December 10, 2017

ある響きについて & wondering what I heard in that moment

image: sky above a street in Tainan, 2017

A sentence may tell you the beginning of my recent search...

- I was in Tainan.

Not sure what triggers you by the sentence but with the image above and if you have ever been there, I am sure you can recall/imagine/hear some sound other than the fireworks and the passers by.

There was this sound. It was festive, loud, and uplifting.
I heard the sound everyday somewhere.

It's so identical that I would not miss it. It gave me this timeless feeling somehow, probably deriving from its primitive acoustic energy produced by the intense breath of the player and for sure by something more.

image: excerpt of The Trading Post at Dejima (Japan, c.1840, brush and ink on silk), Rijksmuseum

It's called 唢呐(Suona) in Taiwan. The names and the descriptions of the instrument and its history/origin varies. It can be found in various cultures along the silk road then all over the world, including Japan. Just like many other instruments. So what's so unique about it then?

It is interesting to note that in 16th century, the instrument was introduced to Japanese as "唐人笛"(flute of Tang) but later Portuguese came and called the instrument as "charmela", then more people seems to adopt the European name gradually. But it wasn't so much about this kind of information I can find easily on Wiki or my personal nostalgia that I remembered the sound of the street vendor selling noodles playing this instrument maybe 30 years ago or so. In the chorus of this instrument, I heard something more. Probably another history that I don't know yet.

One thing related to what I am hearing may be found in the following image I have been looking into for several years.

image: *engraved image from Gedenkwaerdige Gezantschappen der Oost-Indische Maatschappy in ’t Vereenigde Nederland, aan de Kaisaren van Japan, Arnoldus Montanus, 1669

I have been inspired by the images created in the Netherlands about Japan(or East) by Europeans who gathered information and imagined it; its culture, history, and geography. It first looked odd, then made me judging that it's wrong and later caused me to wonder on what bases I was judging. I had to question myself what and by what means I assumed that I knew about the 17th Century Japan. Movies? Text book provided by schools? Can I say that I know something about it then?

Could it be true that I am less informed than those Dutch people who made that geography book?

It could. The distance between me and 17th century Japan is so far away in time and cannot compare with the geographical distance those Dutch people had back in 17th century. However, if they wish, they could go on a ship and spend 8 months to reach it(apparently with a lot of luck) while I would have no chance to travel there.

I became curious about their process, so I started gathering many materials about 17th-21st century Japan(or East) from the Netherlands, Indonesia, and now Taiwan to imagine possible histories of Japan or the world. I came to Taiwan (and will be here for a while) hoping to reflect and deepen my understanding of histories especially from 16/17th century onwards. I want to somehow pluralize the world(or my world view maybe) into worlds. Not a Japan but Japan-s. Simply to give space to breathe for myself and for other people who might also be suffocating by the standardisation or more like a singularization of nationalistic identity promoted/propagated by the authority over personal.

What did I hear in the chorus of 唢呐(Suona)?

It was festive, loud, and uplifting. It went on and on and faded out. I was walking away and they were marching on to the next temple. Though the sound faded out, it made my ears more indulged into the details of what I had experienced. And I am in this search of the name for it.

I want to know it.


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