Rainy Night Flowers and the Evolution of the Sound Apparatus in Taiwan (Jeph Lo )

Rainy Night Flowers and the Evolution of the Sound Apparatus in Taiwan, 2020 ©You-Wei Chen

Rainy Night Flowers is not only one of the earliest modern folk song in Taiwan, but also a profound, complex Taiwanese song that has stayed highly popular. The release of this song in 1934 coincided with the invention and popularization of various sorts of sound apparatus. Sound technological devices such as microphones, radios, recorders, gramophone records, record players and electronic instruments gradually substituted for acoustic, unplugged sound waves, and became the primary means to disseminate music, sound and information. That is to say, the reason Rainy Night Flowers achieved such popularity was exactly because of the unprecedented scale of the space, audience, and emotion it penetrated, reached, and evoked via the sound apparatus that existed at the time.

In a broader sense, the “sound apparatus” in this project refers not simply to mechanical or electronic sounding bodies, but also to the technological devices that record, store, reproduce and disseminate sound as well as the derivative technologies, systems, institutions, regulations, and the “sound-making field” comprised of all the aforementioned aspects. As the quantities of information and audience that the sound apparatus reaches increases every day, it has automatically become a piece of “technological equipment for the transmission of messages and the distribution of the sensible” that assumes strategic significance to political powers of all stripes. Given this context, by centering on the “sound apparatus,” this exhibition area seeks to weave a historical narrative of modern sound interlaced by the evolution of visible technological objects and the map of invisible perception and mind.

This exhibition area outlines the development of the “sound apparatus” in Taiwan by reference to the chronicle of the “Taipei Radio Station” beginning from 1928, and meanwhile juxtaposes it with artist Chao-Ming Teng’s work After All These Years, by comparison—the latter anthropomorphized the song Rainy Night Flowers, recounting its history and way of survival over the past eight decades. This area also includes the Talking Drums Radio, which began broadcasting in 2019, an experimental project of online broadcasting that connects radio with the Internet—two information/sound dissemination technologies that have been widely influential, though invented in different times.

Jeph Lo (Taiwan)

As a researcher in the field of sound culture and the co-founder of TheCube Project Space (Taipei-based, non-profit), Jeph Lo has devoted long-term attention to the development of indie music, experimental music, as well as sound art and culture in Taiwan. He used to write special reports on the thriving indie music in Taipei for weekly and periodicals in the 1990s. He edited Walk the Music: Taipei Music Map since ‘90 (2000) and translated Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House (2002). Besides, he co-curated the exhibition Altering Nativism: Sound Cultures in Post-war Taiwan (2014) and worked as the chief editor of the exhibition’s catalogue/reader. Moreover, he is the chief organizer of the website Soundtrack: The Database of Taiwan’s Sound Culture (soundtraces.tw) and the Talking Drums Radio streamed online.

Taginting, A Resonant Community of Sound Practice (Dayang Yraola)

Taginting, A Resonant Community of Sound Practice , 2020, © You-Wei Chen

Sound practice is the term this project uses when invoking all those who participate in the production of experimental, electronic, noise music and sound art. These practitioners share the same spirit of experimentation in media and discipline. It is a sustained practice, while strangely in a constant state of flux. It is a perpetually emergent practice, ironically situated in a condition that favors the dominant. This project claims that these practitioners of the Philippines come together organically to form a community. The curator appraises this community of sound practitioners as resonant (taginting is the Tagalog word for resonant). The curator borrows the sonic characteristic of resonance (deep, clear and continuous) to metaphorically illustrate that the community of sound practitioners are grounded within historical contexts; participants have a clear sense of belonging; and that the practice is sustained.

