Reflections on my field research on Lanyu island (August-September 2019)

Johannes Kretz a.k.a. Syaman Mazonos

From August to September 2019 I spent almost two months in Taiwan doing artistic field research, most of the time on Lanyu island. This article summarizes my experiences and thoughts from my own perspective and should contribute to giving some insights into the sum of my activities. I hope it can also serve as a basis for further discussions and for strategic planning of this ongoing project.

1. Preparations and Expectations

Before this extended period of “artistic field research” (compare p.9 of our proposal), I had several ideas in mind, which I wanted to pursue during my stay on Lanyu.

1.1. Finding Repertoire Suitable for Transformation

Since – during our workshop phase in Vienna in January 2019 – it became relatively clear for me, that my work for the project should focus on modes and methods of transformation of songs from the Tao culture, my main interest for the summer period in Taiwan was to find out, which kind of Tao songs / which kind of Tao repertoire would be suitable best for transformation. I already knew from previous experiences that traditional Tao songs are – in many cases – strongly bound to their context in Tao society (specific persons, families, villages, places etc.). So obviously there would always be a certain danger of breaking taboos in such an endeavor.

In order to have a basis for creative work and transformation, I wanted to know, which song texts possibly deal with topics relevant to as many Tao as possible. My assumption was, that those songs relating to experiences of individuals or individual families would be less suited for transformation rather than those songs concerning at least a whole village – or even all of the Tao. Therefore I wanted to find and collect mainly such songs, which – for example – tell myths, stories of the past, the image of the world of the Tao in general.

Furthermore I was wondering, if I can find songs, which could serve for both, telling something about the past or the values of the Tao and: providing a metaphor related to future development, emancipation and strengthening of the Tao people?

In this context I assumed that for example the origins of the silver helmets of the Tao could maybe serve as such a metaphor. Since the Tao never did mining on Lanyu, the silver for the helmets was taken from coins found in sunk ships of various colonial powers passing Lanyu. This could maybe serve as a paradigm: collecting “lost objects” of the colonizers, and turning them into an essential part of Tao culture, even a kind of ritual armor.

1.2. Making Music Together

Secondly I was prepared and interested to make music together with Tao people. I brought a lot of equipment (microphones, a wireless microphone system, sound processing equipment, a small mixing console etc.), which would allow me to perform almost anywhere together with those Tao interested in experiments. I wanted to find out, who would be interested in meeting me – and other team members – musically, preferably in the most informal and playful way, on equal terms.

1.3. Video Interviews

Thirdly I was thinking that – for various reasons – it would make sense to produce video clips of various Tao people, showing their life, their personalities, their thoughts, their concerns, their messages to the outside world as well as to other Tao people of various generations. (This idea was partly inspired by the project.)

1.4. Uncertainties

Of course it was clear for me, that there would probably occur significant deviations from all my plans and preparations. It is always hard to predict, what can be achieved in the field. Nevertheless I thought, it would make sense to be prepared with a set of ideas for subprojects.

Rap #2: Ancestors founded the village of Ivalino (translated from Tao to Chinese by Chien Ping Kuo, from Chinese to German by Wei-Ya Lin, from German to English by Johannes Kretz)

Listen to the song here.

We don’t really know their thinking, their mind.

Shiminavuwong and Shiminalishan

Shiminavuwong and Shiminalishan.

We don’t really know, it was long time ago.


We don’t really know, it was long time ago.

They set their feet and they put their marks.


They set their feet and they put their marks

on a small plane land, that’s Ivalinu.


On a small plane land, that’s Ivalinu,

they took this land here, Ivalinu.


They took this land here, Ivalinu,

where the Typhoons hit with the strongest blow.


Where the Typhoons hit with the strongest blow

the leaves don’t grow well in Ivalinu.


Leaves don’t grow well in Ivalinu

Why did they settle here, where Typhoons blow.


Why did they settle here, where Typhoons blow.

Oh didn’t they know? Why didn’t they know?


Oh didn’t they know? Why didn’t they know?

´cause they came from far long time ago.


´cause they came from far long time ago.

They did not know, they didn’t understand.


They did not know, they didn’t understand,

why did they choose this stormy land?


