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Taipei Music Center—MUSIC, ISLAND, STORIES: Pop Music in Taiwan

[Songs for Our Times]
The Taipei Music Center is the first museum dedicated to Chinese-language popular music. The center stages its own exhibitions and has collections in various musical genres. It aims to promote popular music culture, pass on the legacy, and encourage new styles.
This exhibition was designed to show the development of popular music in Taiwan using an immersive music-centered exhibition experience that rather departs from past exhibitions. Viewers are guided into a time tunnel showing the development of popular music through an integrated multi-sensory experience.
Prelude: Chords of Memory
Music has always been with us. A song often bears witness to the signs of the time and political changes. Each generation has its own songs.
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Taipei Circle
In early times, songs could only be passed down orally. When gramophones came into general use in the 1930s, music could be recorded and reproduced. The first popular songs in Taiwan were composed and nurtured under such conditions.
During Japanese rule, song books were published, followed by the advent of radio, early shellac records, then vinyl disks and cassette players. Taipei Circle witnessed all this in the development of early Taiwanese popular music and has cultivated music lovers for generations.
Times Electrical Company
On display in the small windows of an electrical supply store were pocket-size transistor radios, tiny black-and-white TV sets, portable cassette players, Walkmans, and others devices. This company was also witness to the age of music.
Taipei theater: film theme tunes
In 1932, “The Peach Blossom Weeps Tears of Blood” was one of the most popular songs in Taiwan. It was written for the movie of the same name. Since then, popular music has been closely associated with the film and television industry. The apex of the film industry was also the most prosperous period for music, with classics such as “A Red Egg,” “Spring Breeze,” “Night Rain in the Harbor,” and many others which have all become very popular.
Taiwan’s urbanization now allows trains to take wanderers in search of their dreams. Trains carried dreams and made many people very homesick. Social change has taken place with the rhythm of songs in the background, as the island transformed from agriculture to industry. It is now a modern society with service industries at its core.
Amateur singing: the folk period
In the recent past, young people wrote songs inspired by old songs books and accompanied by guitar and recorded their demos with simple devices such as portable cassette players. The songs tended to be literature-oriented and the lyrics frequently used poetry. Literary elements were also injected into popular music and this laid a solid foundation for later popular music.
The spiritual world of young people
In the 1980s, political restrictions in Taiwan were loosened, which contributed to the birth of many songs with serious attitudes. The younger generation were inspired and strove to overcome their frustration and anxiety, also singing of their dreams and their innocence, with lyrics that spoke of youth, passion, and energy.
The music of love stories
There are always song that express happiness and sadness, hesitation and loss, as well as inexpressible feelings of love. When you hear these songs, do you remember someone you loved? Or your past self?
The birth of vinyl
Every step in the production of an album—from songwriting, choice of artists, arrangement, recording, vocals, then postproduction, visual design and promotion—all need professionals from different fields. Let’s take a look at how an album is produced.
The charm of music: Taiwan’s music multiculturalism
Taiwan is a multi-cultural land. In addition to popular songs in Hokkien and Hakka and the mother tongues of indigenous peoples and “new immigrants”, Chinese-language pop singers in places such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia all regard Taiwan as a major pop music center. Taiwan’s inclusiveness means it is brimming with various musical genres, such as ballads, rock, dance music, hip-hop, R&B, and electronica.
Live music
In the 1990s, underground bands performed in small bars. Singers often wrote their own songs and made regular appearances. These musical performance spaces, labelled “underground” and “fringe,” became home to a diverse musical culture.
Now, they have been displaced to some extent by various kinds of huge music festivals that attract concert-goers in their thousands and offer the opportunity for groups of like-minded musicians to come together. Now, indie music has become the mainstream for young people.
Live venues: the concert experience
Images are projected from all four sides to produce carefully planned stage effects using lights and laser strobes and create breathtaking effects at live concerts. Let’s all enjoy these musical feasts!
Exhibition info
Date: Starting on September 18, 2021, and running for five years.
Venue: Cultural Gallery, Taipei Music Center
Opening hours: 10 am–6 pm, daily. No admission after 4:30 pm. Closed Mondays. (Open on the Mid-Autumn Festival long weekend.)