This exhibit then aims to illustrate the ecology of this community of sound practice─their shared experiences and struggles, their shared artistic and musical lineage, cradled within the 4 decades of nation-building and rebuilding. The exhibits will be divided into modules of chronological order: Module 1 is for the present community, which is the second half of 2000s to present, highlighting Kamuning Public Radio, Ruthless, Musiko Imbento and WSK; Module 2 focuses on the contribution of artist-run spaces, from late 1990s to early 2000s, highlighting Big Sky Mind, Surrounded by Water, Mag:Net and Green Papaya Art Projects; Module 3 features influences that are coming from visual arts, music and performance art, highlighting Jose Maceda, Lucresia Kasilag, Judy Sibayan with Raymundo Albano and Agnes Arellano, from 1960s to 1980s. Module 4 is an auxiliary of Module 1, bringing to focus some of the most productive sound practitioners in the present time coming from various backgrounds, namely, Arvin Nogueras aka Caliph8, Children of Cathode Ray, Heresy, Lirio Salvador and Maria Christine Muyco, PhD.

Curator: Dayang Yraola (the Philippines)

Dayang Yraola (b.1976) is a curator from Manila, Philippines. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Philippine Studies and Master of Arts in Museum Studies from the University of the Philippines, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Cultural Studies from Lingnan University Hong Kong.

She is former Archivist and Collections Manager of the University of the Philippines Center for Ethnomusicology (2006-2015); curator of Jose Maceda Exhibit Series (2013, 2017 & 2018); founder and lead curator of art project series: Project Glocal Stamped/Transi(en)t (2011-2015) and Composite Performance/ Noise(s)/ Circuits (2015-2018); and at present an Assistant Professor at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts.

Dayang’s curatorial focus is on process as media (archival and laboratory), technology as media (analogue, digital, mechanical, electronic), and senses as media; with research on ecology of art practices (art residencies, sound practice communities), and sounding and listening cultures (Sonic Manila Research, since 2014).

Feel the Space (Chung-Han Yao)

Feel the Space , film still © Chung-Han Yao    

Feel the Space  Feel the Space began as a street performance that was live-streamed by the artist on YouTube, intending to let the audience get notifications on their portable devices that “something else is happening in this particular space.” 

The artist selected a place in the city where he lives in and transformed into a DJ, giving a live performance; however, the music was unable to be heard on site; it was live streamed at another space-time: on YouTube. Only ambient sounds were heard at the actual location of the performance, like the wind and the noise from the machine. Therefore, for the audience, the “on-site sound” was split into two parts.

Although the artist welcomes audiences to sign up for advance notices via Line or telegram and to show up at the specific time and place to see his performance; however, usually not that many people would show up in person. The scenes seen by audiences who had showed up in person and the audio-visual recordings on view in Liquid Love ended up being quite similar: the video shows light from the sky, the city, and the artist performing, but the sounds he was producing were played elsewhere, in the cyberspace. The audio-visual recording presented in this exhibition was compiled and edited from several outdoor performances that took place on different days. Moreover, the recordings of the performances are presented in the exhibition at the same time as the actual performances were held. The audiences watching the video in the exhibition also have to use their own portable devices and headphones to connect to the internet and enter into another “live scene,” just like the audiences that were present at the outdoor performances.    

This is an audiovisual creation, but the creator of the video is not a single person but a group of people, a culture, a cosmos, and the artist could only wait and stand by to take action at the right time. Perhaps then, he might encounter his audience by chance.

This work is supported by RC Culture and Arts Foundation.

Chung-Han Yao (Taiwan)

Chung-Han Yao is an artist, music composer, DJ and assistant professor at the Department of Architecture of Shih-Chien University. Creative practice is a part of Chung-Han Yao’s life, from the seemingly broken fluorescent lamps to the vibrant light; from the deconstructed sound art composing to the dance music production; from the framed works to the reflection on the spatial scale…. He employs the corresponding and contrasting relations of light and sound to trigger viewers’ imagination of physical senses.

Yao has won the First Prize in Sound Art in Digital Art Festival Taipei (2008), Honorable Mention in Taipei Art Awards (2017), and has participated in Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale (2009), NTT ICC-Emergencies!014, Tokyo (2010), STEIM – Massive Light Boner, Amsterdam (2010), City Sonic: International Sound Art(s) Festival, Belgium, (2015), Beyond the Frame: New Media Arts from Taiwan, Long Beach Museum of Art, Los Angeles (2016), and The Way Things Go, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei (2016).

