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Master of Brass Gongs – Wu, Tsung-Ling
[Sending love with the sound of gongs]


Using the brass mirrors to accomplish ambitious, and listening to gong music to meditate
                                                       
—Wu, Tsung-Ling
 
Lives like a hermit in Wulai mountains at New Taipei City, Wu, Tsung-Ling is a handful of hand-made brass gongs master cum artist in Taiwan. He once engaged in electrical and masonry engineering fields, but incidentally, he fell in love with the sounds of brass gongs and simply worked as an apprentice in a factory.

He has been engaging in making brass art works for more than 30 years, and so far, has produced more than 6,000 brass gongs. He has mastered the tuning technique and completed a set of “international standard sound scales” for gongs, allowing different gongs to generate different sounds and scales, and even play melodies by striking the gongs. His talent has moved tens of thousands of people. He has been famed to call “The Sound of Formosa” by adding a new chapter to folk music.
 
From playing children’s brass toys to making brass gongs, Master Wu has boosted the rebirth of brass gong creative art during the downturn of brass gong industry, and created the art works of: Aboriginal Series, The Land of Lotuses, The Pure Earth, etc. Without being taught, he eventually broke through the barriers to introduce the gong sound scales after more than 15 years of research and allowed “The Sound of Formosa” be known worldwide. He had even been invited to perform in TEDxTaipei. He took everyone’s breath away and shocked every corner of the globe and created a Taiwanese new national music that touches the world. He deserves to be praised as “The Master of Brass Gongs” and stood out among 2616 candidates of Loved Life Medal in the world and won the “21st Fervent Global Love of Lives Award” in 2018 from Chou, Ta-Kuan Foundation in Taiwan. The Foundation always welcomes recommendations for life warriors from all walks of life in the world who are hardworking, benevolent, courageous, and have made great accomplishments, etc. (Fervent Global Love of Lives Award recommendation hotline of Chou, Ta-Kuan Cultural and Educational Foundation of Taiwan: 02-29178770, Fax: 02-29178768, Address: 3F, No. 52, Mingde Road, Xindian District, New Taipei City, Website: http://www.ta.org.tw, e-mail: ta88ms17@gmail.com).

Using art to rejuvenate brass gongs
Ideal and reality may not necessarily be in conflict because the true ideal must be realized in life. From an interesting point of view, reality is sometimes cruel, but when you read “reality” in reverse (in Chinese letters), it becomes “realization.” Master Wu has not been beaten by reality, but still stands up courageously to face reality and realize his ideals.

When customers did not come, he did not just sit at home but went out to look for them. Although the industry continues to perform poorly, he noted that he should not be depressed.

He returned to his hometown in 1989 to set up Liuxianju Studio alone and had enjoyed good sales for several years. However, the brass gong market began to plunge and hit bottom at around mid-90s.

Until 1999, Master Wu finally began experimenting with his most familiar brass material by sculpting various kinds of craft ornaments, including mini brass gongs, brass ornaments, and brass decorative art items related to the “Great Consummation” series, as well as a variety of custom-made trophies, brass hanging ornaments, brass bracelets, brass incense burners, etc. It is amazing how Master Wu can always rely on his inspirations to create unexpected objects that can turn decadent into mysterious lives.

Master Wu is able to transform copper scraps into pieces by pieces of eye-catching, elegant and adorable brass crafts.

This is his first step in an attempt to create brass sculpture art using an entire different production method in contrast to the making of brass gongs in similar material. Although his working environment seems unchanged now, but in fact, Liuxianju has adopted a new business management direction to move towards diversification and artistic development.
 
 For Master Wu, regardless of traditional or innovation, the intersection between the two is brass art, and brass gongs are regarded as his best friends that come to train him!

Every strike he makes is responded with reverberation of metallic sound. He listens carefully and work diligently and never talks much.

Perhaps he realizes that the simpler the thing is, the harder it is to make. You can only accept it willingly and let nature takes it course before you can really make an achievement.

You may master the handicraft, but art is endless. So he started to ponder how to make a dialog with brass.

Master Wu recalled that perhaps the sound of brass gongs is really fascinating. On a certain day in 2003, the sound actually attracted friends from the “Symbiotic Association” across Nanshi River. When they came to Liuxianju, they were surprised to find that Wulai hot spring resort has actually hidden with such a special brass gong artist.

Both parties believe that life and art should be combined. Not only does Master Wu have ideas, but even specific creations.

After a pleasant interaction with each other for a period of time, he finally accepted the invitation from the Association by bringing a series of brass gongs and artistic brass works with his son to the Association located at Guangxi, Hsinchu, and organized an exhibition at the bursting art market full of visitors. The purpose then was to allow the modern people who have deserted the brass gongs to have an opportunity to get in touch with them. The tourists were amazed by such a wide variety of brass crafts designs being displayed, although they were all made from brass with a hard texture.
 
