ALTERing NATIVism at Taishin Arts Awards
ALTERing NATIVism－Sound Cultures in Post-War Taiwan (Taishin Arts Award EXhibition) currently shown at the Museum of National Taipei University of Education is an excerpt of the exhibition which was held at the Museum of National Taipei University of Education in Taipei and the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts respectively in 2014, including part of the sound archive of the exhibition, the documentary films Sounds from the Lower Rungs of Taiwan (Crystal Records, 1992 ), 1995 Taipei International Post-industrial Arts Festival (HUANG Ming-chuan, 1995) as well as TENG Chao-ming’s To Sing or Not to Sing? (commissioned work by the exhibition).
ALTERing NATIVism is a curatorial and research project initiated by TheCube Project Space and based on research on sound cultures in post-war Taiwan. In 2014, jointly organized by TheCube and aforementioned museums in two cities of Taiwan, the exhibition is funded by the 2012 Production Grants to Independent Curators in Visual Arts of the National Culture and Arts Foundation.
ALTERing NATIVism explores Taiwan’s various post-war sound culture movements by presenting historical documentation, audiovisual archives, and artworks. In the original exhibition, it begins the discourse with the album Lang laile: Qingting, Taiwan de hua (waves are coming: listen carefully, Taiwan is speaking) released by Crystal Records (now dissolved) in 1997. It is a 47-minute recording of waves crashing on the shore in Ji’an Township in Hualien, Taiwan. The sound is natural rather than man-made, but in the marketing process it was entitled “Taiwan is speaking”, which suggests that the sound, or this sound making, has a definitive political implication.
Beginning with this album, the exhibition excavates the issues that cannot be avoided in the shaping of Taiwan’s modernity, and explores the context of sound culture movements, including the songs banned during the post-war martial law period, American pop songs, the search for our own music in the Folk Song Collection Movement and the Folk Song Movement, and the underground music scene, Noise Movement, Raves and sound art in the post-martial law period. Sifting through the soil of Taiwan’s social history, the exhibition compiles a genealogical record of sound, and hopes to explore more implications of this record through the process of re-examining the sound making.
In addition to featuring the albums, posters, flyers and documentary films collected by the research team, the exhibition has invited 15 groups of sound and visual artists to expand the discourse with art works. Rather than presenting a comprehensive history of Taiwan’s sound cultures, this exhibition proposes an “approach for listening to and explaining Taiwan’s sounds”, and attempts to investigate history through the sense of hearing, in order to stimulate further discussion.
Sounds in this exhibition
Taiwan seemed to be in the grip of American hot music fever with the stationing of American troops in the 1960s. A large number of young people were itching for a chance to start a band during that time. The thriving club culture happened to create plenty of venues such as cabarets and saloon bars from where professional and amateur bands may gain invaluable experience of performing. The Sun Shine (formed in 1960) and The Raymond (formed in 1962) were the flagships of them. Based in southern and northern Taiwan respectively, they made a name of “the North Raymond and the South Sun Shine” for themselves as excellent and iconic bands.
Folksong Collection Movement
An atmosphere of “total Westernization” pervaded the Taiwanese music community in the 1960s. What could be learned from music academies were mostly Western skills of composition, while collating the folksong literature since the 1930s remained the primary concern of the intelligentsia. Between 21 July and 1 August 1967, Shih Wei-liang and Hsu Tsang-houei organized an expedition for folksong collection, which was divided into two teams that comprehensively collected the recordings about local folksongs along the eastern and western coasts of Taiwan respectively. The collected recordings were used in systematically collating and analyzing Taiwanese folksong culture and establishing an independent discipline, through which the two leaders expected to forge new connections with the international academic network of music studies. What is worth noticing is that the Folksong Collection Movement was not so much an occasional activity of academic material collection as an intellectual, cultural movement comprised of appeals, theories, actions, objectives, and vision.
