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Sui Zhen

Written by Jesse Hayward on June 2, 2009

Becky Freeman has a lovely voice. In her music, under the name Sui Zhen, she plucks her vocal cords to produce beautiful sounds which she shapes with her mouth to form words of love and longing. In her basement surgery, where I am strapped to a table, she plucks stray hairs from my leg and prepares to start cutting with the scalpel. Though I am quite attached to my leg, the sound of Becky’s voice is soothing and I am strangely complacent.

The shelves are lined with large cutting implements and plush dinosaur toys. Mark Ryden dolls stare eerily, cute and disturbing in equal measure. Sui Zhen plays softly, the blood flows and I feel warm and safe, though that may be the general anaesthetic. I ask Becky what she’s been up to and Becky responds with both tongue and scalpel.

“I’ve started working full time again and that’s because I just had 6 months off work last year. I was living off music which was awesome, but now I’ve started saving money to produce an album and to go overseas so I had to start working again.” Becky starts work on my leg, making a neat incision just above the knee. “Taking time off really made me more productive. I’ve almost finished writing the album and recently I’ve been doing heaps of demoing – just trying to get the instrumentation right for the album songs and trying different arrangements. It’s pretty close but I probably won’t be able to record for a little while yet.”

Becky removes my leg and sticks it into a large papier-mâché dinosaur’s mouth. The dinosaur has a smile on it’s face and a bloody human leg in its smile.

“The recording process has so many possibilities so you have to be really decisive. You have to trust your instincts especially if you’re on your own time, you have to give yourself limits and deadlines. I really enjoy performing live because you can communicate the songs personally, whereas if you record something and listen to it later, you’re like ‘hmm, I kinda see it differently now’.” Becky regards my bleeding form for a moment then decisively readies a bone saw. I ask her if she expresses herself in other ways, beyond music and impromptu surgery sculpture.

“Music is my first point of expression so I always come back to that. If I’m not doing music then I feel a bit useless. I can do other things of course but when I do music I feel I’m doing something right. The creative process inspires me to do even more creative stuff.” The saw cuts through my flesh like snow and goes to work on the tibia.
“There’s no end to it. I want to create a body of work. Someone told me I’d be making music for the rest of my life and I just thought about it and thought, yes, I am. Once you’ve had that thought it relaxes you a bit. It makes you feel comfortable, like, I can make this now and make something different later. I can always create new things.” Becky detaches my foot and puts it in front of a brontosaurus, which seems to stare in bemusement. Brontosauri are vegetarian after all.

“I really like the brontosaurus. For one thing it’s a recognisable icon – I made felt dinosaur merch key rings and stuff and started selling them. But I also just like prehistoric creatures. I like thinking about dinosaurs because it makes me feel humble. There was a different type of world before this one and there’ll be a different one after. I like bringing otherworldly creatures into the music.”

Sui Zhen blends naïf lyrics and a little-girl-lost voice into a sweetly dark milieu. Alice is down the rabbit hole, falling in love with the rabbit and possibly planning to murder him later. I think the blood loss is getting to me. Why, Becky? Why are you and your music so sweet yet so dark?

“That’s just how things come out. In my head it might be a bit dark but because of the way I am it sounds nice. I’m very aware of the sound of my voice and the type of music that I write so I try to balance it out with some dark features so it doesn’t sound too sweet. I think darkness is real, not everything is happy all the time. You can’t really ignore it so I try to express it in my music.”

I certainly can’t ignore Becky’s dark side. My lower limbs are now integral to spatter art pieces placed around the room. I particularly like the tendons hanging from the Diplodicus mouth like bloody seaweed. Though I lie a bloody mess, I can’t help but admire Becky’s art, she is such a sweet lady.

“If I’m watching a person play and I know them, then I like the music better because I know where they’re coming from. When I get to know people, if I don’t like the person then it’s hard to separate them from the music.”

Becky is finished with extremities and looks at my face. “Your nose is cute,” she says. I black out and the rest is lost in a dark warm mystery.

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