Final Project Proposal for #soundartbrown

Working Title: [Kimchi Suite]

Project description: I would like to make a suite of recordings to be presented as a multi-channel sound installation to synthesize recent reflections on my Korean-American identity and family history. The recordings would include the following:

  • Kimchi piece: a multi-channel recording that immerses the viewer in the sounds of making and consuming kimchi. This piece explores the creation and consumption of Korean identity. I will focus on the following sounds: washing, chopping, mixing, fermentation, eating (cutting and chewing).

  • River piece: a recording of a poem about my grandfather’s experience of his family attempting to cross the Nakdong River while fleeing the Korean War.

  • Milk/ Calcium piece: a recording of a poem about my grandmother’s and mother’s experiences of motherhood and babyhood in the context of poverty.

  • Home piece: a recording of “고향의 봄” / “The Spring in My Home(town)” synthesized and modified through MAX MSP

Inspiration: Kimchi symbolizes Korean-identity in a consumable form. It’s a symbol of “Korean-ness.” In my family, eating kimchi every day or with every meal is a way to express and affirm Korean identity. When I was away at college, my mother would tease me that I wasn’t really Korean unless I had to eat kimchi every day. Yet, kimchi, as quintessential Korean cuisine, also makes Korean culture easily consumable. I want to present the sounds of kimchi alongside sounds and narratives that challenge easy consumption: family narratives of war and poverty (as slices of underrepresented Korean narratives of war and poverty) and craggy renditions of a song about a Korean home. I want to make and share the sounds of consumption while also highlighting the family narratives that I have consumed and view as important aspects of my own family’s Korean history. I also want to share my resistance to consuming and replicating hegemonic manifestations of Korean identity that require erasure and silencing.

Site: I would like to use a multi-channel sound installation for the recordings. If possible, I would like for the installation to require the listener to lean down or crouch over to listen to the sounds. Otherwise, I would like for the speakers to surround a stool installed in the center. If a multi-channel installation is not possible, I would like to create a web page from which the listener could experience the recordings within a “kimchi suite.”

Materials:

  • Kimchi piece: napa cabbage, kosher salt, water, sweet rice flour, turbinado sugar, carrots, green onions, garlic cloves, ginger, onion fish sauce, fermented salted shrimp, hot pepper flakes; glass jar; contact microphone; recorder; DAW

  • River piece: poem; voice; recorder; studio time; DAW

  • Milk/ Calcium piece: poem; voice; recorder; studio time; DAW

  • Home piece: recorder; studio time; dub siren; MAX MSP

Timeline:

  • 11/14-11/20: Make kimchi and initial field and recording recordings

  • 11/24-11/30: Make fermentation / eating recordings; begin editing kimchi piece, milk piece, and river piece using DAW; begin learning MAX MSP

  • 12/01-12/04: Continue editing kimchi piece, milk piece, and river piece; record home piece using MAX MSP

  • 12/04-12/07: Collect feedback for installation

Performing a home song: sketch notes

Background:

고향의 봄” is one of the most beloved and well-known Korean songs of the past century. Categorized as a children’s song, or dong-yo (동요), the title translates into something along the lines of “The Springtime of My Home(town)”.

On his blog Tony’s Web, Tony Kim, a Korean expat in America, provides a translation of the lyrics while writing that this song is “like a symbol of home to the national psyche”:

Spring of My Old Home

My old home deep in the flowery mountains
Of peach blossoms, apricots, and baby azaleas
Like a flower palace in all pretty rainbow colors
How I miss the times when I played in there

Flower mounds and bird nests, my old home
Where the willow trees dance by the creek
As the wind blows from the southern pasture
How I miss the times when I played in there

고향의 봄

나의 살던 고향은 꽃피는 산골
복숭아꽃 살구꽃 아기진달래
울긋불긋 꽃대궐 차리인 동네
그 속에서 놀던 때가 그립습니다

꽃동네 새동네 나의 옛 고향
파란 들 남쪽에서 바람이 불면
냇가의 수양버들 춤추는 동네
그 속에서 놀던 때가 그립습니다

The lyrics were first written as a poem by the children’s author 이원수 (Yi Won Soo) when he was in his early teens (that is, around 14 or 15). The poem evokes his own recollections of home and was published in 1926 in an issue of 어린이, a children’s literary magazine. The poem was adapted into a song twice, and the second adaptation by the composer 홍난파 (Hong Nan-pa) brought the song into the Korean mainstream.