Born in Da-guang Neighborhood, Heng-chun Township, Ping-tung County, 1905, Chen Da went partially blind due to an obscure disease, which was why people called him “red-eye Da’la.” He was one-quarter of aboriginal descent and uneducated throughout his life. His self-taught skills in singing and playing moon-lute were derived from the imperceptible influence of his environment of growth. His singing sounded desolate yet emotionally rich. He was proficient in improvisatory writing and singing songs, which made him a minor celebrity in his hometown. Hsu Tsang-houei recorded Chen’s singing on the expedition of folksong collection in 1967. Then Hsu produced and released Chen’s first album. Afterward, Chen was invited to the Scarecrow Café in Taipei as a singer-in-residence, since when he attracted the attention of Taipei’s cultural community. He died of a car accident in 1981 at the age of 76.
Sounds from the Lower Rungs of Taiwan
Between 1992 and 1995, the Crystal Records initiated Sounds from the Lower Rungs of Taiwan, a long-term fieldwork project that aims to document the sound performances of Taiwan’s grass-root sub-culture in the forms of sound, image, and text. The recordings resulted in two albums with three CDs. The content encompasses a diversity of vulgar sounds from Nakasi music and pirate radio broadcast to vendors’ hawking in night markets. The repertoire includes some replicas of the songs in lost records. The members knew very little about the Folksong Collection Movement of the 1960s when they launched this fieldwork project. Nevertheless, their results unwittingly contributed to remedying the deficiency of the Folksong Collection Movement that emphasized simply the academic and artistic dimensions and ignored the riotous profusion of folk cultures and sounds.
The Taiwan Sound Archive
Based on the success of Sounds from the Lower Rungs of Taiwan, the Crystal Records launched a more ambitious fieldwork project – The Taiwan Sound Archive. This project assembled scholars of ethnic music, anthropologists, photographers, documentary writers, and graduate students of ethnic music, uniting them to actively record the folk music which was on the brink of vanishing. The recordings were divided into three parts, namely sound, image and text. The members’ efforts resulted not only in the release of records, but also in the publication of the quarterly The Sound of Taiwan wrapped in the CD box set. The Taiwan Sound Archive consists of six main categories, including folk song, traditional opera, narrative and singing, instrumental music, dance music, and sacred music. Each category further consists of two sub-categories, namely “tradition” and “modern,” amidst which the Crystal Records attempted to construct the full picture of the sound of Taiwan.
The Crystal Records and the Wave of Taiwan New Music
Founded in 1986, the Crystal Records was the first label in Taiwan that not only advocated “non-mainstream music” but also sparked the wave of “Taiwan New Music.” Along with the publications and released records of the label, the new Taiwanese song movement exerted significant influence on the mainstream music at that time. Taiwan New Music sought to transcend the institutional confines of mainstream labels and carved out a new path. The movement not only overthrown the traditional forms of pop music, but also reflected on the stereotypes of “localization,” to wit, nostalgia and sadness. The Crystal Records was a small label with limited amount of capital. However, the fulfilment of “localization” had been loftily expected from such a small label since the lift of the martial law. The label began to reduce its scope of business in the 2000s, and unfortunately collapsed later through mismanagement and lack of proper financial controls.
Aboriginal Popular Songs
The popularization of aboriginal songs emerged as an important phenomenon in contemporary aborigines’ social life and civilian literature. It not only encourages a high level of participation but also exhibits the characteristics of diversity, hybridization, and non-excludability. It is the most vibrant and vigorous part of aboriginal pop culture. The popular songs, whether in Chinese, Japanese, or aboriginal languages, that circulate among all tribes of Taiwan’s aborigines have been recorded and sold in the form of vinyl recordss or cassettes since the end of the Second World War. The compositions and ways of expression plainly and vividly depict the aborigines’ living experiences in a carefree and vivacious manner. These songs originated from the chants sung by the workers of forest compartments, the elegies sung by the aboriginal construction workers who were previously hunters in their tribes, the messages from battle zones, the love songs that cement long-distance relationships, and wayfarers’ wistful nostalgia. The lyrics and melodies of these songs are, among other things, melancholy, resounding, gently flowing, softly sweet, or witty, which faithfully reflect the real life of Taiwan’s aborigines in the past decades.
Founded in 1996, Underworld was a famous live house in Taipei for cultivating numerous well-known and unheard-of independent rock bands. Since the attributes of live houses have never been clarified in Taiwan, their legal status is often questioned by the government or local residents, which resulted in frequent inspections and residents’ repelling. Underworld closed down in 2013 due to its ambiguous legal status and government’s strict regulations, even though it had been cherished as an invaluable asset for the development of Taiwan’s independent bands.
