Taiwan Fun Magazine, January 2002

Working Towards a Better Taiwan Through Music:
An Exclusive TAIWAN FUN Interview with Matthew Lien

by Cheryl Robbins photos by Henry Westheim translated by Sharon Yang

Photo: Henry Westheim ?2002

Matthew Lien is a well-known environmental activist, composer, musician and vocalist from the Yukon, Canada. Gaining acclaim for albums like "Bleeding Wolves", "Caribou Commons", "Voyage to Paradise" and "Touching the Earth", his musical compositions often include sounds recorded in nature or songs from the Aborigine tribes of Taiwan and other countries. Although his music is categorized as New Age it has met with widespread success in Taiwan. Matthew Lien recently visited the island giving performances in Taipei, Kaohsiung and Taichung as part of his "Bleeding Wolves" Tour. While in Taichung, COMPASS' own Cheryl Robbins spoke with him in an exclusive interview.

C: With your busy schedule, you probably haven't had much time to explore Taichung. However, have you been able to form any impression of this city?
ML: It's true that I haven't had much time to spend in Taichung. But, my last visit here [in April, 2000] to the National Museum of Natural Science was a very rich one. After spending time in the museum, I had the chance to go into the surrounding countryside of Nantou. So, that was a memorable visit for me.

C: You have acheived phenomenal success in Taiwan, especially for a foreigner. Why do you think your music has such widespread appeal here?
ML: I get asked that question a lot. And, every time I'm asked it, I have to take a look at the question again. I guess I don't wonder why it is the way it is but, rather, I'm just grateful for the way it is. I often ask God why am I so blessed to be connected to a country with so many beautiful people.

C: Over the past several years that your music has been distributed in Taiwan, have you seen any improvement in the environmental causes you are active in or that are at the center of your music?
ML: Yes. When I first came to Taiwan, I was active in trying to protect the Chi Lan Mountain old-growth forest. In the few years since then, the government has begun planning a new national park that will include this forest. This park will be very large, connecting Shei-pa, Yushan and Taroko national parks. In addition, it was thought that involving the aboriginal people in the development of this park would make the process stronger. After meeting with Interior Minister Chang Po-ya and other authorities, I feel that the government is sincere in carrying out this process. I was asked by the environmental organization that is working to protect this area to identify two aboriginal representatives from Canada with experience in incorporating aboriginal concerns with the development of protected areas. But, the rate at which all this is happening is quite rapid. To develop a park in Canada may take decades, but here the planning process will be completed in just a few years. In addition, environmental protection is one of the luxuries of democracy. As democracy grows here, so will the opportunities for environmental protection.

C: Do you follow the mainstream music scene? Are there any trends that you like or any local pop stars that you would like to collaborate with?
ML: I do follow local music somewhat. I'm not familiar with all of the artists, but I like those with staying power like David Tao and Ah Mei. Ah Mei is an extremely talented aboriginal artist.

C: Your album "In So Many Words" has just been released. Does this album break new ground for you?
ML: Yes, it does. As a musician, I process emotions through music. In the past, I have focused on projects concerning issues, regions and cultures and haven't had time to deal with personal things. This album focuses on personal messages. Also, the musical styles are different. On this album, there are musical styles that I was influenced by. The music is more aggressive because I applied the style to myself rather than choosing one I thought would be effective for an issue. Also, the creation of this album was the goal. This was a difficult album to make. It was all about the process, not about what I wanted to achieve from this album.

C: Your next project is one that is commissioned by the I-lan [county] government to explore that region's cultures and its environment. Have you begun recording components for this project? Is there anything that you can tell me as far as the content?
ML: I started work on this project when I was originally asked to do a song for a children's festival in I-lan. That song included the singing of aboriginal children. There are still some recordings of those children left over and sounds that I recorded around I-lan. I thought it would be beautiful to make the album a journey of water through I-lan. For example, there is Chi Lan, the many waterfalls, rivers and agriculture, as well as the ocean with its fishing and ocean cultures. The base of Kueishandao (Turtle Island) is the termination point for an underground river with underwater volcanic vents. I have an advanced SCUBA license, so I plan to do underwater recording of the sounds from those vents. I have so far identified aboriginal songs to use and have done a lot of mapping out of the project. But, I need to think about the songs and let them steep for awhile and to spend time in different areas of I-lan with the music and the musicians.

C: You seem like a spiritual person. Where do you come from on that side of things?
ML: I have always allowed my emotional side to develop in advance of my intellectual side. I have a very personal relationship with Earth, with creation and with my sense of God.

C: Finally, is there anything that you would like to say to the people of central Taiwan?
ML: Taiwan has more than its share of challenges and struggles. I am amazed by the strength of the people in the face of these challenges. A reporter recently asked me if I was afraid to come here this September because of all of the typhoons. But, I feel like the people of Taiwan are my family. When there is some trouble where your family is, you don't think about the danger of going there, you just obsess about how to get there. So, with the recent typhoons this is where I wanted to come.

Photo: Henry Westheim ?2002