The Infinite Hip-Hop Song (Hassan Khan)

The Infinite Hip-Hop Song, Installation, 2020 ©You-Wei Chen

The Infinite Hip-Hop Song is an algorithmic hip-hop generator that produces a never-ending hip-hop song using pre-produced lyrics, vocals, beats, basslines and melodies. It is a logic, a series of randomized paths, a virtual machine driven by human production, a structure that yearns to be free and controlled at the same time. This is not just an algorithmic reading or imitation of known songs, nor is it merely a distortion of the generic. It is a structure that yearns to construct meanings, compose systems yet let them live freely. 

With thanks to RC Culture and Arts Foundation

Hassan Khan (Egypt)

Hassan Khan is an artist, musician and writer who is known for his broad and diverse artistic practice that includes music, performance, moving and still image, sculpture, installation and text. Khan’s work engages with both familiar, shared conditions as well as elusive and undisclosed to produce forms that excite the imagination, raise fundamental questions, channel simmering undercurrents, seduce and alienate, engage with expectations, pose mysteries as well as help re-articulate our experiences with the shifting structures of power. 

In 2017, his work was exhibited at the 57th Venice Biennale at the Giardino delle Vergini (Arsenal) and was awarded the Silver Lion for a promising young artist in the International Exhibition Viva Arte Viva. A new version of Composition for a Public Park, the celebrated installation at the 57th Venice Biennale, has been inaugurated at the Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai, in October 2019. 

Hassan Khan’s notable solo exhibitions include The Keys to the Kingdom, Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid (2019-2020); Host, Kestnergesellschaft, Hannover, Germany (2019-2020); The Portrait is an Address, Beirut Art Center, Beirut, Lebanon (2016). He also participated in dOCUMENTA 13 (2012), Sharjah Biennale (2015), New Museum Triennale (2012), Manifesta 8 (2010), the 3rd Yokohama Triennale (2008) and Gwangju Biennale (2008) amongst many other international group shows. 

As a musician and performer, he regularly performs his music live, for example at the Ruhrtriennale, Essen (2018), the Intonal Festival Malmö (2017), and the Guggenheim Museum New York (2016). His most recent publication An Anthology of Published and Unpublished Writings is co-published by Staedelschule and Koenig Books and his latest album SUPERSTRUCTURE EP was released in 2019 by The Vinyl Factory.

Drinking from the Spring of Liquid Love (dj sniff)

Drinking from Spring of Liquid Love ,installation ,2020 ©You-Wei Chen

Drinking from Spring of Liquid Love is a spatial representation of a compositional process that emerges through negotiations between media, technology, and musicians. Taking inspiration from more than 10 hours of music collected from the internet with the title of “Liquid Love”, a new song was made in collaboration with Japanese singer songwriter mmm (me/my/mo). This song was engraved onto one-off vinyl record made by Ming-Chin Chiu. The installation is constructed from repurposed technology used for composing the song, such as a spring, cassette tape, and a deconstructed DJ set, each manifesting their physical characteristics through sound.

dj sniff (Takuro Mizuta Lippit) (Japan)

dj sniff (Takuro Mizuta Lippit) is a musician and curator in the field of experimental electronic arts and improvised music. His musical work builds upon a distinct practice that combines DJing, instrument design, and free improvisation. His collaborations include Evan Parker, Otomo Yoshihide, Martin Tetreault, Paul Hubweber, Tarek Atoui, and Senyawa. He was the Artistic Director of STEIM in Amsterdam between 2007 to 2012 and a Visiting Assistant Professor at the School of Creative Media, City University Hong Kong between 2012 to 2017. He is now based in Tokyo where he is the Co-Director of AMF (Asian Meeting Festival) — a festival that aims to bring together experimental music practices in Asia and teaches at Kyoto Seika University.

