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 …