Perhaps everyone thought that it was just a roadside stall! However, it was not just an ordinary roadside stall. That pioneering initiative has since then expanded the market of brass gongs. With the help of additional accessories, the small gongs are no longer confined to temples, Ba Jia Jiang, or Peikuan Opera, but entering into the living room of families to serve as unsophisticated and pleasing installation art.

Not only have the hard brass sheets being made into practical handicraft, they also demonstrated the skillful craftsmanship, as well as superb, elegant and aesthetic brass carving technique of Master Wu.

Although that step out was only a short distance from Wulai Jiuijialiao hillside of New Taipei City to Guangxi of Hsinchu, but it has made a wide stride of artistic space.

The Sound of Formosa took 15 years to perfect the sound scales of brass gongs
Master Wu loved music since childhood. After a little bit older, he learned how to play guitar, erhu, matouqin, flute, and other musical instruments on his own. He plays them out of interest and just to entertain himself.

The most important and difficult technique in making the gongs is tuning. For this reason, he spent more than 15 years of studying and researching a flexible tuning technique to complete a set of international standard sound scales. This would allow different gongs to produce different sounds and scales, and even use them to play music.
 
He recalled: “I was told by a piano tuner that: “You need to create international standard sounds” in order to harmonize with other musical instruments. So I tried out the sounds made from the gongs with the tuning fork he left and then realized that I could create different levels of gong scales out of my production skills. Why didn’t I notice it before?”

That challenge was actually more difficult than the gongs played by Peikuan Opera, but as the gongs are made of locally-made brass materials based on Taiwan’s techniques, therefore, Master Wu named the set of gong scales as “The Sound of Formosa.”

He said: “If you want to prove that the sounds of brass gongs are pleasing, you must use these scales to perform. If more people have got to know these scales, they would gradually pay attention to these melodious sounds. I hope that one day these gong scales would be able to play in grand occasions.”

Since then, The Sound of Formosa has become a treasure of Liuxianju and commonly used to perform in guest welcoming events, and even in opening ceremony of many activities. Liu Guo-Bin, a friend of Taiwan Shakuhachi Society believes that:

The method of performing gong scales can only be found in Taiwan and it is unique in the entire Chinese world because you could probably see chime bells in the past, but no one has ever made them in the form of performance scales. So, basically, such unique performance event can sure to attract people.

On May 31, 2013, Master Wu was invited to give an opening ceremony performance of New Taipei City International Drum Arts Festival.
 
On November 15, 2014, Master Wu was invited to participate in the opening ceremony of the Exchange Club of Traditional Chinese Musical Instruments.

On May 15, 2015, Master Wu was invited to perform at the joint exhibition of the calligrapher Chang Hou-Lun and demonstrate The Sound of Formosa at the opening ceremony.

On September 11, 2016, when Master Wu was invited to give a speech at TEDxTaipei, he also performed “The Sound of Formosa” live. He was praised by his friend that the speech was the shortest one he has ever attended inTEDxTaipei event, but was the most shocking one instead.

On January 20, 2017, Master Su was invited by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of the District Court of Taipei, Taiwan to perform at the end of the year. Nangang Tea Processing Demonstration Center (Taipei Tea House) also owns a set of scale gongs to serve as display indicator to welcome the guests.

Using brass to accomplish ambitious, listening to gong music to meditate
The following is a speech given by Master Wu in TEDxTaipei 2016. Before the speech, he moved a huge “Wind Gong” with a shocking visual appearance to the stage. When he struck the gong and performed in a unique kung fu style, the audiences must be astonished how the gong could actually send out so many musical notes full of emotional feeling. A friend who watched his performance on YouTube said laughingly that the speech at TEDxTaipei was claimed by everyone as the shortest one ever, but was the most shocking one because people never imagined that the gong could be performed so marvelously.

Using the brass mirror to accomplish ambitious, and listening to gong music to meditate.
 
Hello, everyone, I’m Wu, Tsung-Ling the gong master. I come from Wulai in the mountains and have been in the gong industry for more than 35 years. I never thought I would speak on this stage. This’s because I’ve brought the musical gongs, which were formally used in traditional operas into music, into art, and into the heart and soul following the evolution of times.

Everyone must have heard the thundering, raining, wind blowing, and sea splashing sounds played by the gong. Have your hearts been temporarily attracted? The attraction is a moment of focus that would generate meditation. Therefore, listening to gong music can calm your mind.