The LED Future (Chi-Yu Wu)

The LED Future, Multi-channel Video Installation, 16min. 30sec. , 2020  ©You-Wei Chen

The LED Future portrays a potential future in which only artificial light sources exist; this work would be directed towards the universe where the main source of natural light (the sun) disappears through the glittering artificial light generated from the LED, OLED, or Micro LED panels. By doing so, it aims to delineate the subject consciousness behind these light-emitting display surfaces. The glitter of light indicates not only a message and a signal, but also luminance and energy; it even serves as the consciousness that reflects the spirits of all beings. Rows of illuminated panels continue flashing throughout the sequencing operation that is similar to how optical fibers work in the course of networking, as well as how transwarp conduits achieve the hyper-fast warp travel.

The frequency of artificial light in fact influences each organic, conscious individual’s spiritual status as well as collective sentiment and shared cognition. Since 2019, trade disputes, economic conflicts and trade wars have occurred frequently among Pacific Rim countries, most of which began by slapping tariffs on consumer electronics and restricting exports of high-grade raw materials used in the manufacture of electronic products, purporting to act as the escalating pressure tactics. Consequently, the manufacturing process of the latest version of foldable smartphone panel and large-sized TV display screen became the victims of such restrictions. With regard to the Japan-South Korea trade war, Japan has banned the export of fluorinated polyimides, one of the critical raw materials to be restricted, to South Korea that led to a series of trade disputes and political conflicts; likewise, the waves of anger among Koreans has triggered a widespread “boycott of Japanese products and services”. All in all, the light emitted by the display screens has been illuminating our lives, and the ensuing images gradually become the world we live in. What is the message behind the said artificial light source? Does it possess subject consciousness? Perhaps, the frequency of light is reflecting our future in light of the emotional bond in between.

The work is supported by RC Culture and Arts Foundation and National Culture and Arts Foundation.

Chi-Yu Wu (Taiwan)

Chi-Yu Wu born in 1986, is an artist based in Taipei, Taiwan. Chi-Yu’s work has long been focusing on re-establishing the connections among humans, things, animals, and the ruined world left by technic capitalism. His practice revolves around the moving image, looking for contemporary narratives in lost memory through the reproducing of oral history and myths. He is also involved in different collaboration projects of installation, video installation, and performance.

The exhibitions he once participated include 12th Shanghai Biennale: Proregress (Power Station of Art, Shanghai 2018); Trans-Justice (MOCA, Taipei, 2018); Crush (Para Site, Hong Kong, 2018); Taipei Biennial (Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, 2016); The 2nd CAFAM Future Exhibition (CAFA Art Museum, Beijing, 2015). His films have been screened at Beijing International Short Film Festival (2017); EXiS Festival (Seoul, 2017); Arkipel Festival (Jakarta, 2016). He had a solo show: 91 Square Meters of Time (TKG+ Project, Taipei, 2017) and was a resident artist at Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten (2014-2015).

Liquid Love

Love in the Clouds: Welcome to the Liquid Modern World!

Amy Cheng (Curator)

Dear visitors, welcome to the “liquid modern world!”

