Sun, Nov 16, 2003 - Page 18 News List

The archive of emptiness

The Ethnic Music Archive opened in Taipei recently and was immediately criticized for being understocked with musical publications


The shelves at the newly opened Ethnic Music Archive have yet to be filled up.


Before the expectant eyes of music academics, the Research Institute of Musical Heritage (民族音樂研究所) opened its Ethnic Music Archive (民族音樂資料館) in downtown Taipei at the end of last month, but it proved to be a rather disappointing showing.

The country's first archive devoted to ethnomusicology, a relatively new field of musical study in Taiwan and worldwide, appeared to be in a half-finished state despite having taken 13 years to build. There has been criticism that the archive is lacking in research articles and ethnic music publications and was opened ahead of time for political reasons.

The Ethnic Music Archive includes folk music, operas, dance music, religious and contemporary music from around the world, with a focus on ethnic music from Taiwan. Its two-story, 200-ping space is divided into a reading room, audio-visual room, research room and a open-shelf library. It also holds performances and seminars on weekends. Lifetime membership costs NT$100 and allows anyone access to its digital and open-shelf collections.

The setting up of the archive was a long tortuous process. In its original plan, broached by late musicologist Hsu Chang-huei (許常惠), the archive was part of a planned independent research institute called the Ethnic Music Center. A preparation team was set up in 1990 under the Council for Cultural Affairs (文建會). In 1993, Taipei County's Chungho City Office agreed to provide a 3.75 hectare site in its No. 4 Park for its construction. Four years later, the Executive Yuan deemed the construction incompatible with that of the National Taiwan Library, which was to be built at the same park. The CCA found another park in Chungho for its construction in 1999, but local pressure and land regulations delayed its construction.

Around the same time, the government's financial situation made such a large project unfeasible. In 2000, the new administration adjusted the country's cultural policies toward strengthening "cultural software" instead of hardware, so that the CCA combined the institute with the existing National Traditional Arts Center (國立傳統藝術中心).

The archive has also been condensed into the less than 200-ping space of a former office building, on loan from the Council of Agriculture, to save construction cost. Its original functions of gathering, researching, and displaying ethnic music materials, remain unchanged.

Despite the long delay, the archive's opening is still a positive development in ethnic music research, said Lin Huei-kuan (林慧寬), general director of China Found Music Workshop (采風樂坊), a traditional Chinese music education institute. In the past, Lin said, she had to visit several separate places, such as Taipei University Arts library and the CCA's shop, for traditional music materials. "There was a serious lack of one comprehensive collection," Lin said.

Although many in the music field are happy to see the archive finally materialized, it's not without its critics. On Nov. 3, five days after its opening, a Chinese-language daily reported that the archive's digital collection could not be accessed and its printed collection consists only of second-hand materials, all of which are available on the market. The archive, it reported, may have been opened prematurely, for political reasons.

Since the news came out, Hu Wei-chiao (胡偉姣), director of the archive, has been unavailable for an interview, despite repeated requests from the Taipei Times.

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