〝Wind gong” was formally used by ancient officials while patrolling, striking it along in front of a palanquin to allow people to aware, keep quiet and dodge. The other golden gong with a navel is known as the sibling gong. It is the most common gong used at the backstage by Peikuan opera in traditional puppet shows. The sibling gongs are claimed to be the soul of Peikuan.

 I’ve transformed the sibling gongs into The Sound of Formosa by striking them to generate international standard sounds, i.e., fixed gong scales. I made a few pieces and arranged them in a row in the earlier day just out of interest. Later, I was told by a piano tuner, Zhuang Fu-Hua that if I were to play music, I would need to create international standard sound scales of amplitude A440HZ. Then I tried the sound of a tuning fork he left and found out that I could achieve that due to my expertise. After researching for 15 years, I’ve finally completed a set of international standard sound scales.

Such scales are only available in Taiwan. In the earliest days, when people wanted to use the gongs, they needed to buy them in China. After the government retreated to Taiwan, the gong trade was blocked. Therefore, the predecessors of Taiwan residents began to search for a suitable material to make them. As we did not have the technique of casting bronze gongs at that time, we found the unique brass material in Taiwan. Brass has the advantage for being able to shape at normal pressure and room temperature. So we managed to create the international standard sounds along with all other musical instruments to create music. Now we call them “The Sound of Formosa.”

This is an art domain developed from tradition.

I’ve also developed the “chakra gongs” as affected by the Indian yoga in recent years, allowing the frequency of gongs to resonate with human beings, thus pushing the gongs further towards a spiritual level.

“It’s very useful if you know its nature.” Due to my great understanding on the nature of brass, I’ve extended the manufacturing technique to brass sculptures. Unlike others, my brass crafts are especially made through beating and banging on brass sheets manually. The most representative work is the “Lotus Series.” As lotus represents pureness, I hope to convey it to purify people’s heart.”

In addition, in 2004, I discovered that the sounds of bow-shaped gongs could actually be tuned, thereby prompting me to start making “hand-made gongs.” The purpose is to allow people to meditate.

I hope that my work can help people to “calm their hearts.”
 
I also hope that all my works can reach a realm to let you have a feeling of pleasure and enjoyment.

 Thank you all.
 

Insisting on passing on the legacy for a lifetime
Wu, Tsung-Xi, the only son of Master Wu was graduated from the Food and Beverage Department of a two-year technical school in 2003. Only one professional certificate was required to graduate, but he graduated with three professional certificates and received the prestigious award from the County Chief.

So he did not want to stay in his Wulai’s home and inherit his father’s beating and banging business after being freshly graduated.

Tsung-Xi said: “People say that daughter and father are like past generation’s lovers, but I think the son and father are like the past generation’s enemy that repel each other. I’m envious of my classmates who can do what they want and have no burden! If I just do what I want, then there’s nobody to help out at home. It’s not a solution and I can’t bear to see that. The most important thing is that I can learn the deepest Taiwanese culture if I continue to stay here. We talk Minan (Taiwanese) at home, and the guests we contact with are Taiwanese troupes who also speak this language like the older generation.”

There’re many roads in life and sometimes I just can’t figure out when I will embark on my most suitable one. Although Master Wu is nearly 70 years old now but he still insists on doing only one thing in his lifetime, that is, to bang and shape the brass gongs of unparalleled value. He said: “I only knew my mission after I’ve lived past 50 years old that I should do these musical instruments in the first place. My son has resolutely agreed to shoulder this responsibility after much consideration.”
            
Master Wu said while instructing his son to make the gongs: “Before you strike it, think for a while, as if you strike the right place, you’ll get the right sound you want.” This’s another way to express your deep love and responsibility. It’s full of metaphors.

Playing an exemplary role is always the most direct and effective method of education. Master Wu’s enthusiasm to ensure that “the brass gongs can also play music” has deeply infected Tsung-Xi.

Tsung-Xi said: “There’re three laws for making The Sound of Formosa. The first law is the size. The larger the gong, the lower the sound is; and the smaller the gong, the higher the sound is…”

Tsung-Xi said while playing the soft and enchanting music of the brass gongs. He solemnly becomes the best guide, and because of his tall figure, he has become his father’s best assistant in making the brass gongs. Although the beating and banging works of the father and son are cooperated perfectly, but this brass gong making career has also caused Tsung-Xin to frighten.

Master Wu said: “I’ve a motto that says, “if you know its nature, you can make good use of it.” Throughout my several decades of making brass gongs, I’ve failed most of the time. I once broke the navel of a brass gong, but I’ve gained an experience instead because when I want to make an art piece with a natural crack pattern, I know how to break it properly. So when an opportunity comes, your previous frustrations can serve as your experience.”