  • Liquid Love, the title of this exhibition, owes its inspiration to the book by Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds (2003). This exhibition re-thinks and explores the experiences of contemporary life in network society through the lens of Bauman’s reflective thinking on the modern world.
  • Bauman coined the term “liquid modernity” to characterize our life experiences, as they are shaped and dominated by the flow of financial capital and big data, accompanied by the artificial manipulations and ubiquitous algorithms, and the incorporation of state-of-the-art telecommunications technology today. These experiences and features were exactly what Bauman devoted a lifetime to analyzing.
  • Just as Bauman argued, we are inhabitants of the liquid modern world in the information age. In this exhibition, we treat the creative thought and practice of art as an alternative and conceptual means for a new round of dialectical reflection on the world we live in.
  • Citing the clues that 19th-century poet Charles Pierre Baudelaire left behind in Le Spleen de Paris, Bauman expounded his idea of non-linear liquid temporality at the outset of Liquid Love. Baudelaire wrote: “My dear friend, I send you a small work of which one could say, not unjustly, that it has neither head nor tail, since everything in it is on the contrary a head and a tail, alternatively and reciprocally. […] We may cut short […] because I do not hold the tiring will of any of them endlessly to a superfluous plot.”
  • Similarly, this exhibition seeks to immerse the visitors in the reading and perceptual context of “multiple nodes” and “synchronicity,” thereby helping us reflect on today’s infoxication syndromes, yet allowing us to “envision” society from the perspective of the Baudelairean flâneurs.
  • This exhibition encourages visitors to both bodily and consciously shuttle “inside” and “outside” of the time and space constructed by the works, which may prove an interesting way to grasp the concept of “liquid society.” In the 20th century, humanity witnessed the transition of society from the industrial to the post-industrial, in which the modern living experience was described as “solid”—moving from corporeality and material-based spatial transformation (e.g., from agricultural villages to urban cities) and the process of material production (humans on countless assembly lines) towards the “media revolution” of time, speed, transmission, and communication in the era of consumption and telecommunication.
  • Confronted with the turbulence and changes in their quotidian relationships at the dawn of the industrial age, people tended to feel deeply uncertain about their individual and collective future. Cogitating the beginning of the industrial age, Karl Marx wrote the following words in 1848, now legendary: “All that is solid melts into air,” a sentence as thought-provoking as empirically imaginable when placed in today’s context.
  • In the liquid society, people pursue velocity and variation, and emphasize mobility and lightness.
  • Therefore, we are undergoing a revolution in the relationships between people, between human beings and objects, as well as between humanity and the world, through which we expect to transcend the confines of “fixed” relational ties and embrace an imaginary future as changing as expanding. Such a zeitgeist is not only altering people’s mind and conscious, but also drastically reshaping the politics of every society and social stratum.
  • The future is now” has become a reality.
  • According to the results of searching for the phrase on the Google search engine, the phrase, “the future is now” originates from the title of a short documentary in 1955 which gave prominence to future-oriented, advanced products in U.S. government labs, such as the video telephone, home video recorder, electronic composing system, pocket radio, and wrist radio.
  • Indeed, the future is now, and some scenarios of “future” have even become the past. We live in the future, or, to put it another way, our “present” is the “future” in the making.
  • How did the interpersonal relationship between humans, as well as that between humanity and the world change? Bauman discussed the relationships “in the clouds” in Liquid Love: People have unquenchable thirst for close “connections” (social bond) on the one hand, and ask for the “freedom” to be detached anytime on the other. He invoked the metaphor of love to tackle the relationships and the collapse of traditional values in the age of information and consumption.
  • In other words, as technological products such as electronic media, the Internet, and smartphones become part of the quotidian existence of half the global population in the contemporary world, we expect to be online anytime so that we can become connected with others in an easy, unhindered fashion, yet we also want to be capable of being offline and severing the social ties with others if necessary.
  • The previous ideal of a relationship as strong as diamond has been liquefied today. “Be water, my friend,” Bruce Lee said in a TV interview in 1971. This quote embodied his spirit, and, more thought-provoking, it implied the “art of ‘being’” in contemporary liquid life.
  • The question to be addressed in this exhibition: what counts as the “covenant relationship” in contemporary liquid life? The seven participating artists in this exhibition outline seven different scenarios for the visitors.
  • Egyptian artist Hassan Khan’s work The Infinite Hip-Hop Song is an algorithmic product. Once the computer boots up, it produces an endless, non-repetitive stream of hip-hop songs. The artist derives the vocals from the pre-recorded tracks by many hip-hop singers. This automatic composing system bears more than a passing resemblance to an autopoietic “organism.”
  • In his work Drinking from the Spring of Liquid Love, Japanese musician/artist dj sniff gathers songs whose titles and lyrics contain the term “liquid love” from a huge volume of online information. The length of the “collected data” is about half a day. The artist remixes these songs into a “new work,” and then plays it via the reconnection of a set of repurposed sound objects like turntable, cassette player, spring, and amplifier. After layers of deconstruction and reconstruction, these sounds become “sound signals” unintelligible to the visitors.
  • German artist Hito Steyerl’s work Liquidity Inc. can be interpreted as a survival strategy for individuals in face of the unstable and uncertain future (e.g., financial and market fluctuations or economic recession) in the liquid world. Bearing the signature of Steyerl’s message-based image, the protagonist in this work is a financial analyst who has been unemployed since the global financial crisis and implied to embody Bruce Lee’s philosophy of life: “Be water.” Steyerl also created an “immersive” environment for the visitors, as if they were temporarily sitting on the seats “amidst waves” to experience this work.
  • Chung-Han Yao’s work Feel the Space seeks to investigate the parallel evolution of the real world and the cyberspace. The artist recorded several outdoor DJ performances in Taipei, and these recordings are played back in the exhibition venue between the same hours of a day as those of the real events. Nonetheless, the visitors can only hear the ambient sound in the exhibition venue. They must go on the Internet via their smartphones to attend the “scene of performances” if they want to listen to the music played by the artist. Their visual and auditory senses thus simultaneously overlap each other and become displaced in the real world and the cyberspace. Ergo, the visitors shuttle between two disparate worlds by means of changes in the way of listening.
  • Hao Ni’s work Structure Study VI is a six-channel video work. The artist firstly edited the video footages of events such as disasters, conflicts, factory machines, explosions, and running animals he collected from YouTube into three parts. Then he invited three drummers to imitate the situations that the images indicate. The artist edited these video footages in a way as if he were “composing music,” producing a symphony of impassioned, fierce images and sounds with a subtle touch of order. This work allows the visitors to feel the powerful impact of massive images in the cyberspace.
  • Yu-Chen Wang’s multimedia installation If there is a place I haven’t been to follows her consistent surrealist style, offering astute observations to the industrial development and scientific thoughts of all stripes in the contemporary society, and meanwhile interpreting them in a wonderfully imaginative fashion, insofar as to engage in dialogues with memories, histories, as well as different people, events and things. Wang’s painting features an ecological system composed of gorgeous creatures and machines. She ingeniously blends the files, images and sounds she collected into the multiple storylines and perspectives of this work, shaping a concatenation of autobiography-like “temporal landscapes” that engulf visitors.
  • Chi-Yu Wu’s work The LED Future is a black futurist sci-fi image. The artist created a world in his imagination where the natural source of light (i.e., the Sun) has completely burned out, and we have no choice but to depend on the artificial source of light (i.e., LEDs) for survival. Apart from serving as the source of light and representing images nowadays, the extensively used LEDs have become the primary terminal interface for messages and signals—LEDs replaced God-created light, becoming the fountainhead that shapes memories and consciousness. The artist utilizes such imagination to reflect on the development of human history and civilization.

