As a research unit [RHP] CDRs conducts a huge quantity of work which for whatever reason doesn’t result in any kind of resolved, public facing project; this includes being in constant dialogue with practitioners, academics, collectives and institutions from around the world. Throughout 2014 fragments from these discussions will be appearing online and in print as a part of [RHP] Transcripts.
The first of these is taken from discussions with the Korean “post-classical” Musician Sima Kim.
You originally trained as a musicologist; what prompted the shift from theory to practice? And how has that training affected the way you now make your work?
I stopped my university course for compulsory military service as I’m korean; then I had a lot of time to think about my future and what I wanted to do. As academic style study and research is quite difficult to conduct outside of university I realized that my major question was about the essence of music. I recognized that I studied music in the western style way of thinking only. I also visited India before entering into the army which confirmed this. In western music the big themes are structure and logic in music; perhaps this came to me through my background, but you know, analysis of music is not the opposite of composing music. And musicology, especially analysis, and composition are quite different discourse areas. Still I can’t actually compose music in my ideal way which would be making a pure composition through reasonable logic. Currently I use instinct too. And also, when I started to compose music I already had a historical knowledge from music history class and that made it easier to deal with some stylistic issues.
So at university you were only studying the western tradition; presumably your points of reference changed after visiting India? And of cause you yourself are Korean; is this meeting of cultures important in your work?
Yes my university dealt only with western music from Gregorian chant to the 20th century’s music and stresses logic, structure and so on. So whilst there I was confronted by the changing of discussions about historical moments, political situations and so on and I was always eager to find out more about them. But I discovered different kinds of music in India and recognized music is everywhere even though there are not always concepts of western music, that was a really big turning point to me, although logic and structure is still important to me. India made me feel more free and gave me elasticity of thought on music. And, nope, maybe my nationality effects me on an unconscious level but I don’t attempt to connect my music with my nationality in any way. I feel closer to Japan in this sense. I’m interested in zen culture and japanese music, both traditional and contemporary even some pop. And still I often play gigs and meet musicians there. My debut gig was in Tokyo!
Having mentioned performing; could you talk us through your set-up? What instruments, hardware and software do you use to record? Does that set-up differ to your kit for performances in anyway?
That depends on what I wanna do, but usually I like to use 4 track cassette and an old portable reel to reel. Usually, I also use instruments not synths, both hardware and plug-in’s. And basically my live set-up is similar to my recording set-up. Occasionally I have transferred my studio to venues for performances but nowadays I try to use a more simple setup. and my first DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) was protools and after that I bought Logic Pro, I also recently purchased Ableton 9 standard version and am trying to become familiar with that. To me, DAW’s are also one kind of instrument and you know, each DAW has it’s own character. To sum up, both cases of studio work and playing gigs, my setup is determined by what I do, perhaps these video’s will help make sense of what I’ve said:
• Ambient/Drone style music that I used Walkmans as main instruments for.
• Synth Pop style music made using guitar, laptop, reel to reel, etc…
So if your set-up for both production and performance are more or less the same, does that mean that when you perform you re-produce your works in exactly the same way as to how they were written or is there room for live improvisation as well?
To me, live performance is reproduction, you know, the meaning of performance was totally changed when recording’s first began to appear. They enabled us to listen our favorite music when we want to listen to it. I know performance of classical music still remains old fashioned in a way but actually classical music is in different discussion. So I wanna produce another meaning in my performances, I have no interesting in making exactly the same sounds for my live performance but there are some sounds which are more or less the same and that depends on gig’s character. Sometimes I play very similar sounds to those on my album, but never exactly. Also, on occasions I just do improvisation.
Classical music is different to much other music and I’ve been really curious about your use of this phrase “post-classical”. Classical music is obviously a discourse one chooses to enter into, by adding the “post” its raising questions about the use of that context and your own relationship with it. Could you talk about the phrase “post-classical”?
