Q1. There’s the release of your first album 《Marching Forward》in 1990, branching out to go behind the scenes as a film scorer, then the endless experimentation and stylistic transformations in your expression of electronic music… With such a long history of making music behind you, what does music mean to you today?
When music becomes your profession, the most meaningful part of music to me is survival–if you aren’t satisfying the basic need of income, it becomes difficult to continue investing your mental and emotional energy. Then, it’s turning music into a medium that can reflect the state of your surroundings, that can translate your creative conditions to listeners, and also what I find to be the highest echelon–though it is relatively difficult–the potential for music and art to heighten, to elevate one’s spiritual path.
Because music reflects our state at the time because words and actions are inherent parts of the expression because I am a person filled with conflict and paradoxes… it’s as if there is hope for music to continue uplifting my internal state of being. This happens through the necessity of reducing conflict in the internal and external landscapes during the creative process, through dissolving the tension between dreams and reality, and through dedication to achieving a state of harmony between my words and actions.
Q2. Having been in the creative profession for so long, what it is that continues to keep you passionate?
To me, the path of music does not demand much persistence. With reverence to the laws of this world, I simply continue to follow my fate and observe what appears. When I first came to Taipei in search of work, I thought to myself: if it does not appear, I will pack my bags and return to my family in Taichung and help them sell pork knuckle, and maybe open a record or instrument store, which would still be in relation to music.
If one day, nobody were to enjoy my work, or if I did not have the motivation to make new work, maybe I’ll pivot, returning home to plant flowers, and trees. I’ve worked in this industry for a while now, so instead of looking at the business with the mentality of needing to survive, I feel that as long as I continue to follow my heart and live in the present, everything around me will ease in turn.
Q3. Between (Recite 念), which was recorded for the compilation《A Pure Person 單純的人》and this year’s 《Difference 別樣》, there’s a prevalence of references to traditional eastern elements. In your creative process, how does the relationship between traditional cultures and electronic music manifest?
In recent years I’ve wanted to fuse elements of local culture with electronic music, to create a chemical reaction between the two. I went to Manzou Township in Pingtung in search of the Taiwanese Moon Lute; the director Huang Hui-Chen also gifted me a local shamisen. I wanted to experiment with incorporating these oriental materials into my creations, and I started to question what it would look like to honor these traditions from the heart, rather than create a surface-level collage of superficial elements. This aspect was of great importance to me.
Since we’ve always accepted Western culture and ideals, we haven’t engaged directly with the culture present here, in the soil around us. There are no craftsmen of old around us, whom we may ask for mentorship and guidance. When we talk about traditional cultures, does The Twenty-Four Filial Exemplars not count as one kind? But that’s too advanced, and how can it be implemented in modern society? Aren’t there other ways, where by paying close attention to how one leads their own life, they are simultaneously practicing that same kind of piety?
Thus, the type of traditional culture I hope to present is not one that only relies on musical instruments, genres, or other external forms to express eastern traditions. Rather, it’s about whether that fundamental attitude lives within the heart. Even if there are no eastern elements or references present, the work may still demonstrate the essence of that culture.
Q4. When you were creating the album “Difference”, what was going through your mind?
My main focus was on the hardware, so the other parameters became more abstract. At that time I had just started learning how to use the Elektron Digitakt. I liked how it expressed sound and sampled flexibly, so I considered using it to create a “Difference”. There were many improvised tonal fragments, as well as samples from the moon lute and shamisen that I first recorded digitally through Overbridge.
Then I added effects over the three songs and began to lay out their arrangements. Finally, I gave it a name. One day while visiting the creek, I enjoyed how the rays of light were overlaid on the textures of water and stones, so I tried using the Digitakt to sketch similarly natural scenes. It’s a machine with layers of complexity–every day I would force myself to practice and study. Step by step, I discovered strategies to work around technical limitations.
Q5. What do you think is the role of a “film score”? Having collaborated with directors like Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Jia Zhangke and Midi Zhao to produce movie soundtracks, and having faced such a multiplicity of sonic expressions, how do you incept and negotiate the presentation of a soundtrack?
Directors often know what I’ve been into lately, which enables cooperation. For me, scoring films is like working in the service industry. I have to dissolve my own value system while trying to help realize the emotional landscape desired by the director.
