Category Archives: Arts and culture

Oulu – Lee Yu-hsuan´s lessons in heavy metal ethics

“I am ashamed of it”, she describes, retrospectively, about a scene in Oulu, Finland, where a grinning, hairy, face of a man approaches the face of a girl, her, not long pass her prime. For a flash of a second, it can be imagined that she will get spit on her face from him, such is the proximity of the two, and such is the brutality of the act. Yet, her eyes show only ecstatic acceptance, which is highlighted by the untamed make-up she wears. Her head twitches wildly, and her hair splits the air. He is sure to see right through her tantalized gaze and knows what it means: unapologetic synchronization – wild and primitive.

Really, Yu-hsuan, are you ashamed of it?

“Not really a fan of metal, before I went to Finland”, Taiwanese Lee Yu-hsuan, a former university student and a performer in the city of Oulu´s official, heavy metal themed commercial, starts her story. “I applied for four different programs in four different countries”. The year was 2010, and obviously there was an important and long-lasting choice to be made. “At that time, I really wanted to get out from the comfort zone, so of course Oulu was the top choice. None of my friends had a clue about there”.

How much of a danger zone did Oulu – known for its black winter days – turn out to be?

Oulu
“Ookko nää Oulusta, pelekääkkö nää polliisia?” Oulu can appear as a “danger zone”, especially for international students, but only for a short while as the policeman’s statue is also a reassuring figure in this university city.

Luckily, a complete castaway she was not. “When I was in Finland, I got a lot of help from the local people”, she remembers those times, adding that the living costs were affordable as well. And how about the studies then?

“The program was well designed, and it was also really international”, Yu-hsuan characterizes the University of Oulu´s Education and Globalization program. “I hope I didn’t give you the wrong impression: that I am pessimistic about Taiwan’s international status”, she is quick to realize, and continues: “the common experience is that the universities [in Taiwan] are not providing enough courses in English for international students”. “I just wanted to choose a different way”.

Oulu
Group photo of the education and globalization programme’s students.

And, indeed, a different way she chose; in Oulu “I got time to really think about me – what I want – without any social pressure”. Could it be at that point, when the metal music stepped into the otherwise more ordinary story?

“It was actually from a cocktail show in a local bar”, she starts to unravel the metallic mystery, and is sure to continue: “we wanted to celebrate this special moment, so my friends ordered some special cocktails for me, and the bartender accompanied the drinks with this type of music and fire”. It had caught her soon-to-become metal heart, though with peculiar modesty she points out that she is not a big fan of heavy metal, but finds it, nevertheless, interesting. However, there is a dash of typical Finnish downplaying to be sensed in her storytelling, which raises the question: what other habits did Yu-hsuan – from the land of the mid-day sun – pick up in the land of the midnight sun.

Oulu
Metal music fosters acceptance and inner thinking.

“Frankly, seeing all the LGBT -rights debate lately in Taiwan makes me recall the demonstration in Helsinki in October this year”, she changes the topic, referring to the equal marriage act that is called to be enacted in the Taiwanese legislative bodies, and of which the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender are head over heels in favour of, and who have taken it to the streets of Taipei. “I just don’t get it – I thought it would be easy to pass the law in Taiwan”, Yu-hsuan explains.

Apart from pressing political matters, surely, Taiwan is nothing like Finland, at least when it comes to metal music, and the tropical island nation must be a flat out Copacabana compared to kalevalaesque Oulu, right? Not quite. “Surprisingly, there is an up-coming metal music event happening in Hsinchu”, where a non-surprising selection of songs from Finnish household names – such as Nightwish, Stratovarius and Sonata Arctica – is played. “What makes Finnish people so into it”, she wonders aloud.

“Do you keep up with the Finnish tradition as a heavy drinker?”, she then asks out of the blue.

Oulu

Hopefully, the answer is no, but I must admit that all this talk about drinks and LGBT -rights made me wonder about one of my favorite clubs in Taipei. It is a place well known for its LGBT crowds during the occasional, “rainbowishly” themed nights – a rainbow in the dark, dare I say. And, frankly, you can’t go wrong with a club where one receives a free shot of whiskey for being a Finn, and another one for being a fan, a fan of of metal music that is, and where the bartender remembers to mention his favourite band being Stratovarius.

It seems to forever amaze me, what makes specifically the metal crowd so uniquely accepting and peace-loving. At least, for some reason, those who have spent a winter beyond the 60th parallel seem to not lack the courage.

And then, between us, there was a silence that was not awkward at all. It was rather synchronous, anticipating a faster pace to come, and, sure enough:

“Busy, busy!”, she commented her current life as a project manager for an art investment company Arttime, and then added: “looking forward to my dinner in Taipei tonight – we are doing coffee tasting”.

Metal music, human rights, craft beer, coffee tasting and silence. How awfully Finnish can life sometimes be..

PS. There are (at least) 9 more or less famous metal song names embedded in the article. Those who wish to prove themselves worthy, may have a go at finding and recognizing all of the names.

