Avant Garde in WNC: Min Xiao-Fen

Min Xiao-Fen relocated to Asheville from New York City in 2020. By that point she was already an in-demand, world-class musician. Min’s primary instrument is the pipa, an ancient lute-like stringed instrument from her native China. Once she emigrated to the U.S., she fell in with an adventurous crowd of fellow musicians. Her work to date has included collaborations with John Zorn, Jane Ira Bloom and Björk, among many others. White Lotus, her original score for the The Goddess, a motion picture from China’s golden age of silent film, has been released on CD, and Min mounts live performances (with the film projected behind her) around the country, including a 2021 showing at the Orange Peel.

Min Xiao-Fen’s music deftly combines classical, ethnic/folkloric and avant garde elements. Among her upcoming events is a performance in Germany at Cologne Philharmonie, as part of a trio called Min/Wu/Xu. “Like me, [Wu Wei and Xu Fengxia] are trained as traditional Chinese musicians, but they’ve opened their minds to doing all kinds of music,” Min says. “They’re very active, improvising with a lot of German avant garde musicians.”

Min’s schedule also includes White Lotus dates (with guitarist Rez Abassi) at Brevard Music Center and Lincoln Center. And she recently received a commission from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art to compose soundtracks for two more Chinese silent films. Those will premiere in May, with Min joined by Asheville-based percussionist River Guerguerian.

Her schedule of engagements is slightly less packed than it was back in Min’s New York days. “Because New York is such a big city with so many musicians, it’s always ‘Let’s do this project,’” she says. But since relocating to Asheville, Min has found the smaller local avant garde music scene remarkably welcoming. “I’ve played at Isis Music Hall, The Orange Peel, the Black Mountain College Museum of Art, The Grey Eagle and Static Age Records,” she says.

Min notes that the Static Age show – part of the Catalytic Sound Festival – was especially inspiring for an outside-the-box artist like herself. “There were lots of young people there, and they were really into it all,” she says. “I was so encouraged; I moved to Asheville, and I’ve never regretted it for one second!”