As I write this, another day of rain in New York is adding to what has been a rather tropical summer.
Am I the only one who thinks rainy days evoke nostalgia? I think not. So I have been digging in my archive of videos and am presenting one today; “Wu Hsin-fei: Renegade Nanguan Music from Taiwan” is one of my first videoblogs from abroad, from over 7 years ago, from my first trip to Taiwan, during the rainy season. It is also the first video I shot upon arrival. I had only a flip camera (remember those?) but I think hand tremors aside, my video captures something special; something that differs from listening to a record, or watching a slick video. This is how it happened, a moment in time caught, and relivable. And in reviewing it I once again marvel at Ms. Wu Hsin-fei’s singing technique, her concentration and the sense of calm that I have always felt at the end of her song. The following text is from that first blog:
Taiwan has a very layered cultural history; when I was growing up the country was called Formosa, a name given to it hundreds of years ago by Portuguese sailors. Taiwan was colonized by the Japanese, who left a profound mark, and most obviously, there is a huge Han Chinese population there that migrated in two major waves, one early, beginning in the 1600s, and another later during the 1940s and 50s under Chiang Kai-shek. There is also an aboriginal population, and although they have been marginalized like many of the aboriginals of the world, their music is increasingly being sold and enjoyed.
In this video I’m going for the throat — with an à cappella performance by a Nanguan singer. (Usually this music is performed with an ensemble of string, wind and percussion.) I had been told that there was a very adventurous Nanguan singer named Wu Hsin-fei who was doing all kinds of collaborations with western and aboriginal musicians. When I set up my appointment to videotape her, she requested that it be in the studio of a master ceramist, so we drove up into the mountains (Taipei is surrounded on three sides by mountains, the fourth side being a harbor) and I found myself in another world. I hope you will see and hear what I mean. So much of how we perceive music is learned, so you may need to “reset your brain” when you listen to this. But I also think that her performance is so riveting, and I was able to get so close up, that you will be drawn into this very special experience.
One of the artists I interviewed said that Taiwanese (or in this case, Chinese in Taiwan) music is about time and space. I tend to agree with that, and will go one step further: it has been so refined over the hundreds (sometimes thousands) of years, that it has retained only the most abstract essence of music. For me, it was akin to listening to a Western minimalist piece. And all you singers out there — check out her tone production!