30 September 2009

Electric Soran

Carla, a former assistant in the Taiwanese music history database project, is going to get married in November. Since I have been reading books and papers on dance music and started trying to produce some, I decided to make a short piece as an extra wedding congratulatory token for her.

This is my second attempt at making dance music. Adapted phrases from Felix Mendelssohn's 'Wedding March' and samples taken from two Taiwanese oldies are integrated into this track.

While to Western ears extracts from Taiwanese songs are unfamiliar and thus carry no significance, most Taiwanese listeners will recognise their association with a wedding.

The Taiwanese song is actually adapted from Soran bushi (ソーラン節), originally a kind of Japanese folk song of the herring fishermen in Hokkaido, the northernmost of the four main islands of Japan. Soran bushi is particular sung while transferring the herring from large drift nets into scoop nets.

While bushi simply means the song melody, soran is a vocable sung out repeatedly by the crowd in unison at the beginning and in the mid of the song to keep them in tune and in rhythm. Listen to a recorded Japanese version:

As soran sounds very much similar to the Taiwanese given name Solan (素蘭), when the Japanese song 'Soran bushi' was covered in Taiwanese to become a popular song in 1960s Taiwan, the original string of non-lexical vocables 'soran, soran, soran, soran...' was adapted into 'Miss Solan is going to get married'. Listen to the adapted Taiwanese version:

24 September 2009

It's 'he', not 'she'.


We have just had our third prenatal ultrasound examination. The foetus is growing well and Fanne is in good health. The baby is due in next early March.

Fanne has just bought a new flat and the home decorating project is almost finished. We'll move into the new flat in early October. So, in less than half a year's time, a new-born child will join the new home.

Sounds fabulous, isn't it? However, I'm not in the mood. What disillusionment! We were told today during the examination, it is he, not she. I thought I was going to have a daughter.

I think it'll take me at least a couple of months to recover from this.

18 September 2009

Falling asleep in the office

(Sound sleep, taken in Stirling, 2002)

I fell asleep in the office in the late afternoon yesterday while listening to some Shanghai oldies and preparing a playlist for next week's radio programme.

When I studied at Stirling University, I made my name cooking for colleagues and people from the local community, as well as falling asleep at midnight wherever I was. Whereas it's always a pleasure for a foodie to prepare a feast, it is absolutely a shame when someone drops off in a bustling jam-packed pub, a cheerful party organised by Greek students, or just an ordinary late night out on the town.

I used to be a part-time cleaner in the Thistles Shopping Centre in Stirling. I usually got up at 6.00 so that I had plenty of time to cook full breakfast and make sandwiches for lunch before I started the daily cleaning work at 7.00. Therefore, I had to go to bed at 12.00 midnight to get enough sleep. As my body's biological clock just functioned perfectly well, I always nodded off, and sometimes even got sound sleep, at midnight wherever I was.

I still remember that Pedro would always let me remain asleep and then woke me up at the end of the day, or probably the start of the next day.

I don't know whether I was just too tired or the circadian rhythm was reset by the heavy breakbeats and synthesizer-generated loops in the dance music I have been exploring recently. Anyway, as nobody noticed that I put my head down, it was not as bad as the case in the Greek party.

16 September 2009

Unsophisticated four-poster for my new flat

It has been my dream for so long; I've always wanted to have a four-poster. And now, I'm so excited to see the dream come true.

Fanne and I bought a flat last month and have been recently busy looking for suitable furniture and domestic appliances. Although I just let Fanne decide the style of the home's interior and choose whatever items she fancies, I insist that there must be a four-poster in the main bedroom.

However, it seemed that all four-posters available in Taipei were oversized and ritzy, and none of them would fit in our bedroom. Considering the size of the bedroom, to my utmost disappointment, I had no alternative but to give up this long-held dream.

Somehow, with a bit of luck, I discovered an unsophisticated, 5-foot wide one yesterday when Fanne and I visited Scanteak for a chest of drawers and wardrobes.

Wow, from the abyss of disillusionment to the top of the world, I'm looking forward to seeing our new home with a four-poster. This really reminds me of a song in one entry I posted last year.

I don't need something posh, just fulfil my wish.

(Eddie Cantor, Roman Scandals, 1933)

Build A Little Home
Lyrics: Al Dubin
Music: Harry Warren

We'll always have a roof above us as long as there's a sky.
And if we have someone to love us, we're sure of getting by.
We don't need a lot of log and stone.
Build a home on happiness alone.

With a million little stars, we can decorate the ceiling
With an optimistic feeling when we build a little home.
Ev'ry single little dream is a shingle or a rafter.
We can paint the house with laughter when we build a little home.
It's not a palace nor a poor house, but the rent is absolutely free.
This is my house, but it's your house if you'll come and live with me.
With a carpet on the floor made of buttercups and clover,
All our troubles will be over when we build a little home.