Classical music is not different… just one form of music and the term “post-classical” is for referring specific music and musicians, but in my case just i use that in a vague way. I’m quite tried of academic music; sometimes, I can’t find a musical residue, especially in student’s work, and any kind of musical logic that they claim also doesn’t make any sense to me. At the same time, I don’t like Pop or the Indie scene’s purely instinctive approach to music. I wanna produce a meaning and to make music from deliberation, that’s why I use the term “post-classical”. To some degree I can say that I’m in some point between Classical and pop music traditions.
But are there elements or features of your music or in the music of your peers that you directly specify as being post-classical? Or for you, is the term more about a discourse than a sound?
As I mentioned, “post-classical” is a concept to me rather than genre, but there are some features from my academic background which relate; first of all, even my harmony is more minimal than that of late 19th or early 20th century harmonies. I’m excited by new tonality which is quite complicated. You can check Contemporary Music Review (1992, vol.6, part 2) for more information on that. Also Schönberg’s “klangfarbenmelodie”. In someway’s I’m a really old fashioned composer; I still don’t want to abandon beautiful melody and I don’t want to compose atonal works, then I was faced with a lack of melody resources, perhaps because I have no traditional “talent”. So I researched and tried to utilize exotic scales, but they do not fit with me, often they are so elaborate, sometimes too exotic or expressive and so on. Then Schönberg showed me the opportunities of building melody with tones instead of pitches. Also some of Ligeti’s works and spectral music helped as well. I actually met Tristan Murail whilst in university which really influenced me. I also shouldn’t dismiss Music Concrete and Minimalism too; Pierre Schaeffer, Luc Ferrari, Terry Riley, La Monte Young and so on. I still learn a lot of things from them and use magnetic tapes as my main material!
I wonder how you feel about more recent artists and composers working in this classical tradition? Are you familiar with the work of people like Lionel Marchetti, Giuseppe Ielasi and Jo Thomas? Are there people you work with frequently that have this same group of interests?
I checked musicians you mentioned. they are so nice. I will do some deeper listening to these in the near future! Anyway, in my university day’s, the school forced us to only focus on academic music and my schoolmates only really compose atonal music, in my case I didn’t compose any music then. I just wrote only short pieces such as fugue in counterpoint class because my major was musicology not composition. That was somewhat boring to me. And you know, some guys have returned to tonal music since the 70‘s and 80’s and they have attracted me. But nowadays some classically trained musicians who are working in the same field as I am make just mediocre music, I can’t understand how they can become famous. They make music like new age or easy listening which is just too boring. And I know some people who make avant-garde music without any kind of academic background. I like the Japanese onkyo scene especially Toshimaru Nakamuea, it seem’s like they know what music is instinctively. But most of those guys make only noise, not music. Which seems like they just do that for their own fun. However there are also notable composers too and I love and respect them; Takemitsu Toru, Howard Skempton, Arvo Part and so on. Even now though I can make only obsolete music, my purpose is to make a new music, not avant-garde. So I still feel it’s hard to find a balance and perhaps that’s why a lot of my work falls into the ambient or drone music category. I found some opportunity to explore more forms of musical expression in a limited way. And my colleagues are not classical trained guys, but they know how to my their own music. I work a lot with Takafumi Shirai (American Green) & Saito Koji. We continue to make new work and will be releasing a new album in this year too; in other cases I don’t have a further plan yet though recently I met a Hip- Hop artist, Jalal Salaam, perhaps we’ll make some new work.
Having just mentioned a few possible future projects, are there any confirmed releases or performances your doing that you want to share with our readers?
My upcoming live show is on the 1st of February at Fukuoka. And I will be releasing 4 projects soon including a spilt with Hakobune, a split with Wouter Van Veldhoven, a collection of variations for a music box and my very first beat based album complete with vocals and rapping which will be titled “ur silhouette”. And I’m also currently working with American Green on another dream pop style work and as I mentioned Jalal Salaam for some Hip-Hop and with Canooooopy on some beats. At the same time as these projects I’m hunting for opportunities to make a music for film or installation work.