The song flourishes inside karaoke rooms, national broadcasts, albums by K-pop groups, and the hearts of Koreans on the peninsula and beyond (and I’ve included a playlist to share some of the song’s recent versions). The song and its lyrics are also memorialized in stone (as seen in the images below).

I’m interested in how this song evokes, creates, performs, and complicates “home”. It was written by a Korean teen who was born into and grew up in a Japanese-annexed Korea. During colonization, the song allegedly captured the sentiments of Korean independence fighters who had left home to participate in the independence movement from abroad. Post division, the song is a popular symbol of home in both North Korea and South Korea. Today, the song serves as a pastoral counterpoint to apocalyptic “Hell Joseon”.

I remember learning the song during music class on Saturdays at the Korean-American School of Atlanta. The song planted in me an idea of a Korean home I could share with my parents, my grandparents, and other ethnic Koreans. Learning the song was a part of my inculcation into a modern Korean national identity.

Reading selections from The Queer Art of Failure by Jack Halberstam made me wonder about finding counterhegemonic ways for practicing “Korean-ness” as a Korean-American and member of the Korean diaspora. Looking back, Korean school presented me with a nationalistic, hegemonic approach to Korean identity. “Mastery” meant gaining fluency in a very specific kind of Korean language, speech, and culture, that is, textbook “Korean-ness” centered on South Korean politics. It didn’t account for any erasure of experiences and identities that occurred as Korea modernized by way of colonization, brutal military dictatorships, and crushing hypercapitalism. We never ever discussed why we were at a Korean language school in America, or what role Korean-Americans played in United States beyond participating in the model minority myth. As a whole, my classmates and I were encouraged to embrace success—our job was to represent the Korean people in the world. I won so many awards in Korean school for performing Korean-ness—and to what end?

Sketch description:

In this sketch, I would like to explore an idea for a performance that engages with nostalgia and a failure to find a home. I will perform “고향의 봄” (a song dear to my heart), from memory and to the best of my ability, on a dub siren I made using a synth kit from Tech Will Save Us, a company that makes educational electronics kits for children. Using the dub siren, I will perform and recall the song through a synthesized voice. When I “sing” the song, I will piece together the tune based on what I hear and what I can listen to in my head, heart, and in the room. I will engage in making, unmaking, and remaking the song’s melody. While failure is inevitable and the resulting song will be unstable, and perhaps unrecognizable, I hope the failed song can offer a small moment of respite from needing to perform mastery of a home while expressing a longing for one. What can home, or an attempt at calling and recalling home sound like? What home am I missing and does it exist anywhere? Is there room, is there an audience, for an imperfect home song?

On heterogeneity: sounds and conversation

In the entry for “deafness” from Keywords in Sound, scholar Mara Mills concludes that deafness “is thus a variety of hearing; alternately, it can be conceived as a precondition of hearing or as the resistance to hearing and audism.” I appreciated how Mills suggests that deafness affirms the multimodality of sound and the “heterogeneity of ear-listening.” Mills also highlights how historians view “disability as one of the ‘conditions of possibility.’” Reading Mills’s entry for deafness made me wonder about the following question: what sounds and instruments for hearing will be normative in the future?

Seth Kim-Cohen takes care to point out the non-cochlear is “most definitely not silence” in the introduction for In the Blink of an Ear: Toward a Non-Cochlear Sonic Art. According to Kim-Cohen, non-cochlear sonic arts both questions sound as material and also invites sound into broader conversation. Based on this provocation, I find myself with the following question: what are the sounds we are hearing today? What sounds do we need to amplify? What sounds do we need to respond to? How do we respond to these sounds?

I attended a presentation on Universal Design a couple of years ago. The presentation was a part of a salon series I co-organized to examine the intersection of technology and ethics and broaden ideas around who gets to participate in our technological futures. One takeaway that stays with me is the reality that when it comes to disability, the question is not if but when. We will all at some point become “disabled”--both temporarily and permanently--whether through accident, illness, or old age. Another takeaway was to move beyond functionality and utility toward desire and joy. The challenge was moving beyond “what do we need” to “what do we want” and allowing individuals to dictate the design.

With this in mind, I’m curious to know what sounds will be accessible to us in the future and what instruments we will need to hear the range of those sounds. I’m particularly interested in knowing how my own hearing will evolve and what new instruments might become available to me. I hope cultures of listening evolve to expand the heterogeneity of listening and the heterogeneity of conversation.