Why did they choose this stormy land?

They were driven by waves of the oceans blow.


They were driven by waves of the oceans blow,

they came from far – long time ago.

For understanding this song one has to take into account that in the value system of the Tao people should not praise themselves or their village. Therefore talking rather negatively about their own ancestors represents some sort of modesty or politeness towards people from other villages. I suppose it can also be understood in that way, that the Ivalino people consider themselves as brave and strong, because they actually get along with those unfriendly weather conditions in their village.

I created a first version of the song , and after collecting feedback from Tao of different ages, a second version , where the original recording of the Tao song was more in the foreground. In any case I need to continue with this work, studying more the music preferences of the young Tao generation and developing several versions of each song in order to collect more feedback.

I hope to gradually approach versions, which can serve as inspiration for the Tao people, that might trigger interest among them. In the ideal case the songs could serve as incentive for them to start their own creative initiatives integrating Tao traditions and their transformation. My main goal is not to create and distribute popular songs, but to offer inspiring examples of what the Tao themselves could do.

4. Issues and Conclusions

4.1 Translators / Translation

The language situation is this project is very complex. Firstly, there is this problem on Lanyu island, that the eldest generation only speaks Tao language, while the youngest generation basically only speaks Mandarin. Only the middle generation is capable of speaking both languages. This generation gap is one of the biggest problems for the transfer of knowledge between generations of the Tao. For our project this means, that interviews with elder Tao, who don't speak Mandarin, always require the presence of Tao of the middle generation for translation.

Secondly, in the context of our project another problem is, that some team members speak Mandarin, while others don’t. Therefore, another language barrier has to be crossed. Based on the experience of our Workshop in Vienna in January 2019, it was clear for us, that translation between Mandarin and English and/or German cannot always be provided by those team members, who are fluent in both languages. It is too exhausting to be involved in both, research and translation the whole day. Although three of our team members on Lanyu are fluent in both, Mandarin and German, even sharing the translation work between those three turned out not to be an option.

Therefore for our field research in summer we hired a translator from Taiwan, a student from Hualien university, which was recommend to us. Unfortunately it became clear on the very first day, that her knowledge of English language was practically inexistent, and that we would have to send her back home and find another solution.

Luckily Chiao-Hua Chang, an erhu player from Taiwan living in Vienna, could jump with translation during most of August. She helped a lot to provide translation between Mandarin and English/German. After she left we had to improvise with different solutions, partly by hiring another translator (for one week), partly with support of the bilingual team members/researchers.

Nevertheless – even when translation was available in one form or another – it usually implied a significant loss of information. Not everything was translated from Tao language to Mandarin, not everything from Mandarin to German/English. A lot of reduction often happened. Sometimes the reduction occurred due to certain aspects of confidentiality or discretion. (Those who spoke explicitly asked not to not translate certain things to those people regarded to be more “outside”.) Very often reduced translation occurred, because the “original” speaker was not pausing for the translation to take place, forcing the translator to save time by only giving a quick summary. The translators always had to decide in the moment, which information to translate and which to drop. Furthermore, since the “original” speakers did not pause and since even the summarized quick translation requires a minimum of time, it was often impossible for those sitting at the end of the translation chain to actively participate in conversations, When the translated information arrived, the conversation had already moved to the next topic. Therefore often there was no space for me to join the conversation actively. Especially regarding my role as project leader this created a discrepancy between my duties and my possibilities, which was sometimes frustrating.

For a certain time this position at the end of the translation chain could somehow be endured. For a period of almost two months this turned out to be a significant burden. Not only, because information was missing, but also, because of being cut off from social interaction. Translation during meals or other social interaction was often regarded as irrelevant and therefore often dropped completely. Being on an island for a long time, where one can only talk with less than five people, creates a strong feeling of lonesomeness. What could be solutions?

The obvious solution would be to provide more resources for translation. Permanent availability of a translator would definitely help. Nevertheless – judging from experience –one has to be aware of the following paradox: While competence and interest are necessary for getting translations of high quality, the more a translator is competent and interested in the research topics, the higher is the “danger” that he/she might get involved him/herself into the conversation, leaving the role of the translator and “forgetting” to translate.

