Taiwan’s Music Reimagined in Garden Mingle: Is Blossoming Creativity Grounded in Resilient Infrastructure?

Written by Chen-Yu Lin

Image credit : Taiwan Creative Content Agency / TCCF provided by author

Garden Mingle – Field Practice, featuring a series of musical events and panels, took place over three days in the late autumn of Taipei. When the music played, the iconic baroque garden in Songshan Cultural and Creative Park was illuminated, with the baroque fountain behind the stage catching the attention of many. From live performances of ØZI, screenings of Small Island, Big Song, to DJ sessions featuring yoga practices, technologies served as a big part of the events to create astonishing visuals. However, the warmth of live music was still the centre of it all. It was brought to the crowd in the year that creative economies worldwide went through the unprecedented disruption generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. On Sunday evening, just before the event came to its close, the attendees danced along with ANKR’s music sessions, immersed themselves with the sounds of electronic beats, nature, along with projections of Taiwan’s landscapes. 

The events were part of the Taiwan Creative Content Fest (TCCF) in 2021, created by Taiwan Creative Content Agency (TAICCA). With “Metaverse Playground” as the theme, the fest includes capital venture pitching sessions, exhibitions, projects demonstration, industry panels and a wide range of activities. Garden Mingle – Field Practice, among which was one of the two side events, and most of its sessions are free, open to the public, while the performances live-streamed. Such promotion of Taiwan’s talents indeed echoed TAICCA’s mission, as it was established in 2019 to promote Taiwan’s content industries and cultural brand globally. Besides, TAICCA also manages the National Development Fund to provide financial support and incubation mechanism for these sectors to develop intellectual property. It has come a long way in two years, and it has served to engage with diverse sectors, including film and television, pop music, publishing, ACG (Animation, Comics, and Games) and so on. The agency will indeed continue to make an ongoing impact on Taiwan’s cultural and creative sectors. 

While the presence of music is found mainly in the side events of TCCF, it implies that music is an effective and powerful medium to engage the public and bring publicity. However, the relationship between music and other cultural technologies is yet to be probed, problematized, and identified. While the influence of technologies is praised and habitually presented in a positive light in TCCF, the unceasing tension between music creators and technological development—highlighted by discussions of streaming royalties and antitrust regulations—is concealed. While Taiwan’s pop music had been a regional leader for decades and many still believe that Taiwan is the creative heart of Mandopop, the declining influence is evident. The decline has not merely been the result of the rise of the Chinese music industry, which attracted talents to China, as the report by the Ministry of Culture recognized. It also went hand in hand with the ways the market has reshaped globally. Research in the UK and Taiwan shows that some stakeholders, such as music creators and rights-holders, believe it is even more challenging for middle- and low-tier artists than before to profit and survive. In the face of internet giants, music acts as a loss leader, and the way TCCF presents music seems to reflect this. 

The issues of wider music industries aside, one thing that stands out in Garden Mingle is how the performances—both Small Island, Big Song and ANKR—highlighted how music from Taiwan could contribute to a culture of sustainability. Moreover, it is an island that shares the Austronesian heritage, and its sea levels are rising faster than the global average. ANKR’s emphasis on the connections between sounds, space, and nature in Taiwan also suitably echoes this theme. While TCCF is taking place on the other side of the world in Glasgow, COP26 Climate Summit also just ended. As the issue of Taiwan’s exclusion from international organizations and its willingness to shoulder responsibility against climate change have been highlighted, these works are indeed significant and precious. In a critical time for the world, these performances raise questions about human-environment Interactions and reflect where we are today. As the ‘Metaverse’ is proved to be the new tech buzzword, humanistic experiences of and encounters with cultures still encourage the audience to engage with our universe and planet, where climate change is real. Whereas TCCF showcased Taiwan’s capacity to create world-leading cultural technologies, Garden Mingle has shown how Taiwan can engage broader conversations in the global society through culture. This was, is, and still will be fundamental to any cultural production. 

In Garden Mingle, Taiwan’s music is constructed and re-imagined in the baroque garden. Music with distinct influences and styles— ranging from Indigenous cultures to Hip-Hop— highlight the music scenes’ liveness and diversity. When the questions of representation still stand, we also must pursue the questions about industry structures and power. How music is produced, distributed, and consumed will be influenced by laws, technological development, the pandemic, and various factors in the wider music ecosystem? As a sector that struggles with means of monetization for entry-level music creators, Taiwan’s music industries’ functioning, and resilient infrastructure is left wanting. The pursuit to advance the creative economy is often powered by market-driven policies, which is evident in how TAICCA partnered with MIDEM to boost Taiwanese Artists. This shows that the current policy focus is expanding the market size. While it is essential to do so, the effort to build a resilient music industry capable of adapting to new changes can and should always be a priority. The effort of the public sector must go beyond policy declarations on how vital music is but develop policies and strategies that echoes the complexity and reality of the industry. Only by doing so can creativity be unleashed and blossom, just as the baroque fountains at the event. I hope the water will never run dry. 

Dr Chen-Yu Lin is Assistant Professor in National Taiwan University and National Taiwan Normal University. She is also Non-residential Fellow at Taiwan Studies Programme, the University of Nottingham.

 

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