JOURNEY TO THE WEST is undoubtedly an outward expansion of Albarn’s aesthetic.
The 16th century Chinese classic story Xi You Ji (Journey To The West) tells the tale of a little monkey who could transform himself into different creatures and conquer all the obstacles in his life. Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett (the minds behind Gorillaz) are Monkey, and have joined with director and choreographer Chen Shi-Zheng to create a 21st century opera retelling this story, replete with new and original music and visuals. The BBC’s coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics will utilize some of Monkey’s music and animations in the weeks leading up to and during the Olympics.