(Born in 1978. China)
Lithium Lake and the Lonely Island of Polyphony, 2020
Lithium is broadly distributed in the oceans and those parts of the earth’s surface that contain metals. It is the lightest metal and the lightest solid element. It is highly reactive and flammable. Today, battery storage technology is widely used across a broad spectrum of fields. As the core component of power supplies, lithium ions are in increasingly high demand, refined from deposits in such places as the Salar de Uyuni in the Andes Mountains and Lake Zabuye on the Tibetan Plateau.
This film focuses on the industrial production of lithium ore, an element that is key to a carbon lock-out, whose production chain stretches from Chile to the highlands of China. The film also considers traditional polyphonic music as a form of prototypical technology.
The film starts out following two completely different threads. One is traditional polyphonic music. Polyphony is now understood to have been a common form of music in ancient times, and this has shaken the view of music history as a linear evolution from monophonic to polyphonic. Because the origins of music and technology are intertwined, the rise of the internet and digital archives provides new opportunities for music anthropologists to interpret traditional polyphonic music. In rethinking the origin of music, the musicologist Joseph Jordania has depicted a non-inscribed map of the Anthropocene. Meanwhile, since every subtle change in the chords and rhythm attracts the attention of each performer, it is a way of transmitting a signal to the entire network. Therefore, the model of polyphony may be seen as a technology unlock. The other thread is the nightmare of industrialized countries and multinational corporations—path dependence and technology lock-in. Brian Arthur’s theory of these two phenomenons is one such concept, which derives computer models from iterative nonlinear programs to project in various areas of society and the economy. It provides new strategies for neoliberal economic development.