Last week, during a whistle-stop day in London for meetings (and a catch up with my previous housemate GB! Miss you Cara!), I went to see the PhD research exhibition ‘Shoot the Pianist – the Noise Scene in Taipei: 1990-1995’ curated by Wei Yu recently on show at the Peltz Gallery, Birkbeck University of London. The project was also part of the Taiwan Spotlight Project, presented by both Birkbeck and the Taipei Representative Office in the UK.
The exhibition traced, for the first time in the UK, the historical developments of the underground noise scenes in Taipei during the first-half of the 1990s through a diverse range of archival materials, including handbills, ‘zines, photographs, moving-images, homemade cassettes and records from alternative spaces Sickly Sweet and Apartment No. 2; the art group, Taiwan Documenta; the noise bands, Z.S.L.O. and LTK Commune; Taipei Broken Life Festival (1994/95) and the first local record label focusing on experimental sound, NOISE. These historical documents are presented alongside works by Taiwanese artists Hou Chun-ming and Yao Jui-chung’s works, which include prints and photography documenting the urban ruins in the early 1990s.
The title, Shoot the Pianist, is taken from a dystopian parable written by the Taiwanese noise band LTK Commune, which depicts how the social system of Taiwan gradually collapses when a number of classical pianists are shot dead and ‘the nation becomes under the control of a bunch of pang-ke (punks)’. Following the lifting of Martial Law and the Wild Lily Student Movement, the early 1990s in Taiwan saw a critical transition from an authoritarian regime towards an increasingly democratic polity and a neoliberal capitalist society. It was also a period when the underground scene around the capital city of Taipei was booming. Utilising emerging alternative art spaces and outdoor festivals as platforms, young artists and cultural workers explored various cultural forms, ranging from noise performances, junk art, ‘little theatre’, installation, fanzine, underground comics and experimental film, as ways to challenge mainstream culture and what they perceived to be an institutional art world. Their practices would be described as the ‘underground noise movement’ in later years.
Wei Yu curated a series of events alongside the exhibition that I was sadly unable to attend, held in both London and Glasgow, including films of Taiwanese filmmakers Huang Ming-chuan and Singing Chen’s, which document Taiwan’s noise and sound art scenes followed by a panel discussion, and a live sound art performance where Taiwanese sound artists, Wang Fujui, Lin Chiwei and Dino (Liao Ming-he) will be performing in collaboration with UK-based sound artists, Michael Speers and Kenny Love, at Café OTO in East London.
I immediately fell into the noise atmosphere of Z.S.L.O. (1992-2000) and I think it’s the beginning of another aural relationship for me. As Wei Yu states, they were ‘regarded as the first ‘noise band’ in Taiwan, Zero and Sound Liberation Organization, or Z.S.L.O., was funded in 1992 by Liu Xinyi, Lin Chiwei, and Steve Chan, who were students of Fu Jen Catholic University at the time. Since the anti-music approach of their debut greatly angered the audience, the group had developed the future mainstay of provocative noise performances that challenge the establishment. Since 1993 they had gradually evolved from a punk noise band into an industrial music ensemble, often employing installations, multimedia and industrial machinery in performances. The group was most active in the period from 1993 to 1995. Their live sessions often combine shock, violence, sexual abuse, chance, cut-up, anti-technique character, challenging taboos, provoking the audience, and eliminating distance from the stage. The industrial landscape and local folklore culture of the Taishan and Xinzhuang Districts of Taipei served as creative nutrient for the group. The themes of “overdose” and “build-up” were consciously explored by the group, which connected with the rise of junk art and a specific subcultural style, po-lan (broken-and-rotten), emerged in local Taiwan of the early 1990.’
I took a look into more recent work by Lin Chiwei here…’Tape Music’, a sound artwork born from the desire to play electronic music through human bodies and interactivities, that invites the audience to respond to/interact with/interpret a 120 meter long tape with embroidered phonetic characters without further instruction. I’m a little bit in love with this wordic public ensemble.
The show very much reminded me of my PhD research project ‘The Temporary: 01’ that took place earlier last year, certainly in terms of the plethora of works selected, variety of media and way in which they were presented…from the photography, video and listening (sound) docks…to the examination of art, design, sound, creative practice at a raw level…cultivation and response level. The curatorial construct resonated with me as a topology…here, of the noise scene in Taipei at that time…a presentation of a world of research, connections, engagements and experiences. Also the lo-fi print ephemera used to promote the exhibition through pamphlets and flyers reinforced the underground nature and ethos of the artists examined. When viewing the show, it was easy to become immersed in the history, in the context, in the “noise” as I have a growing research interest in sound art from, and created within, Chinese contexts as presented through the recently commissioned sound works for ‘The Temporary: 01’. Sound is a key element in my life, sound, noise and music…where the definition of these terms suddenly becomes important (noting a PhD colleague who is researching sound would be interested in this).
Shoot the Pianist needs to be turned into a publication or an online archive due to its historical and contextual value…to create a legacy for others to work with or build upon…although Wei Yu has a pretty nice visual online Tumblr blog that you can see here that I’m going to start following. Visual research in practice.