Exploring a Room of Own's Own & 내방 가사

Naebang kasa (내방 가사), or “songs of the inner rooms,” refers to domestic poetry written by Korean women during the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1897). The inner rooms refer to the women’s quarters in a traditional Korean house. While women of means had the time, space, and education to write poetry, their writing was confined to the privacy of their rooms. Learning about naebang kasa made me think about my own literary activities as a Korean-American poet working against and with a persistent, omnipresent sense of being silenced by something or someone (perhaps imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy?).

While reflecting on rooms and how much time I spend trapped in my room (both voluntarily and not), I thought about “A Room of One’s Own,” Virginia Woolf’s essay and lecture exploring how women can become writers and cultivate their literary voices. Woolf says that in order for a woman to have a fair shot as a writer, she needs to have a room of her own (preferably a very quiet, sound-proof one) and money.

I’m in my first semester of a 2-year funded MFA program in poetry with the Literary Arts department at Brown. I have the time and enough money to focus on my writing. To my great disappointment, I have yet to find a quiet room of my own--a place where I can find the ever elusive “voice.”

In Korean, 내방 가사 is homonym and homophone for “my room.” With this in mind, I attempted to create a fictional room of my own, one filled with necessary fuel for writing. While the room itself is quiet, its contents are ingredients for writing and even singing, or performing for an audience. The room isn’t a physical space and is an aspirational space that falls short. It’s not quite a room of my own, but it’s a room that allows me to play with the possibility of finding one eventually.

Desk-NaeBang
Bling-NaeBang
NaeBang-Kasa
NaeBang

on K-Pop and P’ansori

This weekend I put together a short playlist of some of my favorite K-pop (Korean pop) sounds of all time.

Using a broader definition of “K-pop” as “popular music in Korea” music (rather than the genre), I chose performances of Korean songs I loved listening to as a child or songs I loved stumbling across on the internet long after I had stopped consuming K-pop as a Korean diasporic.

Something about the production of K-pop changed after the mid-90s for me, and I couldn’t listen to the sound anymore. I was hoping I could figure out what drew me to these “older” K-pop sounds.

While searching for some more familiar K-pop sounds, I was delighted and mesmerized by this medley (it features a cover of Y.M.C.A. by Village People and some great vocal improvisations) from E Pak Sa (“Dr. E”), a Korean “techno-trot” (테크노 뽕짝) artist and entertainer who was popular in the 90s. He also became a celebrity in Japan where he appeared in commercials. While watching and listening to the collage, I was struck by the sound of his voice and his aesthetics.

I was surprised to read in an article on E Pak Sa from Fancy Magazine that he was a trained in p’ansori (판소리), a form of ,traditional Korean folk narrative singing. P’ansori comes from p’an (판) meaning open space or venue, and sori (소리), meaning sound or noise. P’ansori singers are called sorikkun (소리꾼), meaning singer (note: literally sound/noise maker; -kkun denotes occupation or habit). The article goes on to explain that E Pak Sa worked as a Korean tour bus guide and entertainer. I loved learning this because it made me think about how E Pak Sa turned the tour bus filled with middle-aged working-class Koreans into a p’an for his performances. I loved how his performances reveled in the pedestrian origins of p’ansori as a localized popular art form. I ended up watching a Korean network (MBC) documentary on E Pak Sa and his music, and I was struck by the generational diversity of his fan base and their reverence for his work.

After reading the Fancy Magazine article, I wanted to learn more about p’ansori as something that brings together a space and a sound. I watched the following videos:

Three things stuck with me:

  1. P’ansori masters train for years to develop a unique voice and to gain mastery over vocal range and timbre.

  2. It’s common for p’ansori masters to train by a waterfall to listen to the sounds and to draw inspiration from the natural surroundings and view. The singers spend time learning how to embody the sounds of the waterfall.

  3. Pansori masters and virtuosos are deemed as Important Intangible Cultural Property by UNESCO.

I thought about the relationship between space and sound in p’ansori and how the performer embodies space through sound and also creates sound for a specific space created by an audience. I thought about what makes a sound feel particularly “Korean” to me.

As my thoughts turned again to E Pak Sa, his p’an and his sori, I imagined him singing into the roaring waterfall of a packed tour bus hurtling down the Korean highway.

