Sun, Mar 14, 2004 - Page 18 News List

A stage for their talents

The government says it won't stand idle as the pop-music industry declines. In response, it has promised to build three new venues specifically designed for popular music

By Max Woodworth  /  STAFF REPORTER

It's long been the case that when a large pop music act puts on a concert in Taipei, organizers are forced to rent a sports stadium and quickly throw up a rented stage, sound system and lights while taking time out to pray for good weather. Then, even if the weather cooperates, the echoes rebounding off the bleachers and the noise from airplanes flying overhead compete with the music and pop stars for concert-goers' attention.

Looking to improve this situation and tackle a host of other problems besetting the pop-music industry at the same time, the Council for Cultural Affairs has drafted a plan that within five years would see the completion of a multi-functional Pop Music Center in the northern, central and southern parts of the country. The plan, dubbed the Mushroom Music Project, is part of the central government's plan for 10 new construction projects that it has set out for completion by 2008.

According to the council's chairwoman Chen Yu-chiou (陳郁秀), the centers will serve as locations for "the interaction between musicians, listeners and digital technology." What this means in concrete terms is that the government will build concert venues with attached facilities that are open during the day and offer practice rooms, music shops, cafes and art spaces -- basically larger versions of The Wall, which opened in Taipei in November last year.

Johnny Tuan (段鍾沂), chairman of Taiwan's largest indigenous music label Rock Records, who served as an unofficial consultant to the council, said he envisioned spaces that would be epicenters of musical and artistic creativity.

"I told them that if they just build static concert halls, then that would be a waste of public resources. If it's going to have any role in boosting pop music and pop culture it needs to be a performance center, as well as an educational center, a knowledge repository and a leisure center," he said.

He cited Seattle's Experimental Music Project (EMP) as a model to emulate. "At the EMP, every day the parking lot is filled with those yellow school buses, which testify to the educational value of the space. It also shows that the education system has recognized the cultural value of pop music."

Chen seems to have taken Tuan's advice and is quick to affirm the importance her office places in pop music as an integral element of Taiwanese culture, but she also stressed the economic reasons for pursuing the plan.

According to the council, pop music album sales in Taiwan dropped by 57 percent from their peak of NT$11.6 billion in 1997 to NT$4.6 billion in 2002 and have continued to decline. Tuan and Chen attributed the drop to rampant piracy that has stifled the industry's urge to promote new groups and capped labels' budgets for artist development.

"The problems extend beyond music, because the music industry is connected to film and TV and publishing -- essentially all forms of media. If one side goes down, the effect is felt all over. We need to take a fresh look at how to sustain a vibrant pop-music culture, and having the proper hardware is elemental to saving the music industry," Tuan said.

Each of the centers, to be built with a budget currently pending approval in the Legislative Yuan, will provide permanent settings with state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment in spaces of varying sizes to accommodate different-sized crowds. Under the plan, local governments are to offer the land, the central government budget will pay for the building and facilities, and private groups will operate the centers.

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