My academic interests focus on the processes and sites of intersection between music and mobility. Music in diaspora brought about by human migration, the distribution of music led by technology or media developments, and the power of music as a platform for social change are the three basic forms of intersection I study. With a principal geo-cultural specialty in Burma/Myanmar and its diaspora, my research in the past twenty years has concentrated on Burmese classical musicians, migrant workers, and Sino-Burmese immigrants.
My book, Unfaded Splendor: Representation and Modernity of the Burmese Classical Music Tradition (written in Chinese, National Taiwan University Press, 2012) was a study of the tradition called thachin gyi as performed by several classical musicians before Burma’s 2011 political and economic reform, when it was still used strategically as a response to the ruling military. I have continued to observe these musicians’ music-making post-reform to understand how their new access to a global market has had an impact on their music-making and transmission.
Apart from that, I also explore various ways of music-making amongst Sino-Burmese communities at home in Yangon, as well as in their diaspora communities in Macau, Taiwan, and Los Angeles. Key issues include the formation of multiple identities (generational, artistic, and ethnic), the performance of difference as defiance, soundscapes making, music embodiment, etc.
In recent years, I have brought cultural industrialization and cultural tourism into my scholarly focus, drawing from two case studies of the “Twin Water Festival phenomenon”: the first in Macau, where one festival is held by the Sino-Burmese community and the other by Burmese migrant workers (mostly ethnic Burmese, Chin, and Karen peoples). The second takes place in Taiwan, where one festival is held by the Sino-Burmese community in Taipei and the other by veterans of the KMT army withdrawn from the Thai-Burma borders to Taoyuan, a city south of Taipei. I explore cultural governance and ethnic politics emerging from the tensions generated from the Twin Water Festival phenomenon, as well as the economic, political, and social forces that shaped old patterns of interconnection.
Last, ever-mindful of the significant commonalities and differences between ethnomusicology and anthropology, I also view my research from a broader methodological perspective that links studies of sounds, space, society, embodiment, and sentiment between these two fields.