Secondly and equally important would be a certain awareness and self-discipline of all involved persons, who speak Mandarin: translation needs time and the a multi-lingual conversation requires more patience (at least twice as much time) than a “normal” conversation. Unfortunately such a mode of slow-speed-two-language communication might be a serious obstacle for field research and therefore not always be an option. In any case – even with full translation “service” provided – an increased mindfulness of those in the circle of Mandarin conversation for those being outside would be important.

Another – theoretical – solution would be that all team members are required to speak Mandarin or learn Mandarin. Or a combination of the above suggestions. Or maybe a strategy where the quick and reduced “real time translation” is complemented by later meetings, where those who understood everything report in detail to the other team members?

4.2 Making Music Together Never Happened

Before coming to Lanyu we had plans to make some kind of open improvisation sessions in public spaces and encourage Tao people (probably) of the young generation to perform together with us. In our proposal we called this “artistic field research” (p.9) and “dialogical knowledge production” (p.5). The aim is to join the forces of creativity and to support the solidarity between (artistic) minorities in the widest sense. (Compare p.1 of our proposal.)

For various reasons this did not happen. On one hand other time and energy consuming subprojects were dominating throughout our stay: the translation and ethnomusicological analysis of Tao repertoire from Sound archives of the CNRS - Musée de l'Homme, attending and documenting important events (house launching celebrations), preparation and realization of the workshops with the Tao regarding a) their own traditional song repertoire and b) the work with the children. On the other hand it might have been the wrong time of the year for pursuing this idea. Many of the Tao seemed to be very busy with all kinds of work, partly tourism-related, partly agriculture/fishing. My impression is that the goal of developing a common musical practice together with Tao is very difficult to realize. For the oldest and middle generation singing has a very specific function in life and society (storing and transmitting a certain knowledge and value system), and other forms of making music seem to be pointless for them. For the middle and the young generation the challenges of daily life seem to be very demanding. Spending free time with making music in the widest sense seems not to be so attractive. Nevertheless I hope that during my next stay on Lanyu – with better preparation and more efforts in this direction – we can advance with this subproject and establish a platform for encounters in musical practice.

4.3 Strategical Considerations – Achieving More Balance

Finally for me the question arises, how to adapt our strategies after the experiences of last summer: How can we manage to gain more balance and more interaction between the elements of our project, especially between ethnomusicological research (plus engaged ethnomusicology) on one side, and artistic research (including art practice) on the other side?

How can we establish balanced settings for theoretical and practical dialogues on equal terms? When and where do the outsiders have to adapt to the habits, the values and the way of thinking of the Tao? When and where can we maintain a space for theoretical, partly abstract reflection? When and where can the outsiders “be themselves” in this dialogue with the Tao? It is clear for me that for many reasons a perfect symmetry will never by achieved. But: what options would we have to increase symmetry? How can we set up a “stage”, on which the interests of the Tao and the interests of the outsiders can interact, be negotiated, merged, etc.?

For me the time on Lanyu was successful insofar as we created a basis for future activities. Those, who came there for the first time, got a reasonable introduction, and first steps for interesting subprojects were achieved. We gained a lot of insights, knowledge, deeper understanding and in my perception everybody did advance a lot with knowledge and experience.

But there is still a lot to do …

2. Subprojects

During our field research it turned out, that some of my/our subprojects could be realized or at least started, while some had to be modified or cancelled. And new ones emerged.

2.1 Video Interviews

Preparation of the videos was not easy during the beginning of my stay. It was clear, that I need a lot of communication, making friends, talking to people, finding those, who are willing to share their thoughts with me and even allow me to bring those videos to some form of public later. The language barrier made me dependent on the availability and the quality of translators. Besides it was essential to develop and choose good questions, to find the right persons at the right time, to win their trust, to go along with their way of thinking and their value system.

I prepared the following questionnaire for the video interviews:

Preamble: This interview could be part of a project “giving voice” to Tao people. A voice to be heard by the outside world, a voice between generations of the Tao.

