BEIJING — In an abandoned movie theater in Beijing's student district, Vic Trigger, an unofficial American ambassador of rock 'n' roll, gives a hands-on demonstration of the glories of high-amplification music.
His audience is a colorful collection of Beijing's subculture--leather-clad heavy metallists, spiky haired neo-punks (known as pan-ke in Chinese) and guitar-toting loners.
"I don't see any difference between these people and those I'm working with in the U.S.," said Trigger, who came from the Guitar Institute of Technology in Hollywood to instruct China's rockers.
"Loud is Beautiful" is the message on Trigger's T-shirt--despite a faxed request from one of his anonymous Chinese hosts for "an older musical expert, preferably over 50, who would be able to persuade the Chinese musicians to play their music a little softer."
Trigger did not know who this Chinese host was, nor was he overly concerned since the entire operation was organized and financed by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
The status of the visit, at a time when China's communist authorities decry "spiritual garbage" from the West, remains unclear.
Trigger was told the Chinese had "given consent by the absence of negation." The appropriate visas were granted, and no bureaucratic obstacles were raised.
Sino-U.S. relations have gradually improved following the negotiated release earlier this year of dissident Prof. Fang Lizhi, who took refuge in the U.S. Embassy after the bloody suppression of the pro-democracy movement in June, 1989.
But cultural exchanges remain few and low-key.
Trigger said he views his visit as a cultural exchange in the spirit of \o7 glasnost, \f7 the Russian word for openness that has a Chinese equivalent rarely heard in China these days.
There had been almost no rock concerts in Beijing for months preceding Trigger's arrival, as city authorities braced themselves for the Asian Games.
Privately owned bars were obliged to close until mid-October, a week after the games ended. A nationwide tour by rock star Cui Jian, ostensibly in aid of the games, was cut short in July when party officials became alarmed at the unruly behavior of young audiences in Chengdu.
Trigger, a guitar specialist, began his career in the 1960s with a degree in music psychology from UC Berkeley. He later moved through a variety of musical genres, from classical symphonies to avant garde electronic rock.
In addition to giving rock music lessons in Canton, Beijing and Shanghai, Trigger brought along a large selection of music tapes donated by three major U.S. record companies, which gave him unlimited access to their libraries.
The tapes were presented to the Conservatory of American Music in Tianjin and the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, where they will be available to local people for listening and recording--an act of copyright infringement toward which the record companies seem willing to turn a blind eye.
Trigger has great confidence in the future of rock music in China.
"There is a strong desire for the expression for freedom," he said.
Nevertheless, he said, there are considerable problems to overcome.
"Rock is about a group working together with a common goal, but here they can't do it," Trigger said.
He bemoaned the difficulties in obtaining equipment and the lack of practice facilities, even for Cui Jian, who is one of China's most successful rock musicians and has been dubbed China's Bob Dylan.
Despite these obstacles, Trigger is convinced the world will soon be hearing more from Beijing's rockers. "There will be world-famous Chinese rock and roll groups, but they aren't there yet."