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Rhythm & Views

Twelve Girls Band

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You haven't heard Coldplay's "Clocks" until you've heard it as performed by the chamber-pop ensemble Twelve Girls Band, a Chinese group that features--you guessed it--12 girls playing pop and folk tunes in a New Age-meets-art rock setting on traditional Chinese instruments.

Although I'm hardly what you'd call a Coldplay fanatic, the Twelve Girls impressively replicate the cascading piano chords and, especially, Chris Martin's vocal with the erhu (a two-stringed fiddle) and then with the lute-like pipa, which sounds to these untrained ears like a mandolin.

The robust "Freedom," written by Turkish composer Santuri Ethen Efendi, has the hypnotic dance rhythms of an Eastern European gyspy breakdown, and it has become something of a trademark tune for the Twelve Girls for the way the erhu, dizi (wooden flute) and lush, dulcimer-like yang qin trade off playing the melody.

Pretty novelties abound, such as the 12GB's instrumental interpretations of the Japanese pop hit "Earthly Stars" and Enya's "Only Time." Both are full of the sort of pomp-rock bombast you might expect from the Electric Light Orchestra or Kansas. I mean that in a good way.

"New Classicism," a disco-style elision of Beethoven, Mozart and Rossini in a Chinese funk-rock setting, is as postmodern a mash-up as you could ask for, and a hell of a lot more fun than was Malcolm McLaren's trite hip-hop version of "Madam Butterfly" 20 years ago.

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