  • Choice of place
    • Do you have a favorite place on Lanyu? This means: a place where you feel comfortable to express your voice, your thoughts, a place which represents your personality, a place you identify strongly with. (I wanted my interviewers to choose the place, because that would also visually support a diversity of statements.)
  • Questions about the past:
    • Where do the Tao come from?
    • Do you know stories/songs about the origin of the Tao?
    • About Gods?
    • About the silver helmets?
    • About Tao boats?
  • Questions about the present:
    • What does it mean to be a Tao?
    • Do you feel different from other Taiwanese?
    • What are your personal strengths?
    • What are the strengths of Tao people?
    • Can you imagine living in a different place than on Lanyu?
  • Questions about the future:
    • If you had a free wish, what would you wish for the Tao people?
    • ...for your family?
    • ...for yourself?
    • If the president of Taiwan invites you for lunch, what would you like to tell her?
  • Further questions:General information:
    • What would you like to tell people from other places/countries as a “message from Lanyu”?
    • Would you like to sing a song, tell a story, express your feelings with a dance?
    • Education
    • form of living
    • profession
    • age

Finally during those two months I was able to record severals interviews with the following people:

  • Chien Ping Kuo, (team member, activist, researcher about Tao songs, Iraraley village)
  • Si Pehbowen (young Tao, team member, dancer, Iraraley village. We also recorded her dance performance in an inactive taro field.)
  • Alaen (middle aged bar/hotel owner, Ivalino village)
  • Maraoosh (Head of Lan An Foundation, Iratey village)
  • Liya Shieh (middle aged woman in Ivalino village)
  • Aunt of Sinan Sakayan (elder generation, Iratey village)
  • “Breakfast Lady” (middle aged woman, Iraraley village)
  • Alaen’s father (elder generation, Ivalino village)
  • Sinan Nasaod (middle aged woman, Ivalino village)

This subproject is still ongoing. I observed, that in general questions regarding wishes for the future do not make so much sense for the Tao. Their attitude is rather to be very down to earth, very modest. They do not want to waste time with utopic wishes or illusions. Often I deviated from my original questionnaire. It made more sense to ask people about their personal history, about changes of life on Lanyu, if they compared life during their childhood and life today. I also asked them about the relationship between the Tao and the tourists.

2.2. Creating New Songs / Rap Songs based on Traditional Tao Songs

One interesting idea for me is trying to transform traditional Tao songs into modern versions, which could be interesting for the young Tao generation. This could serve several goals:

  • Promoting the Tao language, which the people of the young Tao generation are practically not able to speak anymore. (This is a serious issue, blocking the communication between the generations, being a huge obstacle for the transfer of knowledge between generations.)
  • Promoting the Tao traditions among the young Tao generation.
  • Promoting and transferring the knowledge contained in traditional Tao songs to the young generation.

The first challenge is finding songs suitable for transformation. While I originally assumed, that we would do a lot of field research with interviews and recordings sessions of such songs, suitable for transformation, it turned out, that a different method dominated our work: Going through the existing archives with Tao repertoire (Sound archives of the CNRS - Musée de l'Homme e.g.) and translating and analyzing the songs of those archives took a large part of the activities of team members Chien Ping Kuo and Wei-Ya Lin. This should – in the end – help us to have an extended collection of songs suitable for transformation. Since this analysis and translation work takes a lot of time, I could not yet “compose” a lot of songs / rap songs during my field research. Nevertheless two drafts of songs could already be realized:  

Rap #1: Before the big flood (deluge)

(translated from Tao to Chinese by Chien Ping Kuo, from Chinese to German by Wei-Ya Lin, from German to English by Johannes Kretz)

First Song: (in Anood style)

Old man is sitting

on a mountain high on

Lanyu, looking towards

Taiwan island.


Taiwan and Lanyu are

standing face to face.

Taiwan and Lanyu are

standing face to face.

Before the big flood

the cypress tree was the

only living thing

on the whole of Taiwan.

Taiwan and Lanyu are

standing face to face.

Taiwan and Lanyu are

standing face to face.

Cypress is origin of

humans there.

Their language is exotic

it breaks the tongue.

[Erease: Their people are weaker,

they don’t have power like the

Tao do have.]

Taiwan and Lanyu are

standing face to face.

Taiwan and Lanyu are

standing face to face.

Old man is sitting

on a mountain high on

Lanyu, looking towards

Taiwan island.