Dear visitors, as we immerse ourselves in the lapping of images, sounds and messages, and enjoy the high-speed mobility and exchange of body or consciousness, we’ve forged a symbiotic relationship with countless individuals. The world in which artificial intelligence replaces natural perception keeps thriving. How can we re-explore ourselves and our relations to the community amid these dazzling and stunning situations? Perhaps it is the very question we should try to answer as we share love in the clouds and live in the liquid world.

Sound Meridians ── Cultural Counter-mapping through Sound: Taiwan, the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia

Curators :

Initiated by TheCube Project Space, the project Sound Meridians—Cultural Counter-mapping through Sound: Taiwan, the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia (hereafter referred to as Sound Meridians) invites curators/artists from four Asian regions (incl. Taiwan, the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia) to organize disparate yet echoing exhibitions by treating Southeast Asian cultural context as their shared text and featuring the sound cultures and creations in their respective countries with commissioned artworks, archives from field survey, audio recordings, videos, and historical documents.

Sound Meridians, the title of this project, owes its inspiration to the concept in traditional Chinese medicine, claiming that human life is sustained by the energy circulating around the meridian system in the human body. In Western anatomy, there is no convincing evidence of meridians, yet there has been empirical verification in the practice of Chinese medicine. This project invokes such a view of corporeality as an imagery metaphor, investigating how sound can communicate different local cultures, put them into circulation, and even transform them into dynamic public spaces, and how sound culture per se can become the medium and material for the topology of history that responds to the historico-cultural development endemic to a place.

