People – Creativity – Solidarity – Inspiration
What motivated an international group of artists and researchers to work together with the Tao, an indigenous community on Orchid Island (Lanyu) in Taiwan? Was it curiosity? Was it fascination with a wonderful island—or with a style of singing so specific and special that Western musical notation is incapable of capturing it? Was it a search for inspiration?
Since 2005, the violist Wei-Ya Lin (who has since also become an ethnomusicologist) and Johannes Kretz (a composer specialised in electronic sound production) have been paying regular visits to the Tao community. They collect songs, do interviews, and attempt to understand the connection between singing and the lives of the Tao people. In 2016, this collaboration led to the realisation of an evening-length dance theatre production entitled Maataw – the floating island at the National Theatre in Taipei. It was a production that presented not only the beauty of Tao life, dance, and music, but also placed a strongly critical, emotional, and rather political emphasis on their social, economic, and ecological concerns.
In 2018, a three-year grant by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) programme PEEK made possible the next step in the form of the artistic research project Creative (Mis)Understandings – Methodologies of Inspiration at the mdw. The starting point here is the question as to whether understanding is always well suited to bringing people together—and whether, conversely, misunderstandings necessarily always have a separating effect. Will all this facilitate the exploration of the realm between understanding and misunderstanding from various perspectives while more clearly pinpointing its significance in people’s lives? This requires extensive reflection and great sensitivity, as well as the consideration of methodological and ethical issues. Here, we modify our definition of the word “inspiration” to mean: mutually valued, deliberate, and reciprocal artistic influencing on the basis of solidarity. And as part of this process, we absolutely do encourage creative misunderstandings in the interaction between research and artistic practices. After all, both understanding and misunderstanding can lead to positive discoveries and inspiration—not only in the artistic sense, but also in the form of new research questions and socially effective initiatives.
This project (which began in 2018 and runs until 2021) employs multiple reciprocal visits by the project participants from Taiwan and Austria as well as joint workshops, artistic research, improvisation, composition, and performance in the pursuit of several goals: reinforcing the Tao community’s cultural identity by connecting past and future, softening the break between the generations there, and creating a basis upon which the Tao might be able to prevent their practices from disappearing entirely—perhaps even by means of transforming them in some ways.
Furthermore, composers of European contemporary art music will be developing methodologies that allow them to realise scalable compositions, the musical ideas and content of which can be realised in various manifestations that can be understood and appreciated by listeners in the various respective contexts. These goals can now be pursued by means of artistic research within a larger team of indigenous and non-indigenous individuals from Taiwan and Austria.
The scientific-artistic researchers focus on the following questions: How can a sound artist reflect the own fieldwork practice through the processing of sound? In which way are personal memories among the Tao influenced by historical events? How can participatory approaches be applied for scientific-artistic research processes? How can we develop and realize musical ideas together or separately, which are in one way or another significant/compatible for the participants and/or can be adapted to different contexts (New Music, Tao traditions)? Finally, how do the team members deal with the impending disappearance of music traditions, for example in the Tao community?
We are in the process of joining this project’s many elements to form an overall artistic sculpture (in the sense of Beuys).
Johannes Kretz and Wei-Ya Lin for the project team