Second song (answer): (in Anood style)

Old man is sitting

on a mountain high on

Lanyu, looking towards

Taiwan island.

Lanyu and Taiwan are

standing face to face.

Lanyu and Taiwan are

standing face to face.

Before the big flood

the bamboo was the

only living thing

on the whole of Lanyu.

Lanyu and Taiwan are

standing face to face.

Lanyu and Taiwan are

standing face to face.

Bamboo is the origin of

Tao here.

Their language is clear,

it doesn’t break the tongue.

it is like the rooster

calling in the morning.

Lanyu and Taiwan are

standing face to face,

Lanyu and Taiwan are

standing face to face.


Old man is sitting

on a mountain high on

Lanyu, looking towards

Taiwan island.


Some sentences in this songs seemed a bit problematic for me in the context of further attempts for transformation: For example this song states, that Mandarin brakes the tongue and Tao language sounds much better. It also emphasizes that Tao people are stronger than (Han)Taiwanese people. In my opinion we would not do a good service to the Tao community by promoting prejudices and resentments between Tao and Taiwanese. One option would be to remove certain sentences. Nevertheless there are some interesting motives in this song: the relation to nature, to catastrophes in nature, to the origin of ethnicities. In any case I think that this song still needs some reworking.

3. Observations – Field Research

Besides the planned and consciously pursued subprojects a variety of experiences and activities emerged during our stay.

Probably the most important was the House Launching Celebration in Iraraley (Igang Hotel of Chien Ping Kuo). We were somehow involved in all parts of the celebration (taro harvest, goat catching, “stone counting” for planning, whom to invite, the actual celebration night, distributing of taros, slaughtering of pigs and goats, distribution of the meat). From my own experience my singing of a song during the celebration night was the most interesting experience. The elder men were singing all the night through, and we recorded the whole night. At some point late in the night, Wei-Ya Lin encouraged me to also sing a song. First we considered that I could try to sing a song in Tao Language and Anood melody type. This song is documented in her thesis and notated there in a special 13-line musical notation style developed by Wei-Ya Lin. Nevertheless this was practically impossible, because my capabilities of reading the melody and pronouncing Tao language correctly while singing were simply not sufficient. Therefore I decided – after some drinks – to sing in German language, nevertheless in Anood melody style. After my singing the German text was translated for the Tao.  

Song by Johannes Kretz for Chien Ping Kuo, during the house launching celebration on Aug. 10th 2019, 4am in Anood melody style. Iraraley, Lanyu Island.

Dieser Tag ist sehr bewegend, ich habe so etwas noch nie erlebt. Die Schönheit dieses Fests hat viele Väter und Mütter. Und alle helfen zusammen, jeder, wie er es kann. Ich komme von sehr weit weg, und leider spreche ich nicht die Tao Sprache. Deshalb muss ich leider auf Deutsch singen. Bitte um Entschuldigung, dass ich nicht so gut Anood singen kann. Mit der Zeit werde ich es besser lernen. Tao sind starke Leute, ihre Lieder haben viel Kraft. Danke dass ich hier sein kann.

This day is very touching, I never experienced something like this. The beauty of this celebration Has many fathers and mothers, And everybody helps, as they can. I am coming from far away, unfortunately I can’t speak the Tao language. Therefore I have to sing in German. Please excuse that I cannot sing well Anood. Over time I will improve. Tao people are strong, Their songs have much power. Thank you, that I can be here.

Later I was told, that my initiative was appreciated a lot by the Tao present at the celebration. My song got three – improvised – reply songs from different family members. It was stated that my singing was a brave act. It also helped to clarify the status of our team in the context of the village/island/celebration. (And: I might even be invited to further celebrations in the future.) As a matter of fact we were invited to another house launching ceremony, this time in Ivalino, on Sept. 12th. Although that celebration was – for various reasons – much less sophisticated and less solemn, I again participated in singing during a late stage of the ceremony and again received replies to my singing.

