How the industrial music album Halber Mensch changed an art director’s life but caused his friends to isolate him

half human (1985) is the third album by German experimental band Einstürzende Neubauten, fusing their signature early harsh industrial noise sounds (often created using the band’s own instruments made from scrap metal) with a growing musical style that also included electronic Even elements of pastoral music.

Chen Henghui, artistic director of Hong Kong experimental theater company Alice Theater Lab, tells Richard Lord how the incident changed his life.

I got to know this band when I was in Form 4 when I was 16 years old. Since then I have been listening to all kinds of music.

There was an exam in Form 3, and students had to be transferred to different schools, so I just transferred to a new school. The cultures of the two schools are completely different.

In my old school, students mainly listened to pop music, but in my new school, Rose Hill School on Stubbs Road, my classmates all listened to underground music.

I grew up in a very disciplined family environment. When I was about 16, I started to be rebellious and try different things, like underground music. I began to search for my identity.

There was no internet back then, and the only way to access this type of music was through magazines and radio.

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The album was also released as a VHS video (an hour-long film of the same name, combining concert footage and music videos shot during a trip to Japan), which is why I started making this album: the video is a reflection of Me and I want to find this album.

I was particularly impressed and fascinated by the part in the film where they collaborated with the Butoh dance troupe.

There was a sense of absurdity and grotesqueness that fascinated me. I was amazed by the raw power of two alternative cultures, East and West, clashing with each other. It produces something very unpredictable and impressive.

Blixa Cash, vocalist of Einstreiche Neuhäusern, 1986.

Many of their percussion instruments are not traditional – they bang pieces of metal, supermarket trolleys together, use drills to create music. It’s a unique way to showcase their music – something that cantopop doesn’t have.

I invited some friends over to my house and showed them the video. After reading it, some people thought I was a psycho.

My friends at school started to isolate me, and then I would find my favorite movies and watch them alone. That’s when I started to fall in love with directing.

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Three years later, the Butoh group White Tiger Society in the film came to Hong Kong, and I was in the audience.

What impressed me the most was that they expressed themselves without words, through movements and gestures – all of which inspired me.

I rely heavily on soundscapes in my performances, much like Butoh. When I direct a play, I imagine the sounds that inspire me to shape the scene, not only musically but also visually. Einstürzende Neubauten helped me become a director.

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