For example, when working with Director Hou on “The Assassin”, I was a complete stranger to the ancient music from the Tang Dynasty. To this, Director Hou replied: “if you aren’t familiar, can’t you go ask someone?” So, I went to seek advice from the Ethnomusicology professors at Taipei National University of the Arts. After discussion with teachers of these ancient instruments, I better understood the sonic identity of these instruments, and through collaboration with fellow teachers, we were able to realize the folk style of the Tang Dynasty.
Similarly, before filming Midi Zhao’s “City of Jade”, I visited Huaxing St. in Zhonghe District (New Taipei City) to chat with the director, and I listened to him discuss the temporal background of the movie. While experiencing the strong flavors of Burmese breakfast, I let my senses adjust to the surrounding environment. Sharing this experience with the director and cultivating empathy together, I slowly entered the world of the story. I like this way of doing things, of dissolving a pre-existing perspective, training to embody the world of another.
Q6. In recent performances, the pairing of projections with videography has led to opportunities for immersive experiences. In regards to live performances in the future, what types of performance model are you interested in?
Locally, there are relatively few sound art performances. The more frequent model is to operate machines from up on a stage, where the performative nature is lessened. When musicians play guitar or drum the physicality of the body is more moving, and more contagious. I imagine a collaboration with videographers or students of the visual arts. New and imaginative performance modes are possible through the permutations between sound and image. I hope to understand what a new generation of creators is thinking about, to learn and exchange together.
Recently I’ve been excited about integrating the works of early Taiwanese painters as if a symbol of the local spirit–perhaps this will animate the work differently. In “Last Year When the Train Passed by”, which showed at last year’s Taiwan International Documentary Festival, director Huang Pang-Chuan traveled to Beimen in Tainan to shoot the paintings of Hung Tung. Through the unique charm of 8mm and 16mm film and developing the roll in black tea, the images emerged as an accident. They carried a residual texture that sparked a strong resonance with the music.
Live performance is quite improvisational, just like being on a highway and operating a vehicle. You are fully focused on the wheel, yet your mind becomes detached from the body, extending into another state, forgetting everything about the external reality. This mirrors the emotional landscape of live performance–very engaging, very pleasant.
Q7. Regarding the recent event “Sonic Shaman”, how did you approach curating the content of the performance, and what was the creative concept you aimed to explore? Also, what types of hardware were required for the performance?
To determine the performance theme, first I’ll gather information from around me. For example, if today’s theme is sonic shaman, I imagine the types of possibilities that could extend from that state, one that is more spiritual in nature, one that transcends standard modes of space and time. I would imagine that the tables have consciousness, that the machines possess their life force. I would acknowledge and salute them first, in reverence, before diving completely into the performance. Live performance is quite improvisational, just like being on a highway and operating a vehicle. You are fully focused on the wheel, yet your mind becomes detached from the body, extending into another state, forgetting everything about the external reality. This mirrors the emotional landscape of live performance–very engaging, very pleasant. That was the theme of this performance.
Both the performance and the hardware used were improvisational. For example, this time we had the Cosmos by SOMA LABORATORY, which, through numerous calculations, can superimpose, delay, and saturate the sound. It’s not quite like a looper, it can perform more advanced treatments of the sound, which makes it both more difficult to control and also more intriguing. Another piece was the Meng Qi Wing Pinger. I really enjoy its concept, and its design is unlike standard electronic instruments. Instead of using an oscillator to produce sound, it uses two resonant lowpass filters that can “ping” each other via a peripheral logic circuit. These filters can crosstalk, tuning each other directly, or in a step sequence. Organic soundscapes can be animated with the touch of a finger. There was also an iPad, which could be routed into the Cosmos to produce even more permutations and layers. Many types of routings were present to create sound.
Q8. Contemporary music has many forms of expression. Sound can be harnessed, reshaped, altered, remade, expressed in different dimensions, and carried via various mediums. What’s your perspective on Taiwan’s current music landscape?
Electronic music is still a minority, which is a fundamental problem in the market. But that’s fine–didn’t Master Tzu-Chi once say: “done sincerely, felt sincerely”? Still, I look forward to chances where new ideas may spring out of the music landscape.
When directors like Hou-Hsiao Hsien, Edward Yang and Tsai-Ming Liang appeared, the film landscape at the time still revolved around educational military video. Still, they focused on creating non-mainstream, personal work. Then, they traveled out of the country with their light shining, their flame bright. Thus, staining the practice of creating what you desire.
There will be a day where, from that soil, a most intriguing bud grows.
Original interview/article by YACHIN, see here
Edited/Translated by Taiwan Beats editorials