YoungEun Kim
Selected Works
Work List

A Story of Oseonbo: Sounds Lost in Translation 
Single-channel video, stereo sound
47 min 5 sec 

A Story of Oseonbo: Sounds Lost in Translation (2022) examines a musical score created during Korea’s modernization period, when a variety of cultures were introduced and tradition was often lost or transmuted.

Joseon Guak Yeongsan hoesang is a score produced in 1914 by Insik Kim, a teacher at the Korean Court Music Study Institute, as he translated the yanggeum (Korean dulcimer) score for the composition “Yeongsan hoesang” into Western staff notation. With oral sounds (gueum, or symbols used instead of notes to mimic the sounds of instruments) written in Hangeul, the score is the earliest known example of Korea’s old notations being adapted by a Korean into the Western style. Musicians at the time compiled scores on staff notation to introduce traditional Korean music to the outside world or apply the latter’s sentiments to Korean music. At the same time, there were also sounds and techniques in traditional music that could not be translated into the staff notation.

Centering mainly on interviews with traditional music performers, composers, and researchers, the work reconstructs their different speculations on the sounds and sentiments in the score that have been lost or transformed. With past records and ordinary video footage, the work also explores colonial ventures in music education and contemporary musicians’ ambivalence towards them. In the process, it raises questions about the staff notation and other forms of musical systems that have become institutionally entrenched as contemporary musical frameworks, while reflecting on today’s traditional music.

#1-4 Still cut
#5-7 Installation View at SONGEUN, Seoul (Photo by Jihyun Jung

2 min Video Excerpt 

Ear Training
Single-channel video, stereo & binaural sound
15 min

Ear training is having people listen to sounds played on a piano and identifying the pitch. Such exercises seek to develop accurate perceptions of pitch, one of the most important elements in Western music. Part of Western musical education, this training was distorted in wartime Japan into a military exercise to build soldiers’ listening abilities. It also led to the establishment of the pitch division in the Joseon Music Contest at the request of the Japanese Navy. Ear Training (2022) reconstructs the ear training that drills used in Japan’s classrooms and among its armed forces during World War II.

The reenactment of this training is based on scores written by students and unit members, interview materials, audio recordings, and works of other researchers studying the era. The video recreates a collection of enemy aircraft sounds jointly produced by the Japanese Army Air Defense School and Nitchiku Industrial Company and the underwater warship sounds analyzed by the Japanese Navy through a narrator's first-person experience and point-of-audition (POA) soundscape by the use of binaural (3-D) sounds. Through this reenactment, the work summons forth a strange auditory event that had been lost to history.

*This video features binaural audio recordings. For the best listening experience, listen with headphones.

#1-2 Installation View at SONGEUN, Seoul (Photo by Jihyun Jung)
#3-5 Still cut

2 min Video Excerpt 

Brilliant A
Single-channel video, multi-channel sound
16 min 56 sec

Brilliant A (2022) shares the history of how the pitch “A,” used as a standard for tuning most modern instruments in orchestras and other settings, was set at a frequency of 440Hz and how the pitch has been set continually upwards due to human auditory preferences for “brighter sounds.” Apparent influences include the competition among instrument makers seeking higher profits through such sounds, along with military bands from Europe and the US sending sound traveling over long distances to boost troop morale.

The work further reconstructs the speculative moment when the standard pitch A was introduced in Korea. The delivery process of a piano is recreated based on historical materials from the early 20th century that recorded the first piano that was brought to the city of Daegu by an American missionary.

The piano’s arrival ushered in significant modifications to the theories and tastes of sound instilled in Koreans’ auditory perceptions at the time, triggering the various acoustic collisions that arose as the ear for traditional music gave way to the ear for Western sounds. Through this recreation, the work explores the symbolic significance of the Western piano that brought in the pitch “A” into Korean society.

#1-5 Still cut
#6-8 Installation View at SONGEUN, Seoul (Photo by Jihyun Jung

2 min Video Excerpt 

To Future Listeners I
Single-channel video, stereo sound
8 min

To Future Listeners I (2022) is a digital performance video that traces sounds from the past. It starts with a contemplation of ethnographic recordings produced by American anthropologists in the late 19th century who used phonographs to record the music and language of endangered indigenous peoples.

The song in the video is Love Song: Ar-ra-rang 1 recorded on a wax cylinder in 1896 by American anthropologist Alice Fletcher, who requested its performance by three Korean students in Washington at the time. This was apparently the first example in the history of Korean traditional music being captured with a recording medium.

A wax cylinder is frail and sensitive to environmental conditions, and thus the sounds recorded on its wax surface tend to disappear into noise over time. In the video, I repeatedly use a noise reduction plugin to keep the noise down from the song while gradually progressing toward the past. The process allows the song to play more clearly but after being perceived as noise by the software, it becomes more fragmented in an acoustic sense.

The narration was partially adapted from the Sound Studies scholar Jonathan Sterne’s essay. 

#1-3 Still cut
#4 Installation view at SONGEUN, Seoul (Photo by Jihyun Jung)

To Future Listeners II 
Phonograph, wax cylinder
1 min 40 sec
Dimensions variable
For To Future Listeners II (2022), a phonograph produced in the 1900s is displayed in the gallery. As I share a wax cylinder recording of my own voice singing Ar-ra-rang 1 repeating the same way of existing ethnographic recording in modern times that had been reduced to noise, I try to prolong its validity in the present time frame. In the process, I seek to offset the sentiment of death that looms over the ethnographic recording.

#1-2 Installation View at SONGEUN, Seoul (Photo by Jihyun Jung)