Text: Markku Väisänen

Dissonant echoes of a former music student

One of our staff members, Markku, has spent the autumn in Taiwan, getting familiar with Taiwanese universities. A while ago he visited a local arts festival and got the chance to interview a Finnish music artist and former music student, Antti Myllyoja, about his experiences as an exchange student, and where his exchange has brought him eventually.

No words are spoken as a pale figure with a grotesque aura, that could well predate literature, stumbles forwards its linear path, in a zombie-like state, toward a disruptive symbolic structure, a chaotically vandalized black and white piano in this case, which it then studies, expressing nearly an animal like behavior all the way to the highest of excitements, only to plummet back in to the depths of despair again. Then, gradually, it starts to make its way towards its complete opposite, a well composed and lively pianist who excels in an aesthetically pleasing state of signified existence. Two of them become one as the climactic dissonant chords are played like vulgar echoes from the left-behind chaos and disruption. 

dissonant echoes of a former music student
Photographer: Te-Fan Wang (汪德範)

Although the main interest of the third Love for Freedom Calligraphy Art festival (愛自由當代書藝) is a Taiwanese dancer, and somewhat a local celebrity in the contemporary art scene, Hu Chia (胡嘉), the object of his performance, Black Meal (黑食), however, is a Finnish composer Antti Myllyoja in piano. Performance that ends in a synthesis of these two artists for the first time now – though who have been friends for a good couple of years – makes intriguing sense in the audience´s perspective since Antti is the only foreign artist who performs in the festival and, as such, is bound to catch the eyes of those who have wondered into an old warehouse building turned gallery within the city of Hsinchu´s railway station complex. But how has Antti himself found his way to Hsinchu and become part of the Taiwanese contemporary art scene?

dissonant echoes of a former music student
Photographer: Te-Fan Wang (汪德範)

It was back in 2010, the exchange, Antti starts his story. That was also the year he graduated from Sibelius Academy (nowadays part of the University of the Arts Helsinki) in Finland. At that time, the soon-to-become master of music had a touch of previous experience in Asia, having spent an exceptional summer in China couple of years earlier, and who thus was keen to browse through the available exchange options with the recently seen movies from an award winning Malaysian-born director – though who has made his career in Taiwan – Tsai Ming-liang in mind. Was it Tsai´s Taiwan inspired movies that had influenced Antti to choose Taiwan over the many other locations which offer interesting scenes for an artist and exchange student? “Tsai´s movies gave me a very creative and experimental picture of Taiwan which was later proven to be correct”, Antti explains. There is no heavy burden of tradition, he then adds. “Tradition can be good, but not the burden”. What kind of burden does he mean?

“It rained heavily that day, and I went to a hostel for the night”, Antti reminiscences his first day in Taipei. And within a week he was already in the studio of Golden Bough Theatre, a peculiar fusion of western theater and Taiwanese folk tradition, or post-modern, as it would be called in the world of arts, through which he became accustomed to the world of Taiwanese theater – “it is in the core of the story”, he reminds. Internship in Golden Bough lasted for three months, after which he started another three-month internship with the contemporary percussionists of Ju Percussion Group. Then it was time for the master´s thesis. “It was a free field of arts, without puritanism”, he sums up the exchange period; “even the studies were free of structure”. Then he starts to talk about a course that consisted of visits to culturally significant buildings. Nonchalance is easily mistaken as discontinuance in Antti´s story.

dissonant echoes of a former music student

“One reason, of course, was a Taiwanese actress Liu Yutsen, and another was a place in the Taiwanese art scene”, why Antti returned to Taiwan after his studies were completed. At the time, in 2012, the two of them established a theater together and Radical Snail Office was born. “The idea was to combine contemporary music with experimental theater”. “Surely, it has worked out well”. When asked about Antti´s future plans, the man replies: “as if I have any – we live in a space between…”. Silence ensues after which a burst of sarcastic laughter soon follows. It was the same laughter that spiced up the story of him seeing the distorted and diabolical face, probably from the performance the night before, in the heat and humidity of Taipei, in which the lizards are free to roam about.

Did you understand what was it about, asked a fair Taipei lady of a high academic standing, referring to the Black Meal performance, not being used to the contemporary arts. Perhaps it was about the thorough disruption in an otherwise so linear evolutionary path that needed to take place in order for the new literate culture to be born. Be as it may, in any case, Antti Myllyoja would not change a thing about his experience in Taiwan.

Disruption echoes in the dissonance, as Antti, Hu Chia and many others continue catering the contemporary art addicts those ink-black meals of enlightened culture near the rigid shores of the Pacific Ocean that make up the island of Taiwan.

dissonant echoes of a former music student
Photographer: Te-Fan Wang (汪德範)

Find more information about Taiwanese universities!

Soochow University and Taipei University of the Arts have received very favourable reviews on Study Advisory, where they were rated both by Taiwanese and international students. The security level and student services are particularly appreciated at Soochow while good value for money stands out from reviews of Taipei University of the Arts.