Recording for "I Dislocated My Wave"

I made the field recordings for “I Dislocated My Wave” using objects at hand in my room and during an evening stroll through Gano Park in Providence. I used a Zoom H6 Handy Recorder with a furry outdoor microphone windscreen muff. For some of the recordings (e.g. “Throat Bear” and “Throat Light”), I used a DIY contact microphone placed onto the throat.

To record a watery sound, I went to a small dock by Gano Park. A man and his son were towing their boat from the water. I used a segment from one of the field recordings from the dock as the foundation and “background” sound for “I Dislocated My Wave,” the track featuring a selection of the edited field recordings.

The majority of the field recordings that appear in this collection feature objects available in my room: coins (as metal currency); a wooden comb with wooden teeth (a souvenir from Korea); a toy that tweets when filled with water and some breath (a novelty item); and so on. I used the contact microphone with the Zoom recorder to record vocals by placing the contact mic directly on the throat.

In the edited line, I explore dislocation by creating a sonic space using sounds recorded from different locations. In the edited track, I use panning and layered recordings to create sounds that continuously move around the listener. I mix “natural” and “artificial” sounds to create a field recording for an imagined, shifting park with a different set of flora and fauna.

On using cultural noise as a silencer

On using cultural noise as a silencer: reflections on Evil.16 (Torture.Musik) by Tony Cokes

I visited the RISD Museum in Providence this weekend with my partner during their visit from Boston. While wandering through the many floors of the museum, we walked through the The Phantom of Liberty exhibit (on view May 3 - December 29, 2018). Tony Cokes’s multimedia piece Evil.16 (Torture.Musik) was the first to catch my attention, more specifically my audition.

Evil.16 (Torture.Musik) features minimalist animated text excerpts from Moustafa Bayoumi’s article “Disco Inferno” from The Nation (published on December 8, 2005) with a soundtrack that is “a playlist of songs or artists documented as being used in U.S. psy-ops and torture programs” (from eai.org).

I was unfamiliar with Bayoumi’s original article on the use of American music in U.S. torture programs and was surprised that the playlist included seemingly innocuous tunes from American children’s TV programming such as “Sunny Days” from Sesame Street and “I Love You” from Barney. Those were the only two songs I was able to recognize from the playlist outside of the “let the bodies hit the floor” lyric from “Bodies” by Drowning Pool. All the other songs, amalgamated, sounded like a kind of “American noise” to me.

“Sunny Days” from Sesame Street

“I Love You” from Barney

Bodies by Drowning Pool.

After reading Bayoumi’s article from The Nation, I thought more about how noise becomes torture and how the use of American songs (American cultural products) within torture presents a case of using cultural noise as a silencer.

First, some thoughts on noise as torture. Bayoumi’s article “Disco Inferno” noted that American military detainees subjected to sound torture were taken to a room referred by soldiers as “the Disco.” In the Disco, Western music blasts out from a stereo, and it’s too loud for even the soldiers to be heard without additional amplification. Bayoumi writes that what makes this form of torture insidious is that no visible physical marks of harm are left on the body while the psychological trauma reverberates acutely long after people leave the Disco and detention; severe post-traumatic stress disorder is not uncommon for survivors. Here, the use of American songs as sound torture makes the symbolic violence of cultural oppression and imperialist conquest concrete. Culture becomes both a figurative and literal weapon, a vehicle for violence, one can be subjected to without consent.

While reading the entry for “Silence” by Ana María Ochoa Gautier from keywords in sound (eds. david novak and matt sakakeeny), I was struck by how silence can operate by targeting different forms of hearing and by determining what is normal hearing vs. abnormal hearing. I hadn’t considered that one could be silenced by being not allowed to “hear” or to “listen” to something or someone. Someone or something out there or within dictates what is and should be “audible”. To listen to—or to allow or choose to listen to—is one way to give voice.

While reflecting on Bayoumi’s article and Cokes’s piece, I thought more about how cultural noise is being used as a silencer in the context of interrogation and sound torture. What and who is being silenced? For the subject of sound torture, the “deafening sound” attempts to drown out self-hood. For the torturer, the act of using cultural noise as torture drowns out a capacity to listen, a capacity for humanity. Nothing can be heard above the noise, not even a conscience, not even you wanted to.

In the quiet of the museum exhibit, visitors too are subjected to the cultural noise and its attendant violence recreated in Cokes’s piece. You hear the work before you stand in front of the screened text. The text reveals the violence of the noise, and the piece invites you to consent to listen to the silence.