Over the past few years, he has tried using the broken gongs to make them into unique installation art works, such as “Lotus Leaves,” ‘Lotuses,” and “Dragonflies,” thus giving the brass a new life value.
 
In one way, under the assistance from Tsugn-Xi, Master Wu has also begun to promote brass gongs and DIY brass crafts. Regardless of working as a tour guide, or performing the narration, tendering, collecting natural rattan and wood, and making gong mallets, gong racks, gong bases and relevant pre-preparation works, Tsung-Xi has given much help, and especially has his own opinions in making the gongs:

Not everybody likes or can afford to buy a large gong or a scale gong, but for these gongs that are smaller and cute, easier to make and can even sign your name on them are more acceptable than other gongs. We’ve scaled down their sizes to allow the average people to experience the fun, and then brought them home to become part of their lives. Despite not lowering our style, they also work as a shortcut for us to integrate them into the modern society.

Tsung-Xi has also started to engage himself in making the bowl gongs. When visitors come to visit the studio and like the sound played by the bowl gongs, they will immediately collect them. Master Wu said:

If a gong is able to play a pleasant sound, it’s likely to find an owner. If the owner appears and has a good impression on it, he’ll pick it up through instinct and fondness and owns it. This is what we always talk about fate. That’s why I find making brass gongs more and more interesting. Perhaps my fate is to make some gongs for people to use. Think for yourself, if I know that my gongs can allow more people to meditate, isn’t it an honor thing to do? My life has suddenly become very meaningful.
 
The son’s support has become an invisible strength for Master Wu. However, the most realistic thing for a hermit to stay in the mountains is “income problem.”

Master Wu said: “My career is very special, but my income is even more unique and exceptionally little. Whenever it comes to the topic of money, we’ve a really bad feeling. This’s traditional code of conduct, and sometimes the stress is so hard that we can’t even hold up our heads.”

“I’ve no desire on fame and fortune but to live a leisure and easy life.” This is exactly a portrayal of Master Wu. He does not seek to make a lot of money but only hope that each brass gong can find its own way out of life. Tsung-Xi has also increasingly understood his father. He said:

The stubbornness and serious personality of my father are the essential and undeniable elements that shaped out an outstanding artist and master of brass gongs. If I rate myself, I can only score 61 out of 100. In other words, there’s still a lot of room for me to work hard.

[Wu, Tsung-Ling’s Artistic Creation Chronology]
1982 Learned how to make brass gongs at Talo production site in Sanchung City, New Taipei City.
1989 Went back to Wulai to establish Liuxianju brass gong working studio.
1999 Tried to sculpture all kinds of brass handicraft and created new images for brass gongs by combining them with wood and rattan roots.
2008 Participated in Pinglin Tea Museum 4th Seasonal Exhibition.
2010 Invited to experience DIY creative work at Shihsanhang Museum of Archaeology Left Bank Art Festival - Dance River.
2011 Held a solo exhibition at Wulai Atayal Museum, New Taipei City.
        Held a solo exhibition at Ketagalan Culture Center, Taipei City.
Labor Documentary “The Life Path of Brass” - solo exhibition of brass gongs and brass sculptures of Wu, Tsung-Ling
Created the First New Taipei City Literature Award with “Text” characters
2012 Awarded with “Traditional Artistic Artist Award” in 2011, and listed as the “Traditional Art” cultural asset and a traditional artist under protection by Cultural Affairs Department, New Taipei City Government.
         Participated in Lin Benyuan “Traditional Art Troupe Season Exhibition/Activities.”
2013 Participated in Lin Benyuan Brass Sculpture Exhibition.
        Participated in New Taipei International Drum Festival Joint Exhibition.
2016 Participated in Lin Bianyuan New Year Series Activities: Brass Gong Music.
        Participated in New Taipei City Artist Biennial.
        Participated in Kaohsiung Zuo Chuang Healthy Living Cultural Park “Lotus World” Brass Sculpture Art Exhibition.
Participated in TEDxTaipei 2016 Speech/Exhibition.
 
【Media Reports】
2012
CTS / Brass Gong Art Heritage
              LTV / Sophistication & Wisdom
              PTS / China News
2014
CTV/ Peaceful Sound of Gongs: Wulai Brass Gongs
               CTS / MIT (Mountain in Taiwan)
               CTiTV / Taiwan Record
               EraTV /
               FTV / Wulai In-depth Tour
TTV / Looking for Taiwan Sensation
National Gongmaker – Wu, Tsung-Ling
SETN /Cultural Creative LIFE – Transformation of Brass Gongs into Magical Music
 ※ SETN / Careermaster
※ my Video
Disappearance of my Video. Rebirth Documentary – The Sounds of Brass Gongs