Sound Meridians will be exhibited on the ground floor of MoCA, Taipei and divided into four parts. The Taiwan section features the song Rainy Night Flowers and the Evolution of the Sound Apparatus in Taiwan curated by Jeph Lo. It examines the development of modern sound in Taiwan under the influence of the innovative regime of technology, regulations, and culture, so as to outline the evolutionary process of sound machines that serve as the means for modern people’s listening experiences. Artist Chao-Ming Teng is invited to present his ongoing work After All These Years, that shows the historical traces of sound by personifying the famous Taiwanese song Rainy Night Flowers. This part also includes the Talking Drums Radio, a continuing project initiated in 2019, which explores what else is possible for sound to simultaneously serve as a medium for transmission and content for contemplation.

The Philippines section invites scholar Dayang Yraola to present her project Taginting, A Resonant Community of Sound Practice which illustrates the studies on the history of modern experimental sound in the Philippines with profuse and detailed audiovisual archival documents. The Singapore section foregrounds Melantun Records Pop-up: Electronic Dreams of Tsao Chieh curated by musician Chee-Wai Yuen. Artist Ujikaji is invited to represent his work Melantun Records that introduces the oeuvre by electronic musician Tsao Chieh, otherwise long since consigned to oblivion. The Malaysia section highlights Silver Noise: Sound Circuits of Peninsula Malaysia in Parts, on Exile curated by artist Sow-Yee Au, showcasing the emergence, rheology, and different versions of Malaysian national anthem.

Talking Drums Radio

Talking Drums Radio studio , Online Radio, Recording Studio, 2020 ©You-Wei Chen

Talking Drums Radio
Curated by TheCube Project Space
Radio studio designer: Mao

What the “Talking Drum” Exactly Is

In the 19th century, on a voyage to Africa, British naval officer William Allan discovered that the local inhabitants could convey highly poetic messages by beating the tribal drum with drumsticks insofar as to create varying rhythm and tone, such as “Make your feet come back the way they went, make your legs come back the way they went, plant your feet and your legs below, in the village which belongs to us,” a message which implies “come back home.” They used drumbeats as their language to announce the birth of babies in their tribes, or call the villagers to attend daily events (e.g., a funeral) at dawn. The drum is known as a “talking drum.” The Europeans at that time were amazed by it, praising not only its capability of passing messages remotely but also the poetic sound language of drumbeats. It was not until the early 20th century that the occidental powers had similar invention—audio broadcasting.

The Revolution of Modern Life : Broadcasting

Technological revolution ushered in the modern era. The radio broadcasting invented in the early 20th century was the most immediate and convenient source of information, music, and theater in people’s “modern life.” It was also a tool for individuals and communities to forge a consensus. Accordingly, radio broadcasting bears more than a passing resemblance to the talking drums in African tribes. Renowned media theorist H. Marshall McLuhan claimed that radio broadcasting retribalized the human race. He also compared the sound of radio broadcasting to that of the tribal drums. The 1933 Futurist Radio Manifesto predicted as boldly as excitedly that radio broadcasting, as a tool for sharing emotional experiences, signals the end of all art forms.

However, the prophecy has never come true. Radio broadcasting does not amaze people nowadays as much as it did at the time when it was just invented. Its function of information transmission is literally replaced by the Internet—multifarious audiovisual services such as live or on-demand online streaming have become favored ways of communication. Nevertheless, it’s not meaningless to rethink sound as content and a medium today. Previously, only professionals were competent in the recording and radio equipment for broadcasting. Today, the hardware and software for sound recording and editing are so popular and easy to use that radio broadcasting has become a tool and technology that most people can utilize. In other words, the multitude are simultaneously consumers/receivers as well as producers/transmitters of information in the communication network.

About the Talking Drums Radio

The Talking Drums Radio has been broadcasting in the form of online audio streaming since April 2019. It has invited artists, scholars, poets, musicians, playwrights, and Internet activists to imagine and experiment on sound with concerted efforts, hence over 200 programs by more than 50 groups of participants. Each program lasted 10 to 30 minutes, including an automatic music generator that runs endlessly and never repeats itself.