3.1 Participating in daily life

For the Tao various activities of daily life related to provision of food are very important. This includes for example: work in the field or in the forest, fishing, collecting snails, crabs. Furthermore this physical collaboration is not only a necessity, it also appears to me, that it is essential for human relationships, for building friendships and for defining the respect and appreciation of individuals. One can say that in order to create a basis for fruitful artistic research within our project, it is a certain requirement for us team members to participate in those labors. It is required to open doors, to establish relationships on equal terms, to set a basis for further communication.

On various occasions I participated in these activities, but of course my skills and competence are strongly inferior than those of the Tao. To a certain extent I have no problem at all in participating in these works, although – even as a child – I was never a big fan of harvesting fruits etc. and my strengths lie certainly somewhere else.

In my opinion one of the big challenges of this project is, that within the Tao community division of labor does only partly exist (except with regard to gender and age). It seems to me, that – for example – it is expected that any adult man has to be fisherman, butcher, construction worker, hunter etc. in order to be taken seriously by the community. This sometimes appears to me as a challenge: To which extent should we outsiders adapt to the habits / working methods / attitudes of the Tao. To which extent can we expect our Tao project partners to adapt to our habits / working methods / attitudes? It is easy to demand collaboration on on equal terms in theory. Practically there are various obstacles like differences in skills, like the ability to perform certain labor, the ability to perceive certain things, the ability to think in an abstract way, to generalize. Of course some skills can be trained, but: to which extent? And whom can we expect to train what, to which extent?

If we outsiders are willing to adapt to the Tao way of life and way of thinking, it can help our collaboration and it can be enriching for us. But: I also think: if the Tao succeeded to understand the world outside Lanyu and outside Taiwan in a better way, it would give them advantages. Unfortunately I do not see much interest in this, especially with people of my own age. It might be different with some of the younger Tao though. Maybe we should focus more on the younger generation?

2.3 Garbage Truck Song

To the surprise of those team members, who had been in Lanyu before, there is now a system of garbage collecting trucks on Lanyu island, with at least two trucks, one (white) for recyclable waste and one (yellow) for the rest of the garbage. The yellow garbage truck loudly plays Beethoven’s “For Elise” with a synthetic sound when driving around the island and collecting the garbage. The function of this melody – together with another one (A Maiden’s Prayer by Tekla Bądarzewska-Baranowska) – is well established since decades in the whole of Taiwan, signaling that everybody should bring their trash to the street. Nevertheless Beethoven’s melody feels very much to be in the wrong place for many people on Lanyu as well as for us artistic researchers. Therefore the idea of composing an alternative song/melody came up.  

Team member Chien Ping Kuo created a text:

Garbage Truck Song

(text in Tao language created by Chien Ping Kuo, translated from Chinese to German by Wei-Ya Lin, translated from German to English in free translation allowing to sing both, the Tao text and the English text to the same melody by Johannes Kretz, melody by Johannes Kretz)

Ponso namen o mavie a lalitan manakawi o minanomana tamek lidanan da no minakem a tao mavonong du picavano vano vana tayakmai mazngan a voawan ili namen na jidanaganai lolit na du ponso da du malaod oyama peni karaeraet siya akma tarani mikasaso nakem mamzatdu ponso ta du kalian.

On this island male ancestors came from a stone, on this island women came from bamboo long ago. all together we are the Tao of today. sharing our live in six villages here, precious are the people here, as dear as gold. villages were clean and never full of dirt. Waste and trash are brought from island of Taiwan. Goods from there cause trash just everywhere, all should work together, let's do it, everyone! help us to save our island here!

When composing the melody my basic idea was to start with something very similar to the beginning of Beethoven’s melody (measure 1-2 as well as measure 5-6), since the (social) function of the song should remain the same and be understood without much explanation. Nevertheless I modified Beethoven’s beginning into an (almost) pentatonic version. Measures 3 and 4 are quoting a children song from the Tao repertoire. Measures 7 and 8 – where the text gets rather serious – are slightly connected to the Tao’s Anood melody style, although in order to suit to the rest of the song, the relation to Anood was kept barely noticeable. In order to keep the song stylistically coherent, I did not use microtones nor the typical Anood ornamentations in this section. Even the connection between the beginning of the song and Beethoven’s “For Elise” is probably not obvious for listeners unless they are explicitly pointed at it. The last two bars are again connected to the children’s song and provide an open end for endless repetitions.

