Interview with aweh
“The mission of their eye-catching website Aweh (titled from a slang South African greeting of acknowledgement) is to extend “casual creative culture” from across the globe, packaging it to be aesthetically pleasing and addictive to read with edgy photography and intriguing writing. From skateboarding videos to interviews with notorious surf photographers to details of upcoming art events in a city near you - Aweh’s got it all covered.” (source: Chincha!?)
Dann Gaymer of aweh had interviewed me and I am featured on the website. (click here to view the webpage)
Jee Soo Shin is a Korean composer who currently splits her time between London and Seoul. Beginning her musical journey as a child, Jee Soo went on to study at Seoul National University, followed by an MA at the University Mozarteum in Salzburg, Germany, and a PhD at the University of Southampton, England.
While educated in the works of legendary composers Jee Soo refuses to stay within the boundaries of conventional composition. Instead her work crosses into the realms performance art, sonic interpretation, and John Cage’s helter skelter-like avant garde experiments. Yet perhaps the most important detail is that Jee Soo’s work is contemporary and therefore relevant to the world outside of art, approaching the environments that we swirl around within from a composer’s perspective, and creating bold work derived from these experiences.
Recently Jee Soo premiered new work as part of the Oze collective at the ‘Escapade 1~3’ performance at Mullae Art Village, Seoul; an event where the audience functioned as catalyst for the performing musicians, inadvertently shaping and conducting the sonic environment around them. Aweh caught up with Jee Soo to discuss her influences, her work, and composition in the 21stcentury.
Aweh: Who are you and what do you do?
Jee Soo: I am Jee Soo Shin and I’m a free-lance composer of contemporary music, organising and participating in concerts and multi-disciplinary events in Seoul and London.
Aweh: What were you first forays into music as a child? What led you to make music your profession?
Jee Soo: As did any Korean girl of my age in Seoul, I had piano lessons during my childhood. This was supposed to be one of my many sophisticated hobbies my parents encouraged me to enjoy, but this one got quite serious to the extent that I went to a specialised art high-school to cultivate my potential as a concert pianist. I kept playing the piano well into my teens until I realised, I’d never become very successful if I didn’t really enjoy repetition, the main ingredient of a successful practice. My mum and I put our heads together to find a more suitable calling for me, and we decided to try out some composition lessons. This was a success in the sense that I passed the entrance exam for Seoul National University, where I studied composition for four years.
Aweh: What led you towards composing work for more experimental performances?
Jee Soo: Well before I had my first composition lesson, I used to enjoy browsing through music, either on the piano or by listening to CDs or tapes while looking at music scores. My first few attempts of composing were not satisfactory, because I couldn’t get out of the musical structure of a typical piano etude of Carl Czerny. That made me think I was too rubbish to be a real composer, which supposedly was for geeky geniuses. My compositions lessons during my late teens were geared solely towards the university entrance exam, composing in styles similar to Bach and Mozart. However, once I got into the university, my teacher made me listen to modern and contemporary music including the recordings of PAN music festival, a major contemporary music festival in Korea at that time. I think I heard a work of Unsuk Chin, which was a real eye-opener. That’s when I decided I wanted to experiment with various aspects of sounds and stop thinking about banal and repetitive tonal music.
Aweh: Are there any particular individuals you would cite as key influences in your musical journey thus far?
Jee Soo: I’m indebted to all my teachers who have put up with my unrealistic ideas. The recent supervisors were both interesting and respected composers: Reinhard Febel during my masters and Michael Finnissy during my PhD in England. Also, I’m influenced from a great many composers — both famous and obscure, but I especially relate myself aesthetically to John Cage, like the sounds of Morton Feldmann, fascinated by compositional techniques of Gyorgy Ligeti and admire the seemingly crude but carefully constructed energy of Iannis Xenakis.
Aweh: What do you hope to convey to the listener through your work?
Jee Soo: Regarding this matter, I love citing from an anthropologist named Edmund Carpenter, who specialised in Eskimo art. He says: “True art is something that challenges the boundaries, something that does not confirm the beliefs we have within ourselves but rather questions them.” I want the listener to hear my work and encounter an unexpected, undefined aspect of art and music. I don’t enjoy writing just another piece of contemporary music and resorting to being in that stereotype.