The Talking Drums Radio broadcasts with no retro or nostalgic touch. Instead, it seeks to express the idea that sound, as a medium and a form of art, remains a field well worth exploring, even though a half of Earthlings have become inter-linked by the Internet nowadays. After all, it is exactly the very density and convenience of this network that breathe new life into this field.

After All These Years,(Chao-Ming Teng)

After All These Years, Archival Giclée Print, Digital Offset Prints, Sound Installation, 2020 © You-Wei Chen
The diagram for the carpet installation, denoting the positions of all the names of the “collaborators” appeared in the chronology of Rainy Night Flowers

Rainy Night Flowers, a song that was born in 1934, was then one of the most popular songs in Taiwan. Since its release, there have been more than 30 singers who have released the song, with a dozen versions in different languages. Widely performed in political and memorial campaigns, this song elicits nostalgia and a sense of collective identity in Taiwanese people. “Rainy night flowers” has been used to describe Xie Xue-Hong (1901–1970), who cofounded the Taiwanese Communist Party; it has also been used as a metaphor for the tragic fatalism of Taiwan’s democracy, as well as for Taiwan’s past economic development. This song has been banned by the government on numerous occasions; it has also been featured in plays, films, and television shows. The phenomenon of Rainy Night Flowers has become the crux of extensive research in Taiwan. Former Taiwanese president Lee Teng-Hui (1923–2020) had publicly expressed his wish that Taiwanese people would stop singing this song. Rainy Night Flowers was the only Taiwanese song that world-renowned tenor Plácido Domingo chose to perform in his 2002 concert in Taiwan. Eighty-three years have passed before the song was designed as the key clue to the mystery in Taiwanese survival horror video game Detention in 2017. A Taiwanese cinematic adaptation of Detention became an instant blockbuster in 2019, where Rainy Night Flowers is featured as a crucial music element that sets the tone of the film.

The tenacious, unrelenting life of Rainy Night Flowers is transduced in Chao-Ming Teng’s hands into an unorthodox interpretation. Suavely personified, the song in Teng’s eye seeks survival after its inception, wangling its way to eternity through devious maneuvers of the times and those who sang it. The artist has assembled written archives of the song’s over 80 years of history into a chronology, printed out as flyers at the exhibition for viewers to take. He has also penned a first-person narrative of Rainy Night Flowers: A voice-over of the song’s soliloquy is broadcast at the exhibition, where the song looks back on the vicissitudes of its journey, as well as the lessons it has learned. A conspicuous indication that an object is not merely dictated by humanity, but it also defines humanity. This work proposes a question centered on the personification of the song: an existence of multiple identities, ready to be accessed at any given moment─does it count as a loss of identity or a form of true proactiveness? 

Just like Rainy Night Flowers, the work After All These Years, reinvents itself in every rendition. The way it is shown adapts to the exhibition space. In addition to the chronology and the voice-over, recurring motifs include the black rectangle that serves as the background of the chronology, as well as the number of mirrors that corresponds to the number of names in the chronology. The specifically proportioned black color block and the mirrors appear to be a means of Rainy Night Flowers to beguile you, or perhaps, the beginning of its secret machinations.  

Chao-Ming Teng

Born and currently lives in Taipei. Teng graduated from the Media Arts and Sciences program from MIT School of Architecture and Planning. He had been invited to be the resident artist at Villa Arson (France, 2009) and Para Site (Hong Kong, 2014). Recently shows (selected) include Taipei Biennial (Taiwan, 2012), Dojima River Biennial (Japan, 2013), ALTERing-NATIVism—Sound Cultures in Post-War Taiwan (Taiwan, 2014), Discordant Harmony (Art Sonje Center, Korea, 2015), RR          ZZ (Gluck 50, Italy, 2015), Hiroshima Trilogy: Part III (Hiroshima MOCA, Japan, 2015), Public Spirits (Warsaw CCA, Poland, 2016), Metahistory (TKG+ Gallery, Taiwan, 2018), Mercurial Boundaries (Museum of NTUE, Taiwan, 2019) and Rotating Exploded View Diagram of Historiography (Galerie Nichido, Taiwan, 2019).