Taiwan father-daughter design duo’s road trip to Grammy glory
Driving down a desert road, fresh off a heartbreaking loss at the Grammy Awards in Las Vegas, Taiwanese designer Xiao Qing-yang and his daughter were already working on their next project.
“When we were travelling in Arizona, the desert was endless and there was one road. At night it is like having a dialogue with yourself,” Hsiao Chun-tien, 24, told AFP.
These ideas inspired their design of the artwork and packaging for “Beginningless Beginnings”, the soundtrack of a short film on Taiwan’s ancient Tamsui-Kavalan Trails.
A year later, their journey came full circle, with the duo winning a Grammy for best recording package for the album design.
“I was so excited that I forgot to hug my mother and brother who sat next to me before going on the stage,” beamed Hsiao, a winner on her first nomination.
Xiao, 56, had to wait much longer. Before his first win in 2023, he had been nominated six times.
“I had sat in the audience for 18 years to finally get on stage, and she won the first time, so our moods are quite different,” he said, smiling.
‘A zen reflection’
Hsiao’s first trip to the Grammys was when she was just seven, for her father’s second nomination.
At the time, she said, she felt like she was just going to a concert to watch the world’s biggest music stars perform.
“I later realised it’s actually a competition that’s important to my father and saw him feel disappointed each time… so I too feel like I’ve gone through six times of not winning.”
Her father interrupted and, with an amused look on his face, asked: “Are you sure I looked disappointed?”
Hsiao laughed, before telling her father his expressions are, perhaps, more transparent than he might think.
The lauded album cover is designed to resemble a glove puppet, inspired by one of the characters in the film: a puppeteer who performs at shrines for the folk deity Lord of the Land.
The cover opens up like a concertina, with multiple layers symbolising “the roads travelled and the music listened to along the century-old trails”, according to Xiao.
Hsiao found parallels between walking the ancient trails and their road trip through the Arizona desert.
“It’s an inner exploration and a zen reflection,” she said.
The two designers speak with a warm energy, enthusiastically following up on each other’s trains of thought, and smiling often.
Following ancient footsteps
The Tamsui-Kavalan Trails, also known as the Danlan Historic Trails, were the main routes connecting two prefectures located in today’s Taipei and eastern Yilan county during the ancient Chinese Qing dynasty, more than 200 years ago.
Indigenous people built some of the roads in the mountains, with tea merchants and foreign missionaries later walking the same paths.
“The ancient trails make me think about the times when my father and grandfather travelled the roads and now, I am walking on the same roads,” Xiao said.
“I wanted to depict the stories of their times, to recreate what (the trails) looked like a hundred years ago and the music that was played in Taiwan then.”
The soundtrack by the Tamsui-Kavalan Chinese Orchestra features traditional music, some dating back hundreds of years, performed in part by old musicians on various sections of the trails.
Also featured on the album are natural sounds from the hikes, from gurgling streams to chirping birds.
Xiao likened walking the trails of his ancestors to a pilgrimage, and Hsiao said the duo tried to encapsulate the sense of a never-ending journey in their design.
“No matter which side you view it from, top or bottom, it could be the beginning or the end,” she said.
“Or, maybe there is no so-called beginning or end.”
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