As far as I know, there are realistic chances, that this song could be “officially” implemented into the garbage truck’s sound system on Lanyu. Interestingly another initiative by a teacher on Lanyu island, who created another garbage truck song for/with his pupils, shows, that the idea might absolutely make sense for the Tao.

2.4 Various workshops and other activities

We offered two children workshops, one for young children (primary school) and one for teenagers. The work with the kids was a great experience, both, for teachers and children. If we would have had more time, there would definitely have been interest for that among the young people. My conclusion here is, that teaching activities on Lanyu would make a lot of sense, but is extremely time consuming. The interest of teachers on Lanyu during our stay was practically zero, (probably it was also the wrong time because of school holidays during that period.) A little subproject idea was also to teach young Tao how to use (free) software for audio/video editing and creative work. Unfortunately there was little time for this. Maybe we can continue later with this idea.

In order to establish a dialogue between the generations, we also set up some “Old-Young-Workshops”. I support the idea very much and I am happy to hear, that even after we left, these activities are continuing. Personally I was not so much involved into this (with the exception of a sound installation before the first workshop, which was basically ignored by everybody there.)

In general I believe that this various workshops are important to lay a ground for dialogues, both, between Tao of different generations, and also between Tao and outsiders. Anyway this seems to be a very slow process. I have certain doubts, how much this would help the artistic research side of our project.

From 6th to 8th of September we gave lectures in Kaohsiung at Weiwujing arts center. This was important for networking and for possible future dissemination of our project. The lectures were appreciated and the feedback from the organizer Fangyi Lin was very interesting for me. It served as a kind of mirror, showing the perception/perspective of Taiwan people / composers / artists.

Answers to Johannes' Reflection Article


Wei-Ya Lin

I had a lot of fun during reading Johannes reflection. It is very detailed described. I have the same opinions with most thoughts of him, as I experienced also most of his (artistic) activities in the field. Both the translation (4.1) and making music (4.2) issues were somehow getting their development in our later fieldwork in February 2020: Johannes has started to learn Chinese, and he had a great translator in February 2020. In the same fieldwork period he tried making music on the street on Lanyu, he gave up already after two sessions of this experiment because he acknowledged that this method is not approaching the most of the Tao people…

Therefore, I will only discuss some of his thoughts, which I would like to (re-)question, or what I find inspiring.


Lack of Mentioning Persons’ Names in the Diary and the Reflection Article

First of all, I find it is a big pity, that Johannes did not (or could not) exactly addressee persons’ names in his diary and article in most cases. This should maybe be done. There are three reasons for its necessity: First, it is important for readers outside of this project, future (artistic) researchers, or the Tao themselves to get this kind of information. Otherwise it is like to mention a song without knowing who is the author or performer in a recording. So one could easily ignore the connections between these people without names. Second, it is simply a topic about respect. A person is not just an object, what would be the same like the other one. Third, to know and remember persons’ names helps a lot to enrich and understand the own network and the interactions among it in the fieldwork. Especially in practice-led art or applied projects, one often needs to activate social networks in order to achieve the own/ community’s /team’s interest and goal.


More Questions about Questions by Johannes

I would like to challenge the questions raised by Johannes in the end of his article. Since we know that research methods in AR are defined by projects. So if the project was about how dolphin makes music, then it would be necessary to learn about dolphin’s anatomy how they produce sound. Maybe this step to find out how dolphin makes sound is neither located in the field of musicology or of performance research, but it is indeed an unavoidable step, or method to get knowledge about it and understandings. This kind of step, no matter in which discipline, is part of the artistic research project – at least in my understanding about AR.

So the question by Johannes – “How can we manage to gain more balance and more interaction between the elements of our project, especially between ethnomusicological research (plus engaged ethnomusicology) on one side, and artistic research (including art practice) on the other side?” – seems to suggest a “rational” separation between ethnomusicology from art practice, or, between methods of (engaged) ethnomusicological and of art practice.

This leads me to reflect my own role in the field. Am I doing art, when I organize workshops with the intension to create spaces, where the traditional Tao songs could find a way for transmission? Am I a curator, when I try out possible concepts with a clear goal by choosing the “right” singers and the “right” space for my intension? Am I an activist performer during doing this?