Aweh: Having studied in Europe you spent quite some time outside of Asia. What are your impressions when you return to Seoul these days? How do you feel the city’s creative scene compares to that of the European art capitals?
Jee Soo: I think Seoul is a huge city with many diverse activities going on, with some really sophisticated and knowledgable composers and artists. Also, the government funding in the recent few years has been abundant with lots of cultural infrastructure being added to the landscape. However, it’s a shame that groups of creative people don’t have much contact with each other. Also, within the groups, relationships amongst another is still rather stiff, with a system of hierarchy still evident in the choice of works being exposed and also in the everyday life of the music scene. For instance, a lot of composers dress casually in the UK or Germany when they go onto the stage to bow and shake hands with the conductor, but in Korea, this is a rather inappropriate and quite an unthinkable thing to do. But things in Seoul are changing for the better in many ways for sure.
Aweh: What is the Oze group and what are its aims?
Jee Soo: Oze is a group of two composers, myself and Eunkyung Park, who are looking for ways of conveying music in an inter-disciplinary aspect. Until now, multi-disciplinary art, including sound-art was approached from visual artists’ point of view. We aim to approach this as a composer’s point of view, with compositional aspects such as timings of events, and control of sound being primary focus of an artistic event.
Aweh: The Oze group recently put on the inaugural Escapade 1~3 performance at the Mullae art space in Seoul; how do you feel the event went?
Jee Soo: I know no one ever comes to the composer saying what they just experienced was rubbish, but even with that in mind, I must admit the event went down quite a lot better than expected. The children who came to the concert were especially engaged in the sounds they heard, which was a pleasant surprise. I intentionally invited as many non-musicians to the event as possible, and quite a lot of them seemed to really enjoy even the most aesthetically challenging work of the day. In a way, I guess they were waiting for something new to experience, and were very happy to have achieved that through coming to the Escapade event. It proves that people don’t need to be dumbed down to be entertained.
Aweh: These days the world of music seems to be changing so rapidly, especially in terms of the music industry. By and large it seems that flexibility and the ability to adapt are a must in order to be successful, at least in the case of pop musicians. Do you think the same is true for contemporary composers?
Jee Soo: This totally depends on how you define “success”. If you’re talking about fame and possibly fortune, yes, it is crucial to have the ability to adapt to, or better, lead the trend just like pop musicians. However, even without that kind of success in mind, I personally find it better for a composer to be engaged with the current affairs both inside and outside of music and react to it in a creative and individual way. Of course you can be totally happy being disengaged with the outside world, doing what you like without any agenda for fame. Conlon Nancarrow is a good example of a great composer doing his own thing for decades without being discovered until late. But that kind of ‘bubble’ attitude has its necessary pitfall of ending up having composition as a mere hobby and your works having no influence whatsoever to the outside world.
Aweh: The idea of performances taking place in a non-conventional set up, where the audience and performers interact in different ways, has been put into practice for many years (for example the work of Richard Schechner and the Performance Group). However, do you think this kind of work is more important and evocative today, as people so often experience the world in a distanced manner, through their gadgets and entertainment channels?
Jee Soo: Absolutely. Also, people nowadays are so visually and aurally stimulated in their everyday lives, they are no longer patient enough to sit still in a concert hall and gaze at the repetitive movements on the stage, or slowly wander around in a quiet gallery full of delicate images without losing these best public manners. If artists and composers want people to come out of their multi-media-bombarded comfort zones and experience new productions, it will have to be with something engaging and provocative enough to get them out of their seats — quite literally.
Aweh: How can people keep up to date with all things Jee Soo and find out about upcoming performances?
Jee Soo: I have an official website in the address of www.jeesooshin.com which is about my professional doings. I also keep a blog of my everyday life(www.jehenisus.com). The Oze group website(www.ozeproject-series.com) is regularly updated too. My next move will be in April/May 2012 I’ll be doing new events in Seoul. More on this will be posted nearer the time on jeesooshin.com.