A ‘Moving’ contribution to Taiwan’s World Music

By Trista di Genova
Special to The China Post

What is A Moving Sound? Just that – it’s music that both moves and is moving.

It’s a world music fusion ensemble that is, according to National Geographic’s online site dedicated to the genre, “one of the most original outfits working in the world music arena today, an inspired marriage of Taiwanese traditional sounds and Western pop experimentation that forges an important new musical dialogue.”

The music of A Moving Sound is “moving” in the way it touches a responsive, universal chord in us all; it’s Taiwan’s answer to Dead Can Dance. By incorporating traditional Chinese instruments such as the “erhu” and “zhong-ruan,” or Chinese guitar (gratis Taiwan musicians Alex Wu, Tang-Hsuan Lo, Hua Chou Hsieh) with transcendent, experimental vocals and improvisational dance. The combined effect is a joyous, melodic melange that is simultaneously evocative and enchanting.

The group is also “moving,” in the sense of “movement.” Elements of modern dance are used, even Taichi and Indian influences are incorporated into performances, with the group’s now signature “singing body” style of physical theater.

A Moving Sound is comprised of a multi-talented cross-cultural couple, American Scott Prairie and New York-trained Taiwanese singer and dancer, Mia Hsieh. Hsieh has not only mastered the Nanguan “southern style” of narrative singing, but is also gifted in what is called in spiritual worship “singing in tongues” — a wordless, invented, but timeless language.

As a Fulbright scholar, Hsieh trained in New York with pioneer vocalist Meredith Monk and Lynn Book, and more recently has led workshops dealing with creativity and healing through movement and voice in Bitan “Beach” in Hsintien, Taipei County.

The duo met during an experimental jam at a church in New York; and in 2001, they both came to Taiwan, where Hsieh was transformed with a new appreciation for the vibrant culture of her homeland. Take for example “Market Song,” which musically describes the quintessential hustle and bustle of the Taiwanese night market.

Another song, “Ku-ching,” a period piece inspired by the ancient Chinese instrument of the same name, tells the story of a man who loses everything but never allows his spirit to be destroyed. He finds a way to transcend.

In the past few years, A Moving Sound has performed at world music festivals in Europe, and were the focus of a Discovery Channel program this year, “Six Degrees,” in which they gave a landmark performance at Taipei’s Red Theater.

I caught up with Scott Prairie at a coffee shop in Gongguan last week, fresh on the heels of being nominated this year for a Golden Melody award in artistic music for their second album, “Songs Beyond Words.”

Prairie said over coffee that recently things have “kind of coalesced” for the band, thanks not only to funding from Taiwan’s government, but to their growing popular, international and critical success.

“I feel lucky grateful for chance to do this,” Prairie said. “It’s superhard, very competitive. Everyone and their brother would like to tour around the world and make music. You have to make something polished and pretty interesting. It’s a vital thing that’s happening. We have a rich art, and a very receptive audience. You can’t ask for more than that.”

“In world music, the fastest-growing musical genre,” he continued, “there’s been a lot of emphasis on African and black music — taking old, traditional qualities of music and making something new out of it, something organic and contemporary. But from this part of the world, it hasn’t been done so much. Here, it’s usually either straight, traditional music – a copy of ancient stuff – or it’s Mandopop.”

“What we’re doing is not common,” he added. “People are curious and really appreciate it a lot. It has more integrity. Working in this part of the world gives me a brand new palette, a way to stretch out as a composer.”

Prairie, who was classically trained since childhood in French horn, sings and plays a panoply of instruments, said he “didn’t mean to go into Asian music” during a BBC radio interview in February. But “When I got there, I found out they’re hungry for creativity, arts and culture, and new ideas. So if you have something new and creative, it’ll take root and grow.”

Tonight at The Wall in Taipei, you can catch a performance of A Moving Sound with fire dance and visual arts. They will be celebrating their fifth anniversary as a band with a kickoff performance before embarking on a tour of music festivals in North America.

WHAT: A Moving Sound
WHEN: June 15, Friday, doors open 8:00, show starts at 9:00
WHERE: The Wall, B1, No. 200, Roosevelt Road, Sec. 4, Taipei
TICKETS: 400 NT with 1 free drink, buy it at the door or on the Internet
TEL: 02-2930-0162
See also: www.amovingsound.com