I have no answers… But I know I have learned and understood a lot of Tao’s traditional value and current issues by reading, listening, doing, experimenting, singing, writing etc. This is almost comparable to how much I should experience, practice, read and understand etc. before I perform a Bach Cello Suite or Schubert Appergione on the stage as a violist.

But I do have an answers to this: “How can we establish balanced settings for theoretical and practical dialogs on the same eye level?”. Until now, any practices are challenging the so-called established theories. The example of singing a song during Chien-Ping’s house launching ceremony by Johannes is a great case. I would say, let’s do more practices like this and challenge our boundaries of what is “theoretical” and what is “practical”  !

The most interesting and important dialogue between me and Johannes happened in the end of the fieldwork in August and September 2019. After two month staying on Lanyu, I started to practice Tao’s value, which is “doing labours”. This means, I went to seashore to collect crabs and snails with my female friends; I cooked in order not to bother other Tao for cooking and taking care of my team members; I helped Pehbowen to clean her family’s hostel because if you are family (or a team), one should share others’ work; I helped my adopted father to buy or pick up things etc. Finally, I was “doing” labour work in the most of time, and I could identify myself with that. Sometimes Johannes accompanied me, but somehow he did not “do” so much, he did more “thinking”, “analyzing” and “discussing”. In the end, I started to question his attitude in the field, because his action did not match the “value” of the Tao people. (Still today, the most of Tao only admit one’s success, if this person can achieve goals by spending his own/his family’s strength. Buying things or other people’s ability with money for achieving goals doesn’t value so much. However, I realized that I started to observe Johannes from this perspective – a more Tao one.

This experience brought me to reflect on the positions I have chose, I chose and I am choosing while standing outside (as an academic and a Han-Taiwanese) and inside of the field. Finally I have found my answer in Johannes questions below. Every field-researcher and interested individual may use it in- and outside of the field or even everyday life by transforming the following questions into one’s own context: When and where do the outsiders have to adapt to the habits, the values and the way of thinking of the Tao? When and where can we maintain a space for theoretical, partly abstract reflection? When and where can the outsiders “be themselves” in this dialog with the Tao? It is clear for that for many reasons a perfect symmetry will never by achieved. But: what options would we have to increase symmetry?

I am now looking forward to more discussions, hopefully my thoughts could inspire you!


Ming Wang

I think, as observer from outside your considerations and questions are very interesting. Being Taiwanese I perceived many phenomena since my childhood simply as self-evident. I never thought, why things are like they are. For example I grew up in a time, where Taiwan slowly became financially stable. Some families could already afford to buy a piano and allow the kids to get piano lessons. "For Elise" was during this time a favourite music piece for them, and a sign of economic well-being. I think, for that reason the piece was used for the garbage truck as a very popular melody. Before some guests from the west noticed this phenomenon, I never had a reason to think about it. It was simply part of our every day life. The Taiwanese have many cultural similarities with the Tao, but also a lot of differences. For sure, "For Elise" sounds even more strange on Lanyu island, since the Tao sing a lot, but never use an instrument. As a matter of fact I am very inspired by your perspectives. I will continue to think about your open questions...

Proposal p.9:

Artistic field research parallel to and in interaction with ethnomusicological field research

From the very beginning, the question of grounding and relating artistic impulses in questions relevant for society will be explored. Active participation in the field—joint performance and improvisation—will help to grasp knowledge which cannot be easily captured verbally and can serve as a mutual exchange of content, analysis of knowledge and understanding. Finding situations where such musical encounters on a par are possible requires unconventional behaviour—on all sides. According to our experiences, it can mean setting up an interactive workshop in a public space (in front of a supermarket, in an abandoned house or a school), it might happen by integrating ourselves into gatherings after spontaneous invitations. Different strategies need to be combined: involving young people in common public creative activities—even involving simple forms of live electronics—may open doors, but often—as a first step—approaching the older generation in a rather formal way and participating in social and religious events and rituals rather passively may be more appropriate. This requires respect, understanding and flexibility towards the temporal, geographic and social constraints and taboos of the community, and permanent readiness for mutual teaching/coaching and common improvisatory practice.