14 September 2009

My first attempt at making dance music

I still do not know how to appreciate electronic dance music (EDM). The only thing I can do is nodding my head and shaking my body to the beat of head-bangking music and I suppose probably the best way for me to understand it is producing an imitative piece.

There are tons of electronic genres, such as techno, house, trance, electro, breakbeat, industrial and jungle, among which I will never be able to differentiate one from another unless I spend more than seven days in a row torturing my ears and aural nerves.

Well, it doesn't matter. One day I will.

I've been playing with some software and loops and managed to make a short piece, with samples taken from a track 'Mualif' in Alim and Fargana Qasimov: Spiritual Music of Azerbaijan, an album of Azerbaijani classical music and some newly composed works.

In the original track of 'Mualif', the singer urges a captain to devote his ship to God and follow the path of the Muslim saint Hizir, one of whose virtues is aiding lost travellers, to a safe haven.

Inspired by the song text, I created a track. I hope real dance music fans will call this 'dance music'.

13 September 2009

How Turkish is Mozart's Rondo Alla Turca?

(Image from the National Library of Turkey)

How would we associate a song or, just a passage of melody, with a nation, geographic or cultural area? It certainly has much to do with our listening experience.

Our upbringing, daily lives and the context in which we encounter a new sound, can decide how music is imprinted in our minds and thus form a commonsensical notion of musical identity, which we simply take for granted. Most people are very much influenced by external factors, such as the media, peer groups or their social affiliation.

For example, the frequent use of a resounding gong as a cue of the appearance of a Chinese kung fu master in Hollywood films has made, at least to many Western ears, the tone of the instrument an unquestionable musical image of China.

Another historical example is Mozart’s piano piece ‘Turkish March’—the third movement, Alla Turca, of Piano Sonata in A major, K. 331. It may not sound Turkish to us today at all, but concertgoers or socialites at Mozart’s time would accept the idea because they were told so.

I read long ago in the textbook of music history that ‘Turkish March’ imitates the Turkish instruments used in the military march music of the Janissaries. The music was once very popular with the Viennese during the 17th and 18th centuries and many composers in all parts of Europe wrote alla turca passages or pieces.

Listen to the famous 'Yine de Şahlanıyor Aman' (There the horse rears again) delivered by a march band and chorus, and see if you can associate the style to Mozart's alla turca. I suppose that what Mozart presents is the general impression of sound and rhythm created by Turkish percussion and reed instruments.

09 September 2009

Splendid performance of cappella singing and beatboxing

(Unbelievable, what you are to hear in this video clip is pure human vocals, with no instruments nor sound effects.)

While a cappella singing is a style of vocal music without instrumental accompaniment, beatboxing refers to a kind of vocal technique with which one, through a series of noises or popping sounds made with the mouth, lips and tongue, produces drum beats and rhythm and imitates sounds of musical instruments and effects of turntablism.

There have been some artists, such as Bobby McFerrin and Swingle Singers, who are famous for their highly acclaimed a cappella singing with instrumental emulation. However, it is the Voca People that really makes me flabbergasted and speechless. This group tell me how beatboxing can be integrated into a cappella singing and how versatile human voices can be.

PS Thank Esther for introducing this group to us by sharing this video on facebook.

07 September 2009

Paddling a punt in Cambridge

After a short stay in Stirling, I travelled to Cambridge on 10th August and then spent 4 days there. One afternoon, Yung-Yao, his family and I went punting on the river Cam.

Apart from academic achievements and historical buildings, punting is definitely one of the several images people would associate with Cambridge. A punt, a flat-bottomed boat with no keel, is steered with a long pole by a punter who stands on the platform at the back and pushes the pole against the river bed to move the boat.

As Yung-Yao is a former member of Darwin College, we could hire a punt from the college for a small fee and didn't have to queue up at the dock with other tourists. Thanks to Yung-Yao's arrangement and hard physical work, we had a wonderful trip on the river.

However, while perhaps most people would comment that nothing could be more pleasant than punting on the river Cam on a lovely sunny day, I would say, instead of pushing the pole against the river bed and then pulling it all the way back out of water over and over again, I prefer paddling.

What could be more absurd than canoeing in Cambridge? But that's just something I enjoy.

05 September 2009

For Mark—Principal Wei's recipe for Kung Pao chicken

Kung Pao chicken(Well, I suppose it wouldn't take more than 2 seconds for the readers of this blog to find out an image of Kung Pao chicken through Google, so I would rather upload a picture of empty plates.)

During my short visit to Britain this summer, I spent my last night, 16th August, in Stirling with old university colleagues at Mark's place. I was so delighted to cook for them at the reunion, as I usually did for colleagues, friends and people of the local community when I studied at Stirling University. Mark, Steve, Matt, Nicki and I had a very good evening.

For the sake of Mark, a foodie who has piles of cookbooks in his kitchen and cooks almost all the dishes mentioned in those books, and who, I believe, has all spices and herbs in the world in his cupboard, I would like to offer my own recipe for Kung Pao chicken (宮保雞丁), one of the dishes I prepared that night.

Kung Pao chicken is a classic Chinese dish originating from Sichuan, China. It is believed that the dish was created by, and therefore named after, Ding Baozhen (丁寶楨), a late Qing Dynasty official in Sichuan, who, after his term as governor, was commissioned as an assistant to the royal tutors to the crown prince and called Ding Kung Pao (丁宮保) thereafter.

As the recipe below is absolutely mine, it may differ from that in any Chinese cookbook and the measurements only act as a rough guide.

  • Chicken breasts: 350g, cut into bite-sized cubes and marinated with ingredients give below, and mixed with cornstarch before cooking
  • Cornstarch: 2 tablespoons
  • Dried red chillies: 10, cut into 2-cm pieces, seeds removed and soaked until soft
  • Cashew nuts: 2 tablespoons, rinsed, water drained off
  • Garlic: 3 cloves, minced
  • Ginger: 3 thin slices, shredded
  • Cooking oil
  • Salt: 1/3 tablespoon
  • Shaoxing wine or any kind of Chinese cooking wine, or whisky as a substitute: 1/2 tablespoon
  • Shaoxing wine, or a substitute: 1/2 tablespoon
  • Vinegar: 3/4 tablespoon
  • Soy sauce: 2 tablespoons
  • Honey: 1 1/2tablespoons
  • Water: 1 tablespoon
  1. Pour some cooking oil into the wok and stir-fry the chicken cubes until half cooked, and then put them on a plate.
  2. Pour again some oil into the wok, put in the garlic and ginger to fry for a few seconds, then the softened dried red chillies, and then the half cooked chicken cubes to stir-fry together.
  3. When nearly cooked, put in the prepared sauce and cashew peanuts, and fry for 30 seconds.
  4. Turn off heat. There should not be a lot of gravy but just enough for the chicken to be coated with. That's it.
  5. Enjoy the food with friends and then write a blog entry with a picture.

PS Hey Mark, have you tried Braised Lionhead and are you going to do Kung Pao chicken? You should upload some pictures in the future on the facebook!

04 September 2009


I decided, in the second year at university, not to play any instrument on stage, but rather only to talk or sing in public. Then I started learning throat singing, Chinese opera and, after moving to Scotland, joined the university choir, the church choir, the city choir and an operatic society.

After I came back in Taiwan, as I didn't join any choir or musical group, I stopped singing on stage, and nowadays focus on speaking in public – delivering lectures at universities and hosting concerts or live performances.

I have now moved a step further. It's still a matter of talking, with some more work of organising and scheduling. I am now the manager of SUPERGOTÁN, a quartet of a piano, an erhu (Chinese two-stringed bowed instrument), a guitar and a cello playing Argentina tango music with a new blend of timbres.

SUPERGOTÁN made a successful debut live performance at the Witch House, a sort of small coffee-shop-restaurant near National Taiwan University. Last night, the house was filled to capacity and surprisingly some officials from the Commercial and Culture Office of Argentina in Taiwan were among the audience.

Unfortunately, we were not equipped with proper video or audio recording devices. I can only provide two pieces from our demo CD which we recorded in June.


(La cumparsita)

For those who would like to know more about our repertoire, below is the programme we had last night.

1st set
  • Danzarín — Tango, instrumental (Julián Plaza)
  • Volver — Cancíon (Carlos Gardel - Alfredo Lepera)
  • Organito de la tarde — Tango (Cátulo Castillo - José González Castillo)
  • El pollo Ricardo — Tango, instrumental (Luis Fernandez)
  • Sur — Tango (Aníbal Troilo - Homero Manzione)
  • Milonga de mis amores — Milonga (Pedro Laurenz - José María Contursi)
  • Romance de barrio — Vals (Aníbal Troilo - Homero Manzi)
  • La clavada — Tango, instrumental (Ernesto Zambonini)
2nd set
  • Don Agustín bardi — Tango, instrumental (Horacio Salgán)
  • Niebla del Riachuelo — Tango (Juan Carlos Cobián - Enrique Cadícamo)
  • GALLO Gallo ciego — Tango (Agustín Bardi)
  • Soledad — Cancíon (Carlos Gardel- Alfredo Lepera)
  • Adiós Nonino (Astor Piazzolla - Eladia Blázquez)
  • Flor de lino — Vals (Héctor Stamponi - Homero Expósto)
  • La puñalada — Milonga (Pintín Castellanos - Celedonio Flores)
  • La cumparsita — Tango (Gerardo Matos Rodríguez)