The Realist Folk Song Represented by Li Shuang-tze and Yang Tsu-chuen
Li Shuang-tze and Yang Tsu-chuen stood out as extraordinary singers in the folk song movement arising in the 1970s. In 1976, Li provoked the moderator and the audience publicly at a campus concert of Western folk song by chanting the slogan: “sing our own songs.” Yang devoted herself to a touring folk song concert around Taiwan and organized the Green Field Charity Concert in 1978, the first large-scale outdoor concert in Taiwan. What Li and Yang have in common is that they both treat music as not only the means to voice the opinions among the lower middle class and the oppressed groups, but also a practical approach of musical aesthetics used for social critique. Their works were officially banned because they were considered potentially detrimental to the authority’s legitimacy of ruling at that time. It was not until the lift of the martial law that their approach was followed by several independent bands such as the Blacklist Studio, Chu Yeuh-hsin, Black Hand Nakasi, the Labor Exchange/Sheng-xiang Band, and the Village Armed Youth.
Founded in 1989, the Blacklist Studio consists of a number of singers and musicians, among which Wang Ming-hui, Chen Chu-hui, and Keith Stuart shoulder the responsibility for music production and conception. Wang Ming-hui, the director of the Blacklist Studio, proposed the idea of New Taiwan Music to summarize the Blacklist Studio’s musical practice and aesthetics that try to blend folk perspective, history, knowledge, and the Third World sound into pop music. They not only introduce salient documentality into the production of musical albums, but also serve as the mediator between history and sound, trying to enrich our understanding and cogitation of the world with music.
The Black Hand Nakasi
Founded in 1996, the Black Hand Nakasi is one of the few bands that have a long history in evolving and cooperating with blue-collar workers and labor movement organizations in Taiwan. It participated in over three hundred rallies and parades in support of social movements concerning various issues such as labor condition, gender inequality, occupational injury, migrant worker, environmental protection, anti-war, anti-relocation, and vagrancy. The members sang songs to raise the participants’ spirits and strengthen the momentum of social movements. The Black Hand Nakasi has not only tried to create their works in collaboration with blue-collar workers, but also organized workshops and activities that help them and disadvantaged minorities to voice their heartfelt wishes with their own language.
The Labor Exchange/ Sheng-xiang Band
Lin Sheng-xiang and Chung Yung-feng, the leading members of the Labor Exchange/Sheng-xiang Band, redefined the scope of “Hakka” with music. They not only give their voices as Hakkanese, but also represent the concrete living conditions and the diverse, complex backgrounds of farmers, workers, foreign spouses, and young people who go back to their roots. A variety of issues have been touched on. Their music encompasses a riotous profusion of genres from folk music and rock n’ roll to the innovations of traditional instruments such as moon-lute, Pipa, and Suona, as well as the traditional Okinawa melody in collaboration with Japanese musicians. They keep exploring new possibilities for composition, finding rhythmic delight in simple melodies. In their works, music not only reflects realities but also bears the signature of realism. It is a controllable medium for aesthetic and social practice.
The Village Armed Youth
The Village Armed Youth is dubbed the “Big Band on Ketagalan Boulevard” on account of its spirit of street protest. The purpose of their music is to defend Taiwan’s agriculture and disadvantaged minorities. Its members participated in various social movements such as anti-relocation of San-Ying tribe, anti-Su-Hua Freeway movement, anti-relocation of Lo-Sheng Sanatorium and Hospital, anti-water allocation to Central Taiwan Science Park, and anti-land expropriation in Da-Pu. They tend to participate in a variety of social movements that focus on justice and human rights, challenging the impotent government by using rock n’ roll and guitars as their weapons. They dissed the police and cursed the bureaucrats at the sites of demonstration. They devoted themselves to protecting Taiwan’s agriculture, environment and human rights, sparking revolts against the injustice with their songs.
L.T.K. Commune coined the term “Taike Rock.” It marked the heyday of underground culture in the post-authoritarian Taiwan, and the flourishing scene lasted for years. Its membership has changed several times since its establishment in 1989. The members have adopted music and various actions to combat the boredom of life when they were still students. They not only overthrew the so-call rock n’ roll with vulgarity and riots, but also transformed local folk culture into avant-garde noise. They often take part in street demonstrations and maintain a close association with activists of student movements. L.T.K. Commune is the most long-lived underground band in Taiwan. Although most of the founding members (except the vocalist Ko Ren-chien) left the band and the other members are now middle-agers, L.T.K. Commune still persists in finding more possibilities for music and actions.
Zero and Sound Liberation Organization (Z.S.L.O.)
Zero and Sound Liberation Organization is a prominent group that galvanized the Noise Movement in Taiwan. Liu Hsin-yi, Lin Chiwei, and Steve Chan were still undergraduates in Fu Jen Catholic University when they established the organization in 1991. They made their public debut at the competition “ICRT Young Star” with outlandish costumes and un-tuned guitar improvisation, which successfully irritated the audience and established their orientation towards overthrowing the system with noise. In 1993, they released a self-titled album which is the first self-produced and self-released CD album in Taiwan.
Ying Wei-min (nicknamed as Xiao Ying) is the leader of the Clippers, one of the pioneering groups of Noise Movement in the 1990s. In 1998, he hosted the Psychological Collapse of Xiao Ying, a program broadcasted by the Big Tree radio station (FM 90.5). He not only arbitrarily played a variety of sounds in this program but also designed its content in collaboration with his bosom friend Tsai Hai-en (one of the founding members of L.T.K. Commune). By virtue of this radio program, he tried to explore various possibilities for sound and talk show. This piece of recording is the last episode of Psychological Collapse of Xiao Ying that was off the air due to its inappropriate content.
Founded by Wang Fujui in 1993, NOISE is the first independent label and magazine of experimental music in Taiwan. It released a series of selection albums of the works by domestic and foreign noise artists, which made Taiwan a node in the international noise network. In that period, the label not only promoted Taiwan’s works to the international sound art community, but also introduced foreign counterparts into Taiwan. Before the popularization of the Internet and e-mail, physical posts served as the only means for artists to do networking and exchange their works. The international connections established by Wang not only broadened the horizons of Taiwanese audience, but also laid a solid foundation for the Taipei International Post-Industrial Art Festival held in 1995. The album Killing Me Softly with Noise released by NOISE in 1997 includes Wang’s experimental sound work The Ford of Delusion published in the pseudonym of Ching-Shen-Ching.
1995 Taipei International Post-industrial Arts Festival
The energy accumulated early 90s after the lift of Martial law came to an outbreak in 1995. As a result, Broken Life Festival expanded into Taipei International Post-industrial Arts Festival. Lin Chi-wei, a contemporary sound artist served as planer, orchestrated performances from Britain, America, Japan, Switzerland and local Taiwan. This event took place in Banqiao distillery was held for several days. The x-rated visual and horror shows may hit a record high in live action in Taiwan: Thriller theater, artists’ physical aggression against women, LTK’s brutality toward its own member, Z. S. L. O. poured gutter water and splashed it to the audience.
Teng Chao-ming, To Sing or Not to Sing?
Sound, Poster, 2014
The work To Sing or Not to Sing? features the song Rainy Night Flower that has been sung for more than eight decades since the Japanese colonial period. Since Columbia (a Japanese record label in Taiwan) released this song in 1934, a variety of people, events, objects, and ideologies has been mobilized to cement its status as the “iconic Taiwan folk song.” The artist studied and collected various forms of this song, such as the albums that included it, the rewritten versions of its lyrics, its symbols and metaphors that people invoked, and the news about it. The artist then traced the history of this song by editing these materials in a chronological order.
The answer to the question of “how things happened exactly” is destined to be as incomplete as any other historical writing. The artist tackled such incompleteness by deconstructing the narrative into visual graphics and then reconstructing them into new and reusable texts, which resulted in five “diagrammatic surfaces” that help the viewers construct the narrative. The loudspeakers randomly blares the newly recorded overture of Rainy Night Flower, which prompts the viewers to reflect on the true meaning of “singing” a song. The whole work rests temporarily on a request, that is, “since the history of this song has generated some structures and systems, let’s ponder how we can utilize